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Blackbaud on move – Building relationships

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By Todd Cohen

CHARLESTON, S.C. – Seven months after taking its helm, Bob Sywolski aims for Blackbaud to step up efforts to help nonprofits make better use of technology to raise money and build relationships.

The software maker plans to launch a series of new tools, offer technology and fundraising-systems consulting and team up with other vendors serving the philanthropic market.

Blackbaud also has joined several national initiatives to help ensure that philanthropic data can be exchanged more easily and securely.

Blackbaud’s new strategy reflects Sywolski’s efforts to better connect with customers and tap into the growing field of digital philanthropy.

Former CEO of North American operations for Cap Gemini, a systems integration company that recently purchased accounting firm Ernst & Young, Sywolski was hired by a group of investors that bought Blackbaud a year ago from its original shareholders.

“I think we have been excessively insular – and at times inflexible,” Sywolski told nearly 800 people attending Blackbaud’s first-ever fundraising conference in Charleston, where the company is based.

“I don’t think it was deliberate, but it’s something we want to make sure we change.”

Sywolski says Blackbaud’s new products, services and partnerships will build on The Raiser’s Edge, its signature fundraising software – and be designed to strengthen nonprofits’ relationships with donors, volunteers, members and partners.

The 20-year-old company, which also makes accounting and education-administration software, has 12,000 customers and says it is the world’s leading provider of software and services to nonprofits.

Following up on NetDonors, an online-giving tool it launched in August as the first in a line of Web-based services, Blackbaud plans to add Web tools to help create and manage email campaigns and to handle volunteerism, events and membership development.

Blackbaud also will add features to The Raiser’s Edge that Sywolski says will help move it “from the back office to the front office,” making it easier for high-level fundraising executives to get the donor and gift data they need.

The company, which has 700 employees, also plans to work more closely with customers, helping them make better use of donor and gift data, helping them assess and plan their use of technology, and advising them on strengthening the business processes that support their fundraising operations.

“Historically, we’ve not been prepared to provide much technology support,” Sywolski says, adding that the company will devote more attention to helping nonprofits better integrate their technology and fundraising operations.

In his brief tenure at Blackbaud, Sywolski says, he has been most surprised by the difficulty that fundraisers and nonprofits have getting funds for technology.

“The nonprofit fundraising community almost always trails behind in this area,” he says. “We need to help our clients be technology-enabled.”

To better serve Blackbaud’s customers, Sywolski also is working to create alliances with other vendors, such as fundraising consultants and accounting firms.

Blackbaud also is a partner in the Open Philanthropy Exchange, or OPX, which aims to establish an “open” technical standard in the XML programming language designed to make it easy for nonprofits and vendors serving them to exchange data. The initial version aims to ease the transfer of data about online donors and gifts to software tools that nonprofits use to manage data on donors and build relationships with them.

And Sywolski serves on the founding board of the ePhilanthropyFoundation.org, a new group that aims to foster secure, private and ethical online philanthropy.

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