‘Social good’ cloud provider Blackbaud has a loyal customer in the NRA

Update: Two weeks after this article was published, Blackbaud contacted TechCrunch to dispute it, providing information I had asked about days before publishing. According to Blackbaud, the NRA is indeed a longtime customer but it pays much less than the documents suggested: about $85K yearly. While this is a considerable sum it is not the amount suggested by the company’s internal designation, which is remarkably similar to one that indicates a $1M customer. While I am working to confirm the information they have sent, in the meanwhile I have considerably recast the article below, since although the documents I reviewed and the source’s explanations supported the original interpretation, it’s clear that it was not accurate.

Blackbaud, which bills itself as the “leading cloud software company powering social good,” counts the National Rifle Association as a customer, receiving about $85,000 yearly from the infamous firearms industry lobbyist.

The two have been in business since 1997, according to internal documents viewed by TechCrunch, just recently hitting 25 years together. It is classified under “Cause & Cure” and “Civil Liberties” internally. Blackbaud provides the NRA with fundraising, grant making and other organizational support services.

The NRA did not respond to a request for comment.

It must be said that objectively speaking, Second Amendment rights lobbyists can be and are considered by many to be supporting civil liberties. But the NRA is better known for its ghoulish, cynical obsession with putting handguns and assault weapons in the hands of as many as possible with as few restrictions as possible as to the gun or the person. Its influence is directly tied to the reduction or obstruction of even the lightest gun control laws.

Whether and how it is ethical as an organization supportive of civil liberties to do business with the NRA is a complicated question — and one that need not be answered here, because the level of involvement between it and Blackbaud is plainly contrary to the latter’s own stated priorities.

Blackbaud speaks loudly of its commitment to social good and ESG, or environmental, social and governance issues. And indeed it does promote and involve itself with numerous laudable institutions and efforts.

Blackbaud’s giving goals — gun rights not listed. Image Credits: Blackbaud

It is careful, like many organizations, not to make any statements easily identifiable as political in nature, instead focusing on the principles involved. And nowhere does the company state that fighting gun proliferation is among their priorities. Yet it is hard not to feel deep hypocrisy in statements like this one.

“Our Hearts are with the Victims of the Horrific Acts of Violence in our Nation” — and simultaneously with the NRA, which it helps fight for the right to commit those acts as efficiently as possible and without any pesky paperwork.

But you won’t find the NRA in the list of organizations Blackbaud suggests visiting or supporting nor that the company has taken millions from the firearms advocate. In fact you won’t find the NRA listed anywhere on the site as a client, donation recipient, recommended charity or in any form that I could see — searches for it also come up empty. Though internally, Blackbaud matches donations to the NRA Foundation as well as charities and support groups.

In an email to employees, Blackbaud’s CEO wrote after the mass shooting in Uvalde that “I share in your shock, anger, and grief over the string of horrific, violent acts in the U.S.,” and under the heading “What Blackbaud is doing” listed a victims fund it donated to. He did not mention that the NRA has been a loyal customer for decades and whether that presents any ethical condundrum.

Again, to narrowly define civil rights and exclude firearms from the category entirely is not the idea — it just seems unethical to publicly support the victims of gun violence while privately supporting and being supported by the NRA. In fact, the Uvalde School District is also a customer of Blackbaud, a source within the company said, following its acquisition of Everfi.

In internal discussion threads viewed by TechCrunch, employees express dismay at that last fact and that Blackbaud matches support to the NRA. While an executive explains this is considered a matter of allowing free choice, they fail to mention that the NRA is a customer, something employees appear to be unaware of.

In 2020 TechCrunch reported that Blackbaud also counted far-right organizations the Heritage Foundation and the Center for Security Policy as customers. Both are still active users of the service, with Heritage producing some $169,000 ARR — putting it in the second-highest service tier, with a “highly personalized approach.”

As I wrote then, Heritage “has been behind lobbying efforts against climate change action, equal rights for LGBTQ Americans and immigration modernization efforts. It has worked on behalf of the oil and tobacco industries, opposed health care reform and recommended the likes of Betsy DeVos and Scott Pruitt to the administration.” CSR is focused on anti-Muslim propaganda, promoting ideas like “Sharia-supremacists” infiltrating Hollywood.

Such customers have prompted employees at the cloud services company to ask that Blackbaud drop these and other companies whose actions contradict the idea of supporting social good, according to a source within the company. But unlike the recent conflict at Salesforce, where employees referred to co-founder Marc Benioff’s prominent progressive stances on many issues to justify ceasing business with the NRA, Blackbaud’s leadership reportedly harbors no such relevant political leanings.