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Pimp Your Raiser’s Edge

For more than a decade, The Raiser’s Edge has been the gold standard in nonprofit CRM solutions. Yet, as a user you may have wanted your system to solve some problems that are unique to your organization.  This article will introduce you to some ways to extend and customize The Raiser’s Edge to meet your organization’s specific needs while keeping data and processes centralized in one system. When talking about customization’s many see some of the ‘alphabet soup’ tech terms surrounding these discussions and immediately head for the hills. Well…you have nothing to fear because while we will be talking about those very tools, I promise that we won’t be looking at ANY code in this article. Our objective is simply an introductory explanation of these tools and to describe the potential functionality they can bring to your organization.

There are 3 primary tools to use when customizing The Raiser’s Edge: Visual Basic for Applications (VBA), the Application Programming Interface (API), and the Plug-Ins module. The most important distinction between these is that VBA and Plug-Ins are only available when a user is logged into The Raiser’s Edge, while API can be accessed from outside the system. Between VBA and Plug-Ins, the primary difference is that Plug-Ins are utilities that must be started by a user, while VBA customization’s can either be started manually by a user or can respond automatically to the user’s actions, like saving a constituent or opening a gift. The VBA and API suites are optional modules in The Raiser’s Edge. If you are unsure that your organization has these modules you can reach out to your Blackbaud account manager and they can easily check for you.

The first one, Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) is a programming language developed by Microsoft. It is most commonly used with Microsoft Office applications, especially Excel, but it is also available in The Raiser’s Edge. VBA customization’s typically are used to respond to user actions (referred to as “events’) in The Raiser’s Edge. For example, when a user saves a gift, a VBA customization could be written to automatically add a gift attribute based on campaign, fund, appeal, etc. It can also be used to enforce complex business rules, sometimes referred to as “business rules with teeth.” Most of the record types in The Raiser’s Edge can be customized using VBA. You can also create custom user interfaces, add calculated columns to queries and exports, automate reports, the list goes on. The one requirement is that The Raiser’s Edge must be open and running to make use of VBA customization’s.

The second tool is the Application Programming Interface (API).  It does not require that The Raiser’s Edge be up and running to make use of its powerful features. The API allows external programs to log into The Raiser’s Edge and access its records and functions without a user involved. The API is frequently used to integrate third party or custom applications with The Raiser’s Edge. For example, if you have a third party web site for event registrations, you could use the API to integrate that site with The Raiser’s Edge. You could build a custom user interface that could access and update The Raiser’s Edge without requiring a user to open The Raiser’s Edge itself. The possibilities really are endless.

Finally, the third possibility for customizing The Raiser’s Edge is the Plug-Ins module. Plug-Ins make use of the same objects that the API and VBA modules do, but Plug-Ins must be initiated by a user logged in to The Raiser’s Edge. One key distinction of Plug-Ins, though, is that no optional modules are required to create one. Let me say that again, no purchase is necessary to create a Plug-In! As a matter of fact, Blackbaud even provides a sample project here. This project contains all the source code to build a working Plug-In for The Raiser’s Edge. It is a great introduction to the programming model in The Raiser’s Edge and I highly recommend it to any organization with programming resources available. Omatic has several examples of Plug-Ins that you can learn about here.

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