Through the years, I’ve implemented various forms of Common Ground and Luminate CRM for organizations large and small, and while there are good reasons to use them, there are equally good reasons to leave. Right now, we’re getting many inquiries at BrightStep Partners about leaving these ecosystems. We’re doing a lot of listening, and a lot of reflection on why folks are calling us for this need.
What Is Luminate CRM?
Luminate CRM is a Salesforce platform-wide configuration designed to support fundraising, and activities related to fundraising such as event management, volunteer, and fund allocations. It integrates with two additional cloud-based tools: Luminate Online, a self-integrated platform of email marketing, content management, fundraising, and most notably, team-based fundraising tools that sends information to and from Salesforce; and, Luminate Analytics, which is a business intelligence tool designed for advanced analytics using data from both Salesforce with Luminate CRM and Luminate Online.
Historically, Luminate CRM is a descendant of an earlier platform-wide configuration called Common Ground, originally released by Convio. Common Ground went through several iterations, first becoming Common Ground Enterprise, then splitting into two products: Luminate CRM paired with Luminate Online, which represented the ongoing evolution and renaming of Common Ground Enterprise, and a new Common Ground (sometimes called Common Ground 2.0) that was targeted toward smaller nonprofits that could not afford Luminate CRM and didn’t necessarily need all of the attached functionality of Luminate Online. It was the second Common Ground that was announced as end of life by Blackbaud when it acquired Convio, and many nonprofits have been racing to exit ever since.
Regardless of the name, these products all shared common core Object architectures, and a very discrete purpose: to go deep to offer a robust fundraising experience comparable to tools such as Raiser’s Edge on Salesforce. Thus, the process and considerations for leaving Luminate CRM are nearly identical to those for leaving Common Ground, and can more widely apply to nonprofits considering a move from any non-Salesforce integrated fundraising ecosystem to Salesforce.
Why Do Organizations Use Luminate CRM?
Because Luminate CRM offers such deep platform configuration, it resonates well with large organizations (so-called “enterprise” nonprofits) seeking a Salesforce-driven fundraising database, as well as smaller organizations that need a somewhat rigorous structure to enforce and provide best-practice fundraising on Salesforce. There are many aspects to it that have been thought through to provide both a compelling visual and user experience, as well as manage data for a wide variety of fundraising needs – from donation designations and individual/household salutations, to integration with a pre-packaged suite of compatible tools to handle other online elements of fundraising and gift cultivation processes.
All elements of the ecosystem are provided by a single vendor: Blackbaud. Single-vendor driven ecosystems like Luminate CRM/Luminate Online can simplify the amount of vendor administration for organizations, as well as offer tools that are designed to work together and not leave organizations to building, testing and supporting tools from multiple vendors to produce similar results. Event management, volunteer management, donor/grantor cultivation, online fundraising, analytics, team-based fundraising, all spring from a single vendor source. For folks who may remember, it’s a “Ma Bell” approach for Salesforce and nonprofit fundraising.
Luminate CRM has taken great pains to simplify what can be a complex user experience change moving into Salesforce from non-Salesforce competitor tools that are explicitly built around fundraising. As anyone who has moved their organization to Salesforce knows, there’s a few leaps of faith in nomenclature, user experience, user interface, and other features that an organization must make. The design of the product, in turn, helps users transition more easily to using Salesforce, and its extensive visual cues can alleviate some change management fears.
Why Leave Luminate CRM?
Here are a few of our observations on why these organizations are leaving the world of Luminate CRM, and some thoughts on what’s behind them:
- Price per month: This is an obvious point. Licensing on a monthly basis the entire suite is expensive for organizations. Especially when they only use specific features of it once in a while, or for very discreet needs.
- Actual Need vs. Perceived Need: Organizations have confessed to us that the Luminate Online integration, visual experience, and overall look and feel of the suite is very attractive, but they’re not actually using all of these configurations to their fullest extent. The perceived need and ease by which they saw complex fundraising processes represented didn’t meet their actual needs, which were smaller and/or more refined.
- Using Technology as the Solution: All fundraising tools that exist on Salesforce are designed to enforce best practices of nonprofit fundraising, each in their own way. However, there’s a difference between understanding how an organization itself conducts the literal business of its fundraising and adheres to sector-wide best practices, and expecting a Salesforce platform configuration to create these best practices for your organization. Sometimes organizations have erred towards acquiring a more robust tool than they actually require because they hope or expect that the tool itself will solve deeper problems of organizational business process and management.
- Reclaiming Control of Organizational CRM: As many organizations found out the hard way when Blackbaud announced end-of-life for Common Ground, some of the very reasons of management and administration that they selected the tool to solve in the first place can be their undoing. Vendors grow and change on their own agendas, and that sometimes means mergers and acquisitions that leave decisions regarding an organization’s CRM outside of their control. Organizations must evaluate how much of their platform they want to directly control as compared to the associated administration tradeoffs. Additionally, requests for new features and functionality are sometimes answered with, “It’s not on our roadmap right now.”
- Organizational Change: A nonprofit is not a static entity, and leaving Luminate is akin to leaving a carefully curated walled garden of features and functions, for which the need may have changed while the garden remains relatively the same. Sometimes organizations and Salesforce needs outgrow, and sometimes they under-grow, and the garden isn’t as helpful or productive anymore.
- Platform Scalability and Data Structure: Organizations move to Salesforce because of the power and potential of the base platform. Working within a single vendor-created ecosystem means that stepping outside of it for integrating other tools not supplied by the same vendor may not be possible. Some organizations have found that because Luminate CRM has made such substantial configuration changes to Salesforce itself, while meeting many of the very high marks for fundraising needs, their options for employing additional integrated tools and using Salesforce for non-fundraising needs have actually been curtailed. Bringing in tools and strategies from outside the garden requires a lot of testing, and can result in finding that they aren’t fully available, or available at all. At BrightStep, we often recommend that it’s better for all departments anticipating using Salesforce to have most of their needs met, versus one department having mostly all of its needs met at the expense of others only getting some of their needs met. Implementing Salesforce for nonprofits is a balancing act, and requires some forethought as to its current and future anticipated uses.
- Reporting and Analytics: The Luminate Analytics product is a nod to the fact that getting all information across the entire Luminate ecosystem can be hard. There’s a number of reasons for this, many of which are technical, and include the following:
- Luminate CRM Object architecture inside Salesforce can place data too many levels of Objects apart to produce meaningful reporting outcomes using standard Salesforce reporting tools.
- Not all information from Luminate Online is transferred and resides inside of Salesforce, leaving some data accessible only in Salesforce or Luminate Online and not related together.
- Not every scrap of data should reside within Salesforce, lest storage become a concern, and Luminate Analytics is a way of leveraging the integrated ecosystem to better find external information and relate it to data inside of Salesforce.
One of these reasons alone may not be a dealbreaker, but often organizations are caught in a web of monetary expenditure for a tool that isn’t meeting their needs, change and growth, and potential limits to the power of Salesforce for departments outside of fundraising. Organizations can help themselves by choosing to focus on what metrics are most important to all departments and their mission first, before even starting a Salesforce project, but often don’t engage in this process for the sake of completing the project.
Next week, we’ll look at the considerations and process for moving off of Luminate CRM, and options for where organizations can go.
Special thanks to TJ Warfield, Director of Information Technology at Save the Bay, for her insights and contributions to this series.