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For Non-Profits, Common Ground vs. Raiser's Edge? 97

lanimreT writes "I work at a medium-sized non-profit organization. We've been considering a switch from our current constituent relationship manager (CRM) The Raiser's Edge to Common Ground, a non-profit-focused CRM built on SalesForce. I would like to hear from other organizations that have already done this. What features are present in Raiser's Edge but missing in Common Ground? Is your workflow improved by the new software? If you had it to do over again, would you make the switch?"
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For Non-Profits, Common Ground vs. Raiser's Edge?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 13, 2010 @06:09PM (#32200934)

    it's killer, dude

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Too soon, dude! Too soon!

  • Similiar situation (Score:5, Informative)

    by dave562 ( 969951 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @06:13PM (#32200984) Journal

    I looked at moving FROM Raisers Edge to Common Ground and found it lacking a lot of features. As much as I would like to ditch the God awful expense of Raisers Edge, it really is the best fund raising software on the market. The place where Raisers Edge really shines is the query builder. An average, not very skilled user can be trained to run some seriously complex queries in a day or two. Raisers Edge builds the kind of queries that will have skilled SQL DBAs scratching their heads and saying things like, "I never realized you could do that with SQL." It will construct cursors and arrays and other fairly complex data structures on the fly.

    The downside of Raisers Edge is the cost, and the complexity. It is a complex system and Blackbaud seems to go out of their way to make it next to impossible to migrate out of the system. It is also a resource hog. Under normal load it will run fine. As soon as you throw one of the previously mentioned uber queries on it, the poor thing will grind to a halt. The other day we did a 50,000 constituent export on a dual, quad-core Xeon box and it took two and a half hours to finish. The query was complex and involved lots of joins, but stilll...

    Raisers Edge is one of those programs that if you haven't gotten used to it, you probably won't know what you're missing. I'd suggest giving Common Ground a shot and if it sucks, you can always step up to the gold standard. If it gets the job done for you, then you save all of the maintenance fees that come with Raisers Edge.

    Make sure that you get a GOOD demo of Common Ground though. Realize that the canned reports probably won't get the job done and that you are going to have to write your own. I had a hard time getting clear answers from Common Ground about their reporting interface. Also make sure that you have the opportunity to try to build some custom queries with their interface. The application is only worth while if you can actually get your information back out of it.

    Make sure you consider how many users you are going to have on it and what the load will be. Make sure that you consider your bandwidth requirements. Consider the previously mentioned 50,000 constituent export. Can Common Ground even handle that? Will it absolutely bring the system / internet connection to its knees?

    • by Toze ( 1668155 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @06:41PM (#32201330)

      Raisers Edge builds the kind of queries that will have skilled SQL DBAs scratching their heads and saying things like, "I never realized you could do that with SQL."

      As soon as you throw one of the previously mentioned uber queries on it, the poor thing will grind to a halt. The other day we did a 50,000 constituent export on a dual, quad-core Xeon box and it took two and a half hours to finish.

      Sir, I think it is possible that the head-scratching from the skilled DBAs is less "how" and more "why." Not that all queries should run quickly, but if it takes 2.5 hours to select 50,000 rows I suspect that there may be a lack of optimization in how it builds those queries. Or possibly in how it builds its indices. Or something.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by lawpoop ( 604919 )
        Maybe it's less "head-scratching" and more "face-palm".
      • by dave562 ( 969951 )

        How long do you think it should take to query and then export 50,000 records pulled from 15 separate tables, where each join has a minimum of three conditional modifiers on it? I'm honestly curious about how other applications would handle it.

        I'm not talking about 50,000 records from a single table. These are records will full gift histories, prospect histories, limited by zip code, membership level, etc.

        I've always had the feeling that Raisers Edge wasn't the best written software in the world, but I don

        • by Toze ( 1668155 )

          I don't know, 5 or 10 minutes? I mean, assuming the export doesn't involve massive blobs or a crap network, with 15 tables a DBA should be able to optimize a query pretty well and query a minimal number of rows in each join. 2.5 hours sounds like it's triggering full-table scans per row. If your query takes longer than a backup, you're reading from disk too much.

          I'm not saying RE is crap, just that their query builder doesn't optimize well. I haven't dealt with query builders hardly at all, so I don't know

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by metrometro ( 1092237 )

      We use (since rebranded as Common Ground), and I can answer most of these queries -- on tech backbone, it's the best you're going to get. It's all done in the cloud, and it's fairly robust commercial grade stuff. Exporting 50,000 records is just a question of downloading the CSV. If it's a really big job, they schedule it and ship it in an hour or so. Given that most NPOs can't or don't want to invest in their own hardware, putting it in the cloud is a really good idea. Likewise with data sec

      • by dave562 ( 969951 ) is much better than leaving it to the typical NPO tech guy.

        Most NPOs can't even afford a decent tech guy, much less a dedicated DBA.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by iamhigh ( 1252742 )

          Most NPOs can't even afford a decent tech guy, much less a dedicated DBA.

          Remember that the next time someone asks how they can build a resume or get some experience. It may not be cutting edge, but working on an older system, gathering requirements, implementing changes and training... that can make a huge difference in their systems, build your resume, and give you an excellent reference. All this plus you can do some good. Find a charity that you like (warning: some have extremely strong views - know who you volunteer for) and it will be a really rewarding experience.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Take a look at inResonance's "Generations". It's an open database system which compares very favorably to The Raiser's Edge. The company that produces it is also much nicer to work with than Blackbaud (the company that tried to blame a bug of theirs on a user's mouse, I kid you not).

      When Blackbaud was acquiring the admissions product used at an institution I worked for, I found inResonance's admission product, which was not only nicer, but much, much cheaper, with excellent support and training. They als

    • I've heard many complaints from nonprofits about the cost of maintenance and new licenses for RE. Just to be upfront, I work for a competitor of RE, and it kills me to see nonprofit after nonprofit forking over their hard-earned dollars for RE. There are a number of alternatives on the market, but Common Ground will likely come up short when compared to RE in terms of functionality. If you're interested in alternatives that offer sophisticated functionality for planned gifts, donor outreach, etc. check o
    • Our nonprofit organization has been using Salesforce as our CRM since 2006, and Common Ground since last summer.

      Two issues you raised... One, the reporting/query question. The canned reports in Common Ground are good starting points and they're ridiculously easy for even the most novice user to configure to an organization's own needs. Next month, Salesforce is rolling out significant improvements to their reporting/dashboard interface, and of course Common Ground users immediately enjoy that benefit. I don

      • by dave562 ( 969951 )

        Do you mind if I ask some questions about your organization?

        What is your early budget?

        How many users do you have on the system? What are the licensing and support costs?

        About how many asks do you do per year?

        How many constituents are in your database?

        • Do you mind if I ask some questions about your organization?

          What is your early budget?

          How many users do you have on the system? What are the licensing and support costs?

          About how many asks do you do per year?

          How many constituents are in your database?

          We're 5 years old and still growing. Currently, our organization has 7 staff members and our budget is under $1 million. About 20K in the CRM. One person administers the CRM (yours truly) and we try and avoid hiring outside consultants as much as we can help it.

          Convio Common Ground is priced per user at $100/user/month. That includes all support costs (web, phone & email) for Common Ground and all updates. For much larger organizations, you would need to speak to Convio about pricing as I believe they d

  • Wow, $100/month/seat for a non-profit.

    There is the reputation of Raiser's Edge being expensive, but it sounds like this growing
    competitor Convio is up there too. How can a small non-profit put out that dough for a member
    management software suite.

    Manila folders might be more effective for very small non-profits.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by billcopc ( 196330 )

      I don't think very small non-profits need much of a CRM to store their contacts. You can get a lot of mileage out of a cheap web host, Gmail and a spreadsheet.

      The thing with non-profits, at least from what I've observed, is they eventually reach a tipping point where the management overhead starts growing out of proportion. You find yourself needing to hire more people, these ones are untrained and certainly not as devoted as the founders, they whine and moan about any repetitive work, so you compensate b

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        Yeah, the money's why I took an 80% pay cut to work for a 501(c)3. And am loving it!

        I agree with #3, though, as long as you include LAMP/Drupal/CiviCRM as a "off-the-shelf" product.

        • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

          You mean like CiviCRM?

          There are a lot of not for profits. Some do have a good deal of money and pay their people very well.
          Others are manned by dedicated people that work for a lot less than they could other places.
          It really all depends.
          I some how thing the NRA pays some it's workers really well.

      • I always like option 2 or option 2a) (instead of a junior you hire a full time developer).

        Reason being that if you happen to hit the goldmine with regards to the developer, there is always the possibility to start selling the product(s) created.

        I mean if you as a nonprofit seem to have a use for it, and the developer is good, it should be easy to go back and tidy up the code, take out some of the parts that are unique to your company, and sell the software package...

        It also allows you to stagger the product

        • As a programmer, I'm going to stop you right there. What you speak of is noble, and might seem like common sense, but I don't expect a rockstar developer to be attracted to a non-profit org. Not unless your mission is to hit NVidia with a massive cluestick so he can buy GPUs that will actually run Crysis 2.

          I obviously can't speak for everyone, but what motivates me is a combination of challenge and "coolness factor". I write code because I want to create something awesome, that I can be proud of and get

      • I don't think very small non-profits need much of a CRM to store their contacts. You can get a lot of mileage out of a cheap web host, Gmail and a spreadsheet.

        I couldn't disagree with this more. Maybe true if all a nonprofit wants to do is store contacts. But even the smallest nonprofit should be able to see a 360 degree view of the people and organizations they interact with. Even the smallest nonprofit organization needs to make sure that everyone who should be thanked for a cash donation or for volunteering or for an in-kind donation is being thanked/acknowledged. Even the smallest nonprofit organization wants to track progress over time. It doesn't matter if

  • heh (Score:4, Interesting)

    by stoolpigeon ( 454276 ) * <bittercode@gmail> on Thursday May 13, 2010 @06:15PM (#32201018) Homepage Journal

    I work for a large non-profit. We use Peoplesoft with Goldmine and we are moving to Siebel for the donations/fund development systems I think. I'm out of that side now. Outside the US for our smaller offices we use home grown stuff.

    I'm curious if there are too many people here with hands on with both these packages, it seems a pretty niche type thing to have worked with either. But maybe I'm wrong.

    There's a desktop CRM solution - TntMPD [] that has been extended out to support larger endeavors. It's Free as in Beer - not FOSS though. I use it, (I raise the funds that cover the cost of my employment myself) and I couldn't imagine life without it. So I thought I'd throw that out there for anyone that might be interested in the general topic. I wouldn't use if it for an organization system, but it works very nicely to extend data out to the people doing the actual fund development. We don't do central fund raising so we've got thousands of people doing that.

    I wonder what it would take to tweak a FOSS solution to fit this need. It would be fun and just looking at the pricing on the two options you've linked, I would think it could be profitable to build and support it.

    • Siebel eh? Hope you enjoy the upgrade treadmill or getting no support.

    • Re:heh (Score:5, Interesting)

      by metrometro ( 1092237 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @06:49PM (#32201428)

      > I wonder what it would take to tweak a FOSS solution to fit this need.

      Uh, yeah. Done. The FOSS answer to this is called CiviCRM. Works pretty well, but it's always a question of meeting organization needs to the tech solution -- YMMV. []

      My org (nonprofit, ~1.5M annual budget, data creators) uses, which is donated to us gratis by the Salesforce Foundation. is the shit. Common Ground is just a rebranded version of, presumably because people in the social sector are opposed to both sales and force.

      • I understand that there isn't a great FOSS solution out there right now - but I think the pieces are out there to build one. That's all I'm saying.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by daemonc ( 145175 )

          Just curious, but:

          Have you looked at CiviCRM []?

          If so, in what areas did you find to be lacking? What are your criteria for a "great" CRM solution?

          Your needs may vary, but for our organization, Civi turned out to be superior to the commercial solutions available.

          • Re:heh (Score:4, Interesting)

            by oatworm ( 969674 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @08:39PM (#32202460) Homepage
            Civi isn't bad, though it does have a few quirks. To start with, you're probably hosting it on a web server somewhere, which means rolling out either Joomla or Drupal to host it - this means you need someone and something that can handle that, which is only trivial on Slashdot forums. Also, credit card processing is a little wonky, especially if you use a semi-supported gateway ( recurring transactions, last I checked, weren't supported). That said, it's hard to argue about the price.
          • It's been a while and like I said, I work for a larger org, so I didn't have to look at it too long to know it wasn't for us. I'd have to go back and check it out. But once someone is into the kind of software the original post mentions I think they are using a feature set that may go beyond what CiviCRM offers. I'm on the CiviCRM mailing list and keep watching them but to my knowledge there is still a certain point where there's a lack of good FOSS solutions.

            To be fair, when I joined the organization I

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        We're in the process of moving to CiviCRM. Setup was somewhat harder than it should have been, mainly because it wants PHP 5.2, not 5.3, which most of the repos have already switched to. But after installation, it has been smooth sailing. And it's clearly capable of doing the job for us. It is REALLY well thought out for non-profit CRM or "partnership management". All the rough edges are smoothed away, too.

        $6M budget, 250 personnel all over the world.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I'm a 11+ year admin of RE, and yes, while the system does have serious issues, and some areas can be downright frustrating to deal with, it is the best out there.

    CivicCRM, an open source db solution is one thing that I've been looking at as an alternative, however just for the query building system in RE, there's nothing out there that I've seen that even comes close, excluding large Oracle systems.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      Civi's query builder is pretty smooth, as long as you are trying to do ANDs. It will only do relatively simple ORs. But it's got a simple, a complex, and a "Hey, I want to write the SQL myself" mode.

  • Finding common ground, IMHO, is almost always preferable to stabby-slashy murder, no matter if your motive is profit or the welfare of man.

    (Yes, I have karma to burn, someone had to write it, etc...)
    • by darkonc ( 47285 )
      You can always click on 'Options' and then choose 'no karma bonus' (like I just did now).
  • We are a larger small (in other words, not quite medium) nonprofit and are looking into switching from home-brew spreadsheets and databases to using DonorPerfect (online) []

    It is nice having these on-line services that require nothing to install and nothing to update. Plus, it works with Linux+Firefox, which is a must. We have so many projects going all the time, such offerings are very compelling.... as long as you have rock solid Internet (which we do- Cox Fiber). I will pass

  • by rueger ( 210566 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @07:19PM (#32201796) Homepage
    Maybe things have changed in the last few years, but the last time I checked the real problem was the lack of anything suitable for small - to mid-sized groups.

    Raiser's Edge will surely do darned near anything, but you have to have both the budget and the dedicated staff to make it worthwhile. The average small non-profit lacks both of those resources.

    What would be really wonderful is a small, easy to use but flexible system that creates easily exportable files structures.

    Sadly the norm seems to be Filemaker hacks thats some well-intended volunteer created just before leaving town.

    (We won't talk about inheriting ten years of fundraising data, each year in seperate file, with changing field names and data types, from seven different programs ranging between dBase, FM, Excel, and Word...)

    (Or that the volunteer neglected to leave behind the admin password because he didn't want anyone messing with his masterpiece.)
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  • What do you call a MEDIUM size nonprofit? How many individual donations a year/people in the database?

    For a while, from about 1999-2007, I was doing some IT consulting almost exclusively with nonprofits, and worked extensively with Raiser's Edge. Raiser's Edge is a deeply entrenched product in a unique niche marketplace. It always seemed like most of the big nonprofits used it in some fashion, and all the really small nonprofits just get along with a weird excel spreadsheet.

    (It does seem like an organiza

  • check out CiviCRM (Score:4, Informative)

    by daemonc ( 145175 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @07:38PM (#32201964)

    I'm currently in the process of helping a medium sized international NGO migrate from Salesforce to CiviCRM [].

    During our requirements analysis we found that:

    • Salesforce, while certainly powerful and flexible, is really designed with business users in mind, which leads to some ugly hacks when it comes to some basic things that non-profits need
    • For the features we were interested in, CiviCRM was on par with Raiser's Edge
    • CiviCRM came out ahead in online donation processing, ability to create custom web forms, and ease of use
    • CiviCRM is tightly integrated with the Drupal content management system, which we were already using for several websites
    • CiviCRM is Open Source, free of charge, and has great community and commercial support

    Do yourself a favor, and give it a look.

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You should also take a look at the latest 3.2 release of CiviCRM (currently in alpha), which has significant usability and performance enhancements.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by rsborg ( 111459 )

      CiviCRM is Open Source, free of charge, and has great community and commercial support

      This is critical. Inevitably, once your operation grows bigger than the "tiny" size, you will need the software to do something it does do (or does very poorly)... Having online support forums is very important, as is the source code.

  • by NotQuiteReal ( 608241 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @07:49PM (#32202066) Journal
    a) I gave you money unsolicited, for your cause. I only give when I can, and want to. Almost NEVER is it due to a solicitation or campaign.
    b) Please don't send me unsolicited materials, you are wasting your (our) money and I resent that a portion of my donation is being churned back into solicitations and not the original purpose.
    c) Don't sell my name to other charities. I know, it is a fund raiser (maybe?) but I will NOT respond to their solicitations. They are wasting their money sending me pleas...
    d) Please remove my name from your list when I ask, (usually the "c" listers, but sometimes the "a" lister too!). If I go thru the trouble of asking to be removed, I will REALLY not EVER donate to that organization.
    e) Just because the return address on my envelope doesn't match the address on the check I am still just one person. Please don't harvest this extra info into your database and SEND ME TWO of everything! What a double waste of money.
    f) It would be nice if you sent the tax-deduction acknowledgment letter, but just once at the end of the year is fine.
    BTW - I do check the efficacy [] of your charity before I give.

    I don't mean to be dickish about this, but there are more good causes than I can support, so this is just part of how I chose which to give to.

    In short, your CRM software should allow you to check the "hey this guy will give us money if we DON'T bug him" box.
    • by oatworm ( 969674 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @08:43PM (#32202506) Homepage
      Don't get me wrong - I agree with your take. Trouble is, they wouldn't do that sort of thing if it didn't work. The honest truth is that a lot of people donate sporadically or impulsively to non-profit organizations for various reasons (family member comes up to them for some fund-raising activity, usually). Consequently, the non-profit can send a notice to remind the person that, hey, they donated to the non-profit in the past - would they like to do it again? Most of the time, the answer is "no", but it's yes often enough where they more than make back any money they put into the campaign, and certainly make more net than they would've made if they sat around and waited for the occasional check to float through.

      It's annoying, but it's life.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by swb ( 14022 )

        Is it true, as in backed by data taken from many non-profits and shown to be statistically valid, or is it one of those taken-for-granted truths that everyone THINKS is true, with just enough sporadic validation to make everyone believe it?

        I get the odds when it comes to fund raising via mass-mailing -- blather about a good cause and mail enough envelopes and you might make a profit, get half-assed careful about your target audience (ie, no pro-gay mailings to rural Oklahoma, etc) and you are kind of guaran

    • When you fill out information, please make it legible. Especially your creatively spelled name. Data entry is a bitch, and sometimes we just make our best guess, knowing we most likely got it wrong.

      Your complaint (e) is right on the mark. There were some supporters who had no less than 5 separate entries in the database. Every time they sent a check or came to event, apparently they were re-entered. Being a Senate campaign, apparently they didn't think it was worth the trouble of eliminating duplicates, a
      • by ThePortlyPenguin ( 225165 ) on Friday May 14, 2010 @12:43AM (#32203896)

        CiviCRM is smart enough to catch the obvious double-entries and prompt, "Hey, there's this dude over here with a similar name and address already. Do you want to create a brand new record, or just merge changes with the existing one?"

        • I believe we were using CiviCRM. I did a search for similar names before adding each new name. I don't recall ever getting that prompt, but I might just have avoided it by doing a manual search first (we were using the web browser interface.) I have no complaints about CiviCRM; the duplicates were due to poorly trained and poorly organized volunteers doing the work.
    • by lawpoop ( 604919 )

      a) I gave you money unsolicited, for your cause. I only give when I can, and want to. Almost NEVER is it due to a solicitation or campaign.
      b) Please don't send me unsolicited materials, you are wasting your (our) money and I resent that a portion of my donation is being churned back into solicitations and not the original purpose.

      You realize that the reason they do these campaigns is that they work, right? That charities actually raise funds from the tactics that you don't want your donation going towards?

      If you don't want charities doing this, then you have to convince their other supporters not to support them via these means, because otherwise it's the only way they can survive.

      And donating money doesn't give you a say in the organization, any more than giving someone ten bucks entitles you to tell them how to spend it. If yo

    • by awilden ( 110846 )

      BTW - I do check the efficacy [] of your charity before I give.

      I think it's a great idea for people to check out their charities carefully before donating. Unfortunately, there are a few wasteful and even corrupt charities out there. However, if you're using charity navigator, make sure you read their fine print []: at present they only catalog 4500 charities, only organizations with about $500k private donations each year, only organizations with budgets of $1M+ per year. This is not meant to say anything bad about charity navigator; they are offering a tremendous ser

  • I have been using Sage's Fundrasing 100 for the last 8 years. It is a decent product. However Sage is killing it off and hopefully migrating their customer base to their Millennium product. So far I'm not thrilled with Millennium but they are making changes to it to accommodate the functionality that FR100 users are accustom to. Something to look at as an option.

    Another option is to look at GiftWorks. It is a good program for small to medium nonproftis. If you are on the large side of mediums it may
  • I work for a very large non-profit. We use an older version Sungard/BSR Advance, with a bunch of specially-made front-ends, third-party reporting tools, etc., all hitting the Oracle back end directly. Most of us barely touch the actual client.

    That said, the client isn't too bad. And the product certainly supports just about anything you'd want to throw at it. Of course, if you're dumping Raiser's Edge due to expense, Advance would probably not be the way to go.

    Have you looked at Tessitura? It's especi
  • Check out [] . We use it and sugarcrm. iWave is great for researching lots of different things and sugar crm community version is free.
  • different approach (Score:2, Interesting)

    by AmBirkieboy ( 964718 )

    I've been in IT for quite some time now and work for a large nonprofit in the upper midwest that recently moved to common ground/salesforce from a traditional client server solution. In addition to Common Ground I also have access to and work with Raiser's Edge.

    The fact of the matter is that people, not software per se, generally determines the effectiveness of whatever solution is applied to the challenge of tracking people, transactions, and the many types of relationships nonprofits need to mange.


    • I'll second this. If you're asking *anybody* but your users, and whoever pays for it, and in that order, about which software to use, you're doing it wrong.

  • I'm IT Director for a nonprofit 501(c)3 with $6M budget and 250 people scattered around the world, plus probably that many more heavily involved volunteers.

    We tried SugarCRM and it works well for CRM, but isn't non-profit specific, so it doesn't "speak the language". That made it very complicated for non-techies and non-sales people to use.

    GoldMine was a small disaster that I pulled the plug on before it became a large disaster.

    Raiser's Edge does everything, but is way out of our price range. It is also a

  • *and* owned by a foundation. Advanced query, hundreds of reports, web, inventory, APIs, win/mac/linux, way less money: worth checking out.
  • Hey.

    We are using another blackbaud product, financial edge. We have 2 different currencies, and the database isn't designed for this. massive choke. You actually have to instantiate a new database and keep them synced with each other.
  • I'm so glad our small non-profit doesn't rely on donations for funding. Yeesh.
  • There is a ton of research to help you decide what to do here. The first place I'd look is Idealware - Here's a link to their Low Cost Donor Management Systems Report: [].

    It also has a very handy selection process, which you should follow when choosing ANY system of this type. Download the FREE report - it's worth it.


  • NTEN (the Non-profit Technology Network folks) did a 2007 CRM satisfaction survey ( and a 2009 Data Ecosystem survey ( CiviCRM was best ranked in the first, and best ranked for orgs 500k in the second, beating out other offerings including Salesforce, Blackbaud, Convio and so on. Well worth the small investment in becoming an NTEN member, but I think the reports are available for purchase to

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