January 5, 2004

DonorWare Chooses WebGUI Over AxKit

Author: Wade Nelson

DonorWare develops fundraising software for non-profit agencies. Guiding DonorWare's software development are five principles used in selecting what frameworks, technologies, and programming languages DonorWare adopts. For an application framework that elegantly handles content management, DonorWare selected WebGUI from PlainBlack. According to Mike Schroeder, CEO of DonorWare, WebGUI was easy to install, and use. He notes that, "In fifteen minutes we had a summer intern productive with WebGUI. She was able to migrate 600 pages of content from a previous website in less than two weeks."Faith-based organizations such as the Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF), Christian Blind Mission, and Promise Keepers turn to DonorWare for CRM-like "Constituent management" software. DonorWare's package targets charitable organizations with anywhere from fifty thousand to several million donors. Organizations can run DonorWare in-house, or access it, ASP-like, via the web, on servers in DonorWare's state-of-the art data center.

Charities today need high-power enterprise solutions to handle needs as diverse as credit card processing, event registration, as well as tracking donors. According to Schroeder, "A lot of nonprofits now have catalogs and offer products, so we're dealing with ecommerce websites, direct mail, product catalogs, inventory control, state taxes, all of that."

DonorWare has developed a soup-to-nuts application. Their four-tier architecture includes an underlying database, business logic, applications, and presentation engines. DonorWare's robust business logic has over three decades of history - long before the web became popular -- so the addition of a presentation layer that could interface with existing business logic, and effectively deliver content to the web was important.

WebGUI will be driving future generations of DonorWare's WebWare and ContentWare packages, providing flexible, user-friendly solutions for web-based content. Personalization features coming in future versions of WebGUI will make future versions even more powerful. Expected uses of personalization include displaying regional content based on the donor's address, or reports on how a donor's previous gift was used. This type of personalization closes the loop for true one to one relationship building.

DonorWare's five guiding principles on selecting technology are:

  1. Adapt to a high rate of change - change is expected, so choose technology that is extensible and open.
  2. Ubiquitous Deployment - whenever possible, choose common, everyday technology over custom technology. It is easier to maintain and support.
  3. Leverage a value chain - few companies are large enough to drive their own value chain, so choose a value chain that works to your advantage. For DonorWare, that value chain is the Open Source movement.
  4. Appropriate Pricing - choose technology that clients can afford to deploy.
  5. Preserve What Is Good - when choosing new technology, it is tempting to start from scratch, but you often "throw out the baby with the bath water". Look for ways to preserve your existing investment.

These value statements ensure that DonorWare's offerings meet the needs of its customers. It also prevents DonorWare from heading down technology "dead ends", ensuring affordability, and so forth.

According to Mike Schroeder, CEO/CTO of DonorWare, "Our adoption of these value statements, combined with a bit of good fortune, have allowed us to continue meeting customer needs and avoid making expensive technology mistakes."

He continues, "Because we serve charities and nonprofits we decided to leverage open source as a value chain. Before we went that direction, we evaluated products like Oracle. We could have easily created a solution using Oracle, but it would have been a solution none of our clients could afford to use."

Pursuing open source solutions led DonorWare to replace it's UNIFY database with MySQL. DonorWare selected MySQL based on its speed, support, user base, and rate of ongoing development. The same principles narrowed the field of CMS's and Web Application Frameworks down to two; Axkit, and WebGUI.

WebGUI met DonorWare's criteria of being extensible, usable out of the box, and compatible with open standards like SOAP. Extensibility allowed DonorWare to create it's own SOAP wobject for WebGUI, allowing WebGUI to seamlessly connect to almost a million lines of existing business logic. Says Schroeder, "We could add onto WebGUI and extend it and make it fit with what we were already doing. We're very comfortable with Perl."

WebGUI handles all the mundane tasks for which Application Servers are usually enlisted, things like interface templating, session management, and security.

"We've noticed that close to 90% of the customization we do for clients is related to look and feel, not business logic", says Schroeder. "So WebGUI's template-based approach to interface creation allows us to re-use the same business logic for multiple clients, while allowing client's to edit their own HTML templates with a minimal knowledge of our business logic."

According to Schroeder, "We look to WebGUI for two things. One is to provide CMS for clients that wanted to maintain their websites inside a CMS, the other was an ability to extend the CMS to integrate with the other processing that we do. It fits very well in our architecture"

In terms of customization, PlainBlack has done a few enhancements for DonorWare. According to Schroeder, "They've been really good to deal with, in terms of getting the specs back and forth and reasonable pricing."

WebGUI has proven to be an excellent solution for DonorWare, according to Schroeder, who notes "We had an incredibly good out-of-the-box experience with WebGUI. It meets our needs. Well."


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