Removal of Microsoft Applications from Blackbaud Hosting

In December 2021 Blackbaud notified all customers via an email and a landing page on their website that Microsoft applications would be removed from the Blackbaud hosting environments as of February 28, 2022. This page is my effort to help clients and others understand and respond to this change.

Blackbaud provided the lion’s share of the information on this topic. I have little inside information. My goal is not to repeat what Blackbaud has provided but to highlight what organizations need to focus on and to supplement Blackbaud’s information with my recommendations. This addresses the most common needs of most organizations, not every aspect of the change nor the needs of every organization, especially the largest and most sophisticated organizations. This page should not be viewed as a replacement for Blackbaud’s information.

The answers below are based on my understanding of the information Blackbaud has provided, independent research and analysis, and conversations with clients and colleagues.  I especially need to note and express my appreciation to the colleagues and “competitors” who carefully read this page and gave me thoughtful feedback to make this resource better for the community.  However, use and rely upon this information at your own risk.  It is being provided free of charge and you alone, not Bill Connors, CFRE, are responsible for any decisions you make or actions you take or don’t based on this information.  I have done my best to try to help, but I take no legal responsibility for this information.

As we learn more, I learn more, I am asked questions, and I refine my thinking, I will indicate in the sections below the date the answer was last updated to make it clear which questions have been updated since you last looked at this page. If you find any mistakes in the information below, please let me know.

This page is meant as a resource to my clients and to the RE community at large, not to obtain more clients right now.  I have many current clients and other organizations on a waiting list.  I’m sorry, I am not able to help organizations who are not already clients until well into 2022, long past February 28.  Also, I cannot be Blackbaud or Microsoft Support: if you contact me with questions and are not already a client, I am unlikely to be able to respond directly.  As noted, if I hear shared questions, find mistakes in what I’ve written on this page, or circumstances change or become clearer, I will update the answers.  Thank you in advance for understanding.

My forte is thoroughness, not brevity.  The answer to Question 1 notwithstanding, be warned.

The original questions and answers were posted January 10, 2022 and were believed accurate as of that date.

What we learned during the first month getting ready for this is discussed in my newsletter.

Q1: What change is happening?

Most simply stated, Blackbaud is removing Microsoft applications, of most importance Microsoft Word and Excel, from the Blackbaud hosting environments. This will remove the ability of the Raiser’s Edge (RE) NXT database view and RE 7 in Blackbaud hosting to directly “talk to” these applications. For example, RE will no longer be able to merge directly with Microsoft Word or to create pivot reports with Microsoft Excel “inside” RE.

This affects RE, Financial Edge, Education Edge, Blackbaud Church Management, and FIMS, whether version 7 or NXT, in all the Blackbaud hosting environments.

Q2: Why is this change happening?

The text of the email and the Blackbaud website are unclear, leading to widespread speculation on social media sites.  However, reading carefully between the lines of Blackbaud’s statements leads one to think that this change is happening for security reasons.  That is, for some reason these programs’ presence in Blackbaud’s hosting environments creates a security risk that Blackbaud has decided outweighs the benefits of having the functionality that will be lost with this change.

If this is true – and speculation that Blackbaud is doing this for other reasons is entirely that, speculation without direct evidence – then of course Blackbaud is doing the right thing.  My example for the opaqueness of Blackbaud’s explanation is that if the lock on your front door is broken, you don’t put a sign on it that says, “The lock on this door is broken.”  You keep it as quiet as possible until the situation can be fixed.  Again, if I am right, Blackbaud’s lack of clarity and explanation is understandable.

What is maddening to me about this is that Blackbaud has been caught with their pants down.  RE NXT has been out since 2015.  Blackbaud has developed few, perhaps no useful, alternatives in the RE NXT web view for the most important of the functions that are going to be lost by this change.  If Blackbaud had developed the software over the past seven years as they should have, then this  probable security concern would have been a non-issue because we all would already be doing these processes in other, more modern ways with more lead time to have made the transition.  So while I am willing to say that Blackbaud is likely doing the right thing by prioritizing security over functionality, they are clearly at fault for allowing this situation to have arisen in the first place.  I don’t mean for my answer to this question to let Blackbaud off the hook.

This point is also true regarding the sudden removal of Crystal Reports in the Blackbaud hosting environment in December.

I do not believe Blackbaud has made this change for any of the following reasons:

  • To get you to use the web view more. As I’ll answer below, the web view is of little help with this change.
  • To get you to spend more money with Blackbaud consulting services. Blackbaud has either mostly or entirely done away with their consulting program.
  • Because they are ending their partnership with Microsoft. The Microsoft relationship is as strong as ever from what I can tell:  Blackbaud is moving clients to Microsoft Azure, is promoting Microsoft Power Automate, supports Microsoft Power BI, has an NXT add-in for Microsoft Outlook, etc.  This is about removing some Microsoft applications from the hosting environments, that’s all.
  • Although I can’t prove it, it’s unlikely that Blackbaud is removing this functionality to save software licensing fees with Microsoft. Blackbaud is doing fine financially and while I question many of the decisions they’ve made (more on that below), I don’t think they’ve made this change over fees.

Q3: Can you tell me in more detail what is happening?

The RE NXT database view is not much more than RE 7, which first came out in 2000, run on a computer that Blackbaud manages.  RE 7 was written to be installed and run on a desktop computer, not over the internet.  Citrix is the software that allows us to start the database view from an internet browser, for the program to start on one of these computers that Blackbaud manages, and for it to look like the database view is running on our computers so we can use it.  But it’s not really running on our computers, it only looks like it is – it’s running on a computer in Boston, Vancouver, or somewhere else in your country or region, wherever Blackbaud or Microsoft (Azure) have located it.

Because the database view is not running on your computer, it cannot talk to the copies of Word and Excel on your computer.  (Again, it looks like it’s running on your computer, very similar to how it looked when RE 7 was installed on computers, but it’s not.  That’s why it’s more complicated to download and upload files to the database view than it was with RE 7.)  Because of this, for those RE database view functions that interact with Word and Excel to run Blackbaud has had to provide a copy of those programs in their hosting environments where the database view runs.

These “hosting environments” are just big banks of computers that run software.  Blackbaud is in the software business, not the hardware business, so they outsource this to data centers.  In the U.S., the primary one was in Boston.  For Canada, it was Vancouver.  Other parts of the world have their own data centers.  A few years ago, Blackbaud began to transition away from these “private” data centers (where Blackbaud does their own thing) to the “public” cloud environment sold by Microsoft. Microsoft’s service is called Azure, and it’s only “public” because anyone willing to pay can host their software in the environment, it’s not just for Blackbaud.  Rest assured, however, this does not mean your data is public.

So, again presumably because of security concerns – the more software in an environment, the more opportunities for security problems – the more doors and windows on your home, the more opportunities for weak points and break-ins – Blackbaud is removing the Microsoft applications from the private (Boston, Vancouver) and public (Azure) hosting environments where the RE NXT database view is also installed.  Anything that the database view does that requires a Microsoft Office application (or some other less-used Microsoft programs, like Paint) to run will no longer work.

Note that this means that organizations still on RE 7 and running it on the Blackbaud hosting environment are also affected, but those running RE 7 on their own server and computers or a third-party host’s server are not affected by this change for now (what this means for patches down the road is not known).

This answer also likely explains the sudden removal of Crystal Reports from the Blackbaud hosting environment in December.

Q4: What is NOT changing? (updated 2/14/22)

There has been wild speculation on RE social media platforms.  Please read the Blackbaud materials carefully before getting yourself or others worked up about what is and is not changing.

The RE NXT web view and its features are unaffected by this.  This means the web view’s ability to create Outlook (and other) Calendar Appointments is unaffected.  The Blackbaud Add-in for Outlook that works with the web view for creating actions from emails is unaffected by this.

Exporting from the database view is unaffected by this.  For example, RE will still create Excel files when you export data or reports, you will just need to open them with a copy of Excel on your computer (or another program that can open Excel files).

While the ability to directly mail merge in Mail is going away, Mail itself is NOT going away!  In fact, the best solution for your mail merges will be to continue to use Mail, such as the Donor Acknowledgement Letters function in Mail, but now you will click the Export button in Mail (not in Export, but in Mail!) to create the data file and then perform the mail merge in your local copy of Word.

Envelopes and labels in Mail are not going away because these do not rely on Word.

All Preview and PDF-creation abilities of RE are unaffected.  (2/14/22 update: With the update of the database view to patch 27 to make the Microsoft files accessible from the Media tab, PDF files there now need to be downloaded to be viewed unless you use the web view.  The database view Media tab no longer allows for viewing a PDF within the database view. Other PDF capabilities of the database view are unchanged still.)

Blackbaud is not “ending their relationship with Microsoft.”  From what I can tell, that relationship is as strong as ever as Blackbaud moves more clients to Microsoft Azure, promotes Microsoft Power Automate and Power BI, has created the Blackbaud Add-in for Microsoft Outlook (for NXT, which again, is not going away), etc.

Q5: I’m really ticked off about this. Should we leave Blackbaud over this?

That’s getting harder and harder to answer.  I get the anger; trust me, I get it and I also feel it.  But I’m not a believer in cutting off my nose to spite my face.  Yet I do think we have to ask the question:  Can and will Blackbaud get RE NXT finished anytime soon, or is this just the slow, sad decline of their flagship product which will end up the next Lotus 1-2-3, WordPerfect, or Fundmaster?

For most U.S. organizations, adapting to these changes will not be hard, will not take long, and will provide some side benefits as well (I’m not justifying the change, I’m just saying…).  Making this change will take a few hours, or at most a few days, of work for most organizations.  For organizations in Canada and perhaps other countries, resolving e-receipting may take longer.  (sorry, my friends in English-speaking countries other than the U.S.:  “organisations”)

However, RE NXT web view development has been stalled for years, Blackbaud added extra fees last year mid-contract and heavy handedly, I hear lots of complaints about unhappiness with Support, the software has been slow and access unreliable for months, and now we’re not only failing to meaningfully move forward with the web view, we’re actively moving backwards with the loss of real and used functionality of Crystal Reports and Microsoft Office – all while the company seems to be able to come up with $750 million to buy another company and make more money for its investors, board and executives.  Blackbaud leadership seems to think there is nowhere else for RE users to go; we’re a captive, lazy customer base; and they can take their time while they use nonprofits’ subscription fees for RE to build and enhance other products, do stock buybacks, and do other activities to benefit the investors who hold Blackbaud stock.

While I wouldn’t leave RE over just this Microsoft change, I get that this could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

For your sake, however, I would urge caution.  If you do want to leave RE and need help, I offer migration services and would be happy to talk with you.  But understand it will take far, far more time and far, far more money to leave RE than to deal with this change – especially if you do the product research and conversion process correctly.  I have been consulting on database conversions since 1995; I’m a database consultant, it’s what I do.  I’m here to tell you: Converting databases is not like switching your personal email from Hotmail to Gmail.  The process will create a huge amount of disturbance to your organization.  It will cost a huge amount of money.  And it will take far more work than you can imagine.

Change systems if now is the time in the bigger picture for your organization to move on, just don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.

Q6: So what should I do in response to this? (updated 2/10/22)

First, don’t panic.  If you address this in mid-January, you have plenty of time to deal with it if you’re like most organizations using RE.

Second, read the Blackbaud materials.  I hate the “link hell” that Blackbaud loves to create with their resources, but they did make a lot of useful resources available.  They made the right decision to wait to announce the change until they had resources in place for us to use.  So use them.  Stop guessing, stop speculating, sit down, and read them.  (Perhaps I’ve been spending too much time in RE social media groups where the wild speculation and questions Blackbaud has already answered keep coming up. 😉 )

Third, make a list of those functions you know are going to be affected by this change (see my thoughts in the next question).  Just sit down and make a list. Talk to your colleagues who use the database view to ensure you have a good list for your whole organization, for all your users.

Fourth, prioritize the list so the most important, most used, most needed post-February 28 functions can be ready far in advance of February 28.

Fifth, if any of these replacements might not be ready to go by February 28, be sure to go into the functions in RE and download the associated Microsoft files before you lose access to them.  For example, download all the merge letters and make copies of all your pivot reports.  As it seems like Blackbaud might just be removing the buttons on the screen that let us get into where those things are stored, you need to get your copies of them while you can, even if you don’t set them back up the new way right away.  See this Blackbaud direction how to do so if you’re not sure how.  (2/10/22 update: Blackbaud has released a tool that will quickly download all your Word — only Word — merge documents. Don’t forget to manually download your pivot reports.)

Sixth, work through each item on the list until you’ve got them all.

Seventh, thoughtfully consider the security ramifications of this change and implement the needed policy and procedure changes in your organization.  (This is addressed in its own question below.)

Q7: Where do you think most organizations are going to be affected? (last updated 2/10/22)

In the U.S., I expect almost every organization will need to re-do their acknowledgement letter process.

In Canada, Receipts will likely be the biggest issue, but Receipts are also likely an issue for some U.S. organizations.  (Canadian organizations might find this Blackbaud Community post helpful in resolving the loss of eReceipts from the database view. 1/18/22 update: The author of the answer in this post, a former Blackbaud colleague, has made available more detailed directions here. 2/10/22 update: This change to Mail > Receipts might be of help as well.)

Then, I see Honor/Memorial (Tribute) Acknowledgement Letters and (Pledge) Reminders as the next most-used functions whose processes will need to be redone.  These can be set up as either simple mail merges or conditional mail merges directly in Word.

Most of the other tools in Mail that can merge aren’t used or aren’t used for merging in my experience.

In my experience, some organizations use Pivot Reports, but few.

I have never been a fan of one-off acknowledgement letters through the Export setup, Configuration > Letters setup, and the gift Word merge button.  Most organizations have not done that work and don’t use that function.  Those that do should reassess why they’re doing their acknowledgement letters one at a time.

Most organizations don’t use the merge capability on the constituent toolbar.

Few organizations merge directly with Export; most users don’t seem to even know it’s possible.

I think there will be some initial confusion over accessing files on the Media tab, but for organizations on RE NXT that is not likely to be a real issue.

Fundraisers and database staff should be using the web view at every opportunity, so the lost features such as the database view constituent record “Write a letter” button and spell check for Notes do not bother me – we can use the web view.

In summary, this feels like a much bigger change than it is likely to be in reality for most organizations, although every organization is likely to be affected.

Q8: What are the security concerns of this change?

There is unlikely any need to change anything in the RE Security areas of the database and web views.  However, there is a security concern with this change that your organization should thoughtfully consider and implement policies and procedures to address.

The security concern is that more data will be downloaded from RE than before.  Admittedly, most organizations already download data from RE to their computers – far more data and with far less care than they should, in my professional experience.  One of my biggest irritations with the 2020 data breach that Blackbaud had was the moral outrage expressed by organizations about this happening – “How could Blackbaud let this happen?!” – when almost daily in my work I see fundraisers ask for, and database staff deliver, huge spreadsheets of sensitive data from RE and store them on laptop computers, all over the network, in online storage locations, without passwords, sent in emails to internal and external parties, without care about where the files go, who can see them, how long they’re left, or if they’re ever properly deleted.

Because we can no longer run merges and pivot reports “inside” the software, we are being forced to download this information.  It is subject to all the same concerns I just expressed.  An answer here cannot fully address all the points that you and your organization should consider, but you should thoughtfully consider this with your management and IT resources: If we download information, where should it be located, how long should it be left, and how can we ensure the data is fully and properly destroyed and unretrievable?

Q9: How should I go about re-creating my mail merges, especially my Donor Acknowledgement Letters? (updated 1/18/22)

Remember, Mail is not going away.  Mail > Donor Acknowledgement Letters (DAL) is not going away.  What is going away is the ability to put your letters “inside” the DAL function using the Word Merge Wizard button and to click the Merge button to produce your letters.

There are at least four options to re-do your DALs for use February 28 and later.

First, use DAL in Mail to prepare your data as always, use the Export button in DAL in Mail to create a data file, and then use that data file with the copy of Word installed on your computer to perform the merge.

Second, perhaps the email receipts function of the web view could be used.

Third, perhaps a third-party tool could be used.

Fourth, perhaps Microsoft Power Automate, which Blackbaud is now promoting, could be used.

My recommendation?  Options 2, 3 and 4 are fine to consider for the long run, when things slow down and you have time to evaluate whether you have the time, ability, and budget to take one of those approaches (and the approach can do what you need it to do), but why make this harder than it needs to be?  A merge with Word on your computer is almost as good as what RE does.  In fact, merging with Word on your computer has two silver linings: One, it will run faster than the slow irritation that Blackbaud let the mail merges in the hosting environments become.  Two, it’s easier and faster to update the template letters this way.

Do not, however, do either of the following things:

Do not attempt to use a web view Gifts List to export to Excel and then try to use that for a merge document.  Web view lists are not designed for mail merges, Blackbaud doesn’t want you to do that, and Blackbaud isn’t removing Microsoft Office to try to get you to do that.  The data will not be complete or correct (no address processing, no addressee/salutation or name format processing).  Just don’t do it.

Also, do not switch from doing your letters in Mail > Donor Acknowledgement Letters to Export.  Don’t!  There’s no need.  Most Mail functions have always been able to export data, including the DAL tool, and Mail does so for mailings far better than Export.  If you already do your acknowledgement letters from Export – and only if you have good reason to do them there instead of the intended tool, the Mail DAL tool – fine, continue to do them that way.  But do not change your existing Mail letters to Export.  Simply use the Export button in the Mail function to create your data file.  (And please, heaven forbid, do NOT use Query and export directly from a query to a file for your letters!)

You can still do conditional letter mail merges in Word outside of RE.  I know it’s not a common way to do Word merges, but it works.  It is the way we used to do it in the 1990s with RE 6 and in the early days of RE 7 (yes, I appreciate the irony of what I’m saying in 2022).  The Blackbaud resources for this change provide a good explanation how to do this.  In summary, it involves setting up each template letter as its own document like we currently do but also creating a primary merge document which has the conditions to merge in the template files.  This primary document is just the letter header (date, name, address, salutation) followed by a series of statements in the letter that say, in essence, “if the Letter field equals X, then merge in X.doc; if the Letter field equals Y, then merge in Y.doc; etc.”  The following Blackbaud resources will show you how to do that.

The knowledgebase article with the process in text.

A YouTube video demonstration of the process.

(1/18/22 update: Blackbaud Customer Success delivered a fantastic webinar today that answers many of the questions on this page but at its heart focused on options for re-doing donor acknowledgement letters and other Word merges.  I heartily recommend it as more context for my briefer discussion here.)

Some other tips from having done this many years ago:

Remove any spaces, accented characters, and characters other than alphabetic letters and numbers in your Letter codes inside RE (in database view Configuration > Letters > Gift) and don’t put any spaces or punctuation in the folder names and names of the Word documents for your templates.  While Word might work if either the code or the file has spaces in them, it worked more reliably without them.  Capital letters are okay, so “CapitalCampaignLibraryRenovation” is good while “Capital Campaign Library Renovation” and “capitalcampaignlibraryrenovation” should be avoided (all lower case is harder to read).

When creating your file of data from DALs in Mail, do not put the data in an Excel format.  Excel can change the data format in unpleasant and unnecessary ways.  Export the data from Mail in RE in the Comma-Separated Values format.  Don’t open the data in Excel and look at it.  If you do, don’t save it, close the file without saving it.

Consider putting the entire header of your letter – the date, addressee, address block, and salutation – in the primary document rather than in each of the templates.  Since I recommend all the letters in a mail merge be signed by the same person – create separate merges for each signer, don’t de-collate letters after they’re merged – the signature block can be in the main document as well.  The templates, then, are just the unique body of each letter.

A shortcut to View Field Codes as shown in the video is to press Alt+F9 on a Windows machine.  This is a toggle that turns the view on and off.  Always have it on if you’re going to use the If…Then…Else function in Word, don’t ever hide it.

Be careful when inserting your cursor between the quotation marks in your If… statement so that you get it in the right location.  Place your cursor in between the second set of quotes, not between the first and second sets of quotes.

Note that Insert Field Chars inserts what looks like “French brackets” – that’s what I was taught they are called, the curly or squiggly ones rather than the straight ones.  However, these are not just regular French brackets that you can enter directly from your keyboard.  They are special field codes and must be entered as the instructor in the video demonstrates or by using the shortcut of Ctrl+F9.

Once one of these If… statements is set up with the proper codes, you can just copy and paste the first one and edit the pasted content as you would anything else in Word.  You don’t have to go through all the original steps every time; copying, pasting, and editing one set done correctly works fine.

When you put in the “If…Then…Else…” code for the conditional merging, Word will add MERGEFORMAT.  To avoid Word making weird and unpleasant formatting changes to your letters, change the MERGEFORMAT to CHARFORMAT (replace MERGE with CHAR).

If you have other unusual formatting results when merging your letters, try toggling on Field Codes and putting \* charformat after the name of the field and before the closing bracket for each field.  For example:

{MERGEFIELD Amount \* charformat}

Be careful to exactly replicate the spacing illustrated and that the font applied to the insertion matches the font you want the merged text in.

Some of the Blackbaud videos say to answer No to the question of marking the letters as Acknowledged.  IMHO, this is only a partial answer.  It is a good idea to answer No the first time the file is created because we all know the problems we can have if we answer Yes and then need to re-run the process.  But after you’ve run the process once and have a good file you can work with – no changes need to be made to the data or to the DAL parameters – then run it again and answer YES to mark the gifts as Acknowledged.

As the video’s instructor encountered, you are likely to get SQL command messages constantly when merging this way.  Yes, it is annoying.  Microsoft added that to Word to help you avoid malicious code running on your computer and activating a virus or other harmful software.  If this message becomes intolerable and you have your IT team’s blessing, Microsoft discusses how to turn it off hereHowever, make this change at your own risk.

All the same points and principles apply with any of the Word merge changes you need to make, not just Donor Acknowledgement Letters.

Q10: Are we supposed to, or should we, use the web view to make up for this lost functionality?

There has been speculation in RE social media platforms that Blackbaud is making this change to force us to use the web view more, to force us to the web view by beginning to dismantle the database view.  I do not believe that is the case.  I believe, as stated in a previous answer, that this is about security.

Another reason I think this is true is that the web view is largely unhelpful here.  It is not possible to perform a mail merge in the web view nor to export the data that is likely to be needed to do a mail merge.

As I said in a previous answer, do not export a web view Gifts List for merging your acknowledgement letters.  Do not export a web view Constituent List for any mailing.  These tools have not been built or intended for this purpose, and you’re making elementary mistakes if you do so, everything from ignoring address and add/sal processing needs to further considerations that should be made for who to include and not include in mailings.  Mail in the database view does this well.

The only tool in the web view that might be of help to deal with the loss of the Word merge function is Gift Receipting under the Fundraising menu.  It’s possible this could be used for acknowledgement letters and receipts (however, it’s only available for U.S. clients).  I still recommend your first approach should be to set up a Word merge on your computer with a file downloaded from Mail in the database view.  Test the web view receipts as you have time and interest later.  There are limitations with the Receipting function in the web view.  For example, while the most important and most-used fields are available, not all fields are available.  You can set up multiple receipt templates, but there is no single conditional mail merge option, so each template will require its own list and its own merge.  While it is possible to create PDFs of these receipts for printing and mailing rather than emailing, the tool is designed for emailing receipts and so the formatting options are quite limited when compared to the options available in Word.  Web view Receipts is designed for receipting, so not all gift types can be included in this process (it covers the most common gift types that require acknowledgement letters, but not all).  If you currently email receipts from the database view using Receipts in Mail, or if you want to use this change as motivation to send more receipts via email instead of hard copy, this might be a suitable replacement.  Otherwise I don’t see this as a useful option to address the Blackbaud removal of Microsoft applications from the hosting environments.

If you are using pivot reports inside RE, it’s possible that the Reporting function in the web view might be able to replace the pivot report, but unlikely.  The options would be: (1) the “canned” dashboards under Fundraising > Reporting; (2) a custom dashboard using the built-in “insights” created under Analysis > Report builder; or (3) a custom dashboard that relies on a custom insight which requires the purchase from Blackbaud of Insight Designer (as of December 2021, US $2,400 per year).  Simply rebuilding the pivot report from exported data to your computer’s copy of Excel is going to be far more straightforward.

There are functions in the web view that you and your users should have been using already that would eliminate the need to worry about lost functionality from this change, such as creating your Actions in the web view and creating Outlook reminders from that.  But for the functions that should have been done in the database view to this day, there is unlikely much in the web view that will help.

Q11: Are there third-party tools that could help with this? (last updated 4/11/22)

“Third-party” tools are software programs not written by Blackbaud or yourself.

If you use an iPhone, you likely use apps written by companies other than Apple.  If you use an Android phone, you likely use apps written by companies other than Google.  Today’s technology allows other companies – third parties – to build software to work with that technology.

RE has long done that, but Blackbaud got serious about it when it developed RE NXT.  Today there is a whole marketplace of apps available for RE NXT (and FE and other Blackbaud products) beyond just the RE “modules” and other Blackbaud products and services.

The first one to consider in the context of this change is ReceipterPro, which existed long before this recent change.  More information on that product can be found at this website and in the Blackbaud marketplace listing for the product. On 1/27/22, Blackbaud presented a webinar with Donortek talking about and demonstrating this product.  Both were very well done, and the product looks amazing.  But it has the price tag to go along with the functionality.  If you are a larger, more sophisticated organization with a budget to tackle this change, you should watch this webinar and demo and consider the product.

Red Arc has developed a product in response to this change called Letter Box.  This is a company that has already developed several add-ins for RE NXT. On 1/25/22, Blackbaud presented a webinar and demo with Red Arc on this product.  While the webinar was slow to get into the meat of the topic and there were audio issues with the demo, this product shows promise (here is another demo without the audio issues).

SmartTHING also developed a product in response to this change called SmartLETTERS.  Blackbaud hosted a webinar for this product, but the video on the product’s site contains the same material.

And a smaller firm, Bradford Consulting, has developed a clever tool that should make conditional mail merges with Word far easier, EasyREmerge.

I have not used these products or worked with a client that has.  This is not a recommendation or endorsement, it’s just a notice that these products exist and are an option.

To my knowledge, there is not yet a chart comparing and contrasting the functions and costs of these four tools with a Word merge or Power Automate setup.

Keep your eyes open for any further announcements from other companies that might be stepping in to fill this new need.

As suggested above, I would first set up the straightforward desktop replacement of your donor acknowledgement letters, and if you have the time and interest – and budget – you might consider third-party products for RE that could help make the changes before us easier.

Q12: What do you think of Power Automate as a solution for mail merging?

Power Automate is a Microsoft tool that allows you to automate computer steps without being a programmer, without having to know a programming language or write programming code.  Blackbaud has been making information, training, and resources available about it, especially in 2021, as they have worked with Microsoft to “link it” to the RE NXT software so that it can “see” and use RE fields and your data in automated processes.  Considering the removal of MS Office from the Blackbaud hosting environments, Blackbaud has been promoting Power Automate as a possible solution.

My initial impression is that Power Automate will be the new Crystal Reports of RE.  By that I do not mean the new reporting application, but instead the new high-end, third-party application that the biggest and most sophisticated of organizations and RE database managers will try to use with RE.  Most RE organizations and database managers will not have the time or skills to learn and use it.

Most organizations should just re-create their Word merges using their local copy of Word as discussed above.  I recommend against spending a lot of time trying to learn and set up Power Automate to work with your letters as the immediate solution.  Then, if you have time, interest, and the skills to do so, explore this tool.  Blackbaud has made many resources available, so take advantage of them if it makes sense for you and your organization.

I emphasize the last part because you need to think not only about your skill set, but your organization’s ability to sustain your work in Power Automate after you leave.  Even though Power Automate is promoted as “no-code or low-code programming,” the technical and logical skills needed to use this tool are likely to be beyond the skill set and time available to most database managers to learn it.  And not just to learn it, but to sustain it over time: even if it’s learned, if the skills are not maintained they will be lost.  If you’re the unicorn, the wunderkind, the exceptional DBM who can learn this and set it up for your organization, when you leave, is your organization going to be able to find and pay someone with your same abilities to continue to support the work you’ve set up?

We saw this repeatedly with Crystal Reports: a database manager unicorn with terrific skills would create great reports the fundraisers and managers loved, a dependence would be built on them, the DBM would leave, the new DBM didn’t have sufficient Crystal skills to support the reports, and eventually the reports went into disuse and the organization had to scramble to set up new procedures the new DBM could support.  The organization would have been better served by the first DBM establishing a more supportable approach to begin with (and creating exceptional documentation for their successor to use!).

If you’re part of a multi-member advancement services team at a university in a big-city environment, where smart tech people can be found and the university is willing to pay them, sure, Power Automate might be a terrific long-term solution for your organization.  But if you’re at a smaller organization where your successor is not likely to have the time or ability to support a Power Automate solution that you might have the ability to set up, then be cautious.

Q13: What should I do about my pivot reports?

A few years ago, Blackbaud changed the pivot engine in RE from a specific tool that only did pivot reports to Microsoft Excel.  When you use the tool in database view for Reports > Pivot Reports and click the Generate button, RE starts Excel in the Blackbaud hosting environment, loads the data from the source query, and begins a pivot chart.  Just as Word documents can be saved inside RE, such as the Word letters saved inside Donor Acknowledgement Letters, so can Excel spreadsheets be saved into RE in Pivot Reports.

Pivot reports are not difficult, and if you know how to do them in RE, you know every step how to do them in Excel except how to start the pivot report from the raw data (which is easy enough to google and learn how to do).  I recommend:

  1. Run the pivot reports you will want to continue to use after February 28.
  2. Either take a screenshot of what they look like so that you can replicate them or do a Save As and save them as local files on your computer.  Be careful, however:  the raw data that is being pivoted will be in the file on a tab in the spreadsheet.  Be cautious where and how you store the file and ensure the file is erased – not just deleted, but erased – if there is anything that anyone might consider confidential.
  3. Pivot reports in RE can now only be based off the Results tab of a query because the pivot reports function in RE uses a query, not an export.  The post-February 28 approach will require exporting data from RE to a file on your computer to do the pivot.  Queries can be directly exported using an icon on their toolbar, but if it will serve you better, you can now use an export instead to build your pivot report in Excel outside RE.
  4. Since you probably don’t want to build the pivot every time you export the data, you can either create a process where you replace the raw data on the Data tab each time and let the pivot automatically update or build the pivot in one spreadsheet that is built to read the data from a different spreadsheet so you just overwrite the data spreadsheet each time with updated data.  See this Blackbaud kb article for more specific steps.

Q14: What’s the deal with the Media tab? (last updated 2/14/22)

(2/10 & 14/22 updates: As of patch 27 for the database view/RE 7, it will be possible to download and add database view Media items without first opening them. However, an unfortunate side effect of this is that PDF files are no longer viewable within the database view and must be downloaded to be looked at — or looked at in the web view.  The following paragraphs’ original text has been updated to reflect the situation as we understand it on February 14, 2022.)

The challenge with the Media tab until mid-February 2022 was that to view, get access to, and even download the media item you must open it.  There was no option in a Media item to just download it.  For example, if you had a Word document in Media, to see the Word document you had to double-click on it to open it or right-click on it to get Open and Edit options.  Without Word in the hosting environment, none of these options would work so you couldn’t see or download your Media tab items that rely on a Microsoft application.

In mid-February 2022, Blackbaud released patch 27 for the database view which allows for the download and adding of files to the Media tab without needing the application present to open the item first.  While this does solve the problem for Microsoft applications — at least having some form of access to them in the database view — it unfortunately requires the same process to see PDF files, making their viewing more complicated as well.

For clients on RE NXT, you can see and open the item by using the web view and the Attachments tile.  This functionality is unaffected and the items that were added to the Media tab in the database view are accessible on the Attachments tile in the web view (the reverse is not true, nor are updates to the files on the Media tab transferred to the web view – always delete and re-add).  For example, if you have a Word document in a media item and you do not want to download it to look at it from the database view, go to the web view to look at it.

If you are on RE 7 in the hosting environment, you will have to download the file to view it.

My advice is to only use the Media tab and Attachments tiles in RE as a convenience for fundraisers to have important files easily accessible and associated with the constituent.  RE is not fundamentally built as a document storage system and the “copy of record” for a file should be stored outside of RE.

Be thoughtful about deciding to add files only as Attachments in the web view.  While it’s almost certainly wrong when people say “Attachments in the web view are not backed up” – presumably Blackbaud is backing them up somehow, somewhere – because attachments in the web view are not written back to the Media tab in the database view, these files will not be included in backups you get or request of Blackbaud of your RE data.  This may be reason for your organization to decide to not add files to Attachments directly in the web view.  However, I repeat here what I said in the previous paragraph: RE should not be used as the system of record for file attachments, only as a duplicate for convenience of fundraisers when looking at constituent records.  Any file of any importance (e.g., pledge and grant agreements, important letters) should be stored in a document management system designed for that purpose, even a well-organized network or online drive.  So if you have a copy or backup of the file stored elsewhere, there should be little data backup risk of adding the file directly to Attachments in the web view.

Q15: What’s the deal with Outlook?

Similar changes are happening with the removal of Microsoft Outlook from the hosting environment.  The Blackbaud landing page for this change has a section specific to Outlook.  The first question Blackbaud answers lists eight features of the database view that will be affected by the removal of Outlook.

However, none of these losses concern me as I think most organizations do not or should not use these functions anymore.

Fundraisers and database staff that are on RE NXT should be doing these tasks in the web view, which is unaffected by the removal of the Microsoft applications from the hosting environment.  As the Blackbaud landing page makes clear, the free Blackbaud for Outlook add-in that works with the web view is not changing.

Organizations still on RE 7 that are locally or third-party hosted will be unaffected by this change.

Organizations that are still on RE 7 in Blackbaud hosting are likely little affected as well since most of these lost functions are not used.

“Just wanted you to know that you were praised by many at our staff retreat yesterday!

“Thank you so much for the thorough and thoughtful work that you do for us. Please know that everyone on staff really appreciates what you are doing with the database and with training.”

Operations Director
Organization Serving Children, Northern California

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