As mentioned in the previous post, the recently announced Blackbaud acquisition of Convio - two giants in the closed-source world that provide web services primarily for non-profits - caused a stir not only in the non-profit world but also in the Free and Open Source software world.  Allen Gunn of AspirationTech considered the merger a bad thing for non-profits (as I do) but a response to his post by Jeff Shuck that considered the acquisition a good thing got me riled to respond to some of his points which are in italics, below.  (This is a repost of my comments originally posted on the AspirationTech blog.)

Free by openprivacy, on Flickr

Consolidation. I disagree consolidation is necessarily a bad thing.

When the consolidation results in fewer choices and stronger lock-in to the non-profit client, then it can be a bad thing, indeed. In my experience helping several clients move from Blackbaud/Convio/Kintera to an open source solution (Drupal and CiviCRM) I have learned that the two main reasons for leaving the closed-source solution were 1) high cost and 2) lack of flexibility. Unfortunately, I know of several other potential clients that would also love to make the jump to open source, but have not because it’s not a cheap, off-the-shelf migration. They don’t call it ‘lock-in’ for nothing.

Scale. … The greater the customer base, the more useful the tool…

This is exactly why more non-profits should help fund free and open source solutions like Drupal, Joomla and CiviCRM because the dollars will go not only to help them but also to help others in the activist ecosystem.

Profit. You lost me here.

Not me! I totally agree that I’d like to see more non-profit dollars go to the activism they are promoting and not to closed systems that exist primarily to make money and only secondarily (if that!) to help the causes of their clients.

I’d argue that Blackbaud has grown large not through usury or manipulation, but because they’ve made a product that nonprofits have wanted and purchased.

It helps that Blackbaud has a marketing budget that dwarfs the entire operating budget of such orgs as CiviCRM. When a new non-profit starts out looking for a web-based constituent/donation management system, it’s likely they don’t even know about orgs like CiviCRM. And with CiviCRM they then also have to find a development team to build what they need. Blackbaud and their ilk will give it all to them with low startup costs. Then as the org grows, they will get charged more and more for new features (or told that such features can’t be had). This is how lock-in happens.

There are COUNTLESS low and no-cost alternatives

Yes, and that is part of the problem. When you’re a struggling startup or non-profit organization, it takes a lot of guts to choose a particular team to be in charge of your on-line architecture. There was an old saying back in the day that you never got fired for choosing IBM. Then IBM became Microsoft. For non-profits, it’s Blackbaud. It’s a difficult cycle to break, but break it we must, as the more dollars that get litterally thrown away to support these megacorps could instead be used to 1) support free and open source solutions and 2) support the very goals of each non-profit.

I am very sure that it will be extremely good news for the many like you who are trying to advocate for alternatives!

I’d love it if this were as true as it should be, but as mentioned above, Blackbaud’s ginormous marketing budget will more than compensate for the few like Allen and myself that will try to raise awareness among the non-profits that we serve.

Fen Labalme joined CivicActions as an Engineer in 2005.