As a web developer, I work with many publishing systems, from open source CMSs like Drupal or Wordpress, to CRMs like Salsa, Salesforce, and OnePage, and, as you might expect, they each have their strengths and opportunities. One of the biggest issues I run into is the varying levels of compatibility when you get into joining those systems, and how complex these compatibility issues end up being tends to be largely based on which systems the developers involved see as most beneficial.
To their credit, Convio attempts to handle both sides of this equation, but they’ve also faced a pretty high degree of difficulty along the way. The primary reason is that the two main pieces of Convio were not made at the same time, so they weren’t initially developed to work together. When Convio was acquired by Blackbaud, their system had to integrate with Blackbaud’s already amalgamated system of software. By merging these systems, they added some great functionality to Convio, but, as you might expect, it’s not as clean a solution as it would be if the system had been built from scratch.
After working with Convio over the past 8 months, I’ve come up with a few changes which, if implemented, could really elevate Convio to the next level:
1. Remove table-based layouts
The Convio CRM system (the one that makes various forms) still uses tables. While you can set donation forms to “responsive” to change the markup, the other form builders don’t give you that option. This lack of responsiveness can be challenging for my clients who use Convio, as they attempt to embrace best practice standards by ensuring that their website, and therefore their forms, are fully responsive. Accurately and consistently resizing tables is a huge amount of work, and it puts an additional burden on the budgets of the non-profits.
2. Provide better control over the markup in templates - both for email and for pages
While the Convio email templating system does a lot well, the method it uses for outputting code, tend to make things more complicated for users than it needs to be. While it does have a place to enter your CSS, that CSS does not get injected into the <head> of the template, it only exists externally (through a link). The reason this is problematic is because many email clients still do not support external stylesheets, so users then have to stick it into the HTML field, which comments said CSS out if you save the email template “wrong.”
In my opinion, there’s an easy fix for this: just allow access to the whole email markup. Convio strips out any wrapping tags like <body>, <head>, or <HTML>, which makes makes the whole process extremely really labor-intensive. This is true in the page templates as well, which is particularly problematic when you need to add something like a google analytics code, which has to be at the very beginning of the <head> to read properly.
3. Update the Convio documentation
One of the most frustrating parts of looking up how to do a built-in action in Convio, is that much of the documentation is out of date. This makes it difficult for both content editors and site builders, since buttons have moved, links don’t work, and the prescribed methods don’t exist anymore. This, in turn, creates additional cost for businesses (back to those tight-budgets I mentioned earlier), whose employees can’t look up how to do something quickly, and makes it hard for developers to know if and when something in the system has changed from how it was done before.
Additionally, Convio’s documentation can be hard to find. With no links to documentation built into the CMS/CRM system, you often end up having to head over to Google for your answer, which can result in all sorts of misinformation.
4. Improve the file management system
Right now, to find a file in Convio you have to know exactly where it lives in the system or what it’s called. Also, the name of the file is divorced from the name of the file itself - you can name the HTML link for it arbitrarily but then can’t find it by that same name when you go back into the file explorer. All of this makes managing your files more cumbersome, but the biggest issue is how labor intensive it can be to upload a file. You have to go through 5 different screens just to complete the process, and there is currently no bulk upload feature. So, if you have a big batch of images to add at one time, settle in. It’s going to be a long afternoon.
On top of that, you can’t access the file explorer from the Luminate Online side of things (the CRM), so if you want that image from the basic page you created in your CMS, you’re going to have to already know the URL of it.
5. Merge CMS and Luminate Online (the CRM)
Finally, I find the file explorer in the Convio system to be oddly segregated. The two systems are separated out into completely different portals, on different webpages, which means you have to go to two different sections to work on donation pages or static pages. Obviously, it would be much easier for users to be able to do this work in one system. One simple example of how this change would benefit Convio clients is that you would no longer need to keep two groups of page wrappers updated. Right now, if you want a page wrapper to look the same from the CMS side to the Luminate Online side, you’re going to have to completely rewrite that wrapper. That’s a lot of extra maintenance time, which factors, once again, into budgetary dollars that could have allocated to other resources.
All in all, the Convio system offers a lot of integrated solutions for their clients, but there also tend to be better stand alone tools that, for right now anyway, do each of these items more effectively. While you may still insist on using their donor management, it might be worth your time to try using a different system for your emails and CMS. Even though it’ll require some integration work, in the end you’ll save time and money in the maintenance. You’ll also wind up with a site that’s easier to redesign if you choose to, and with sites having an average lifetime nowadays of about two years, this will wind up saving you dough, too.
No one wants to take on the heavy burden of overhauling a huge, outdated system, so find yourself something that’s constantly maintained and lovingly looked after by its developers. (Hint hint, open source community projects!)