Sunsets and Acquisitions: What to Do When Your Technology Changes

It starts with an email.

Or a press release.

Or a post on a forum.

However you find out, the news is big:

The software you rely on to fundraise is going away.

Um…what?

Maybe the company announces your product will be sunsetted–no longer developed, updated, or supported by the company that provides it. Buy it a cake and send it a thank you card for its years of service, because it’s retiring.

Or maybe your donor management system just got acquired by a completely different company, one you don’t have a business relationship with, and maybe don’t even know much about.

Hmm…

This was unexpected.

Time to make some decisions.

So what do you do?

First of All, Take a Minute (and a Breath)

Okay. You weren’t planning on making any immediate changes to your tech stack, and now suddenly, you have to. This can feel unsettling, frustrating, and very, very urgent.

But making big decisions in a panic is never a good idea.

So take a breath. (And hey, if you want to take a minute to yell in frustration, no one will judge you.)

Certainly, you can frame it as a disaster, but that’s not the only way to look at it. Maureen Wallbeoff, a nonprofit technology consultant, offers a different approach to unexpected changes. “You can say, ‘I wasn’t ready for this, I didn’t budget for this, this is a bad thing’ all day. Or, you can reframe it to say, ‘All right, my software really does need to be geared to helping my organization hit our goals. Let’s look at how well our existing system was doing that. Now, we’ll have some data we can use to increase the likelihood that we’re going to pick the next right thing.”

How do we start this kind of evaluation? By asking questions.

First Question: What’s Going On Here?

Third-party technology tools are necessary for most nonprofits. It usually doesn’t make sense to build your own CRM or email marketing software, so organizations rely on third-party vendors to create the software they need to operate. But those third parties are their own businesses, and sometimes they make business decisions that majorly impact you.

Two common business decisions that can greatly affect organizations: sunsetting and acquisition. How you proceed depends on which is happening.

What does it mean when your product is “sunsetted”?

Sunsetting a product means the company is no longer going to support it. They may phase it out or eliminate it entirely, but it’s no longer being developed or improved. In short, sooner or later, it is going away.

If your product is being sunsetted, you have to make a change. Maureen describes the situation like this: “It’s sort of like if you’re renting a house and your landlord sells it, you’ve finally got to move. Whatever you do, you’ve got to take some action.”

The actions you take now can help you find a better “house” and be much happier in the long run.

If the cost of moving seems high, or you’re haunted by bad migration experiences of the past, it’s pretty easy to talk yourself out of it without a compelling reason to re-evaluate. If your product has been sunsetted, you now have the reason. This is an opportunity to get started with software that is geared to help you hit your goals. Let the reevaluation begin!

Mergers and Acquisitions

If your vendor merges with or is acquired by another company, things become a little more complicated. Changes may be slower to appear, and there are many more possibilities for how things will actually shake out. You may want to move, you may not, depending on how things go. “You may not have to be as reactive as you think you need to be,” Maureen advises.

Of course, it’s possible that your vendor has been acquired by a company you already know you don’t want to do business with, prompting you to make decisions on a shorter timeline. It’s even possible that the company that acquired your vendor may not want to do business with you, which will speed things up considerably, too.

Second Question: What is the Best Business Decision?

It’s natural to think of these types of choices as a “tech issue,” but your decision will be about more than what tool you choose. It’s also about budget, capacity, and processes. “I think the opportunity for nonprofit leaders is to think about these things as business decisions, not just technology decisions,” says Maureen.

Consider:

  • Did you like your previous system?
  • Was it doing everything you needed to do?
  • What did you plan to spend on technology this year?
  • How long were you in your previous system? Has the market developed since you chose your tool? Are more things possible now?
  • Do you have the organizational capacity for a major change management process?
  • What else is going on at your organization right now that might impact this decision?
  • Is your current staffing adequate for the tools you have? Does anything need to change if your tool changes?

This kind of evaluation is useful whether or not you’re facing a sudden change. Maureen recommends evaluating your tools regularly, even if you have no plans to move. “It’s a good thing to build into your budgeting process, where you’re taking a pulse every year about system fit, satisfaction, and performance. Make it part of your annual decision-making when you decide what you’re going to put into the budget for next year for your products and technology,” she advises.

Digging Deeper: More Questions

In some ways, sunsetting is simpler to deal with than an acquisition. There’s no decision to be made, you know you have to go—the tool won’t exist eventually. It’s just a question of how soon you’ll move, and to what. The process of deciding is essentially the same as if you were making the change by choice, it just feels more urgent.

Questions to ask include:

  • How long should we stay in an unsupported tool? What are the associated costs?
  • What kind of plan do I need to make the right decision and move?
  • Does my vendor provide a different tool I should look at? Should I change business relationships and products all at once?

If you’re faced with an acquisition, the more information you have, the better prepared you’ll be to make good decisions. Start by getting in touch with your software partner and find out what the plan is. Move out of a reactive state and start proactively asking questions. “If I was using a product that got acquired, one of the first things I’d do is book a meeting with my account manager, and ask, ‘What’s on the horizon for the next six months?’” says Maureen.

Other good questions to ask include:

  • Will my account manager remain the same?
  • What was the reason for the acquisition?
  • Do you know about the future plans for my product?
  • If changes are planned, when can I expect to start seeing them?
  • Will I work with the same support team?
  • Will new products or services be available to me?
  • Should I expect any significant pricing changes upon renewal?

Finding Your Next, Best Solution

A change you didn’t ask for takes some adjustment, but can often turn out to be a real opportunity to level up and get more of your needs met so you can pursue your goals. If you start with questions and evaluation, you’ll be well-positioned to make good technology and business decisions.

Want a clear guide to evaluating your CRM choices? Check out Virtuous’ CRM Checklist and The Modern Nonprofit CRM Guide.

Want to be sure you’re getting a good return on your nonprofit technology investment? Get resources and expert advice from Maureen’s website.

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