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Nonprofits Deserve a Better CMS: Our “F” Review of Convio CMS

As software nerds, we sometimes forget that not all organizations are driven by sales. Your average CRM, project management, or CMS tool is loaded with terms like “leads,” “customers,” and “sales funnel” — not exactly helpful language for the ~1.5 million nonprofits operating in the United States.

Convio CMS review

Convio CMS – our first “F”!

Unfortunately for nonprofits, great cloud-based software systems that “get” nonprofit workflows are hard to find. Blackbaud dominates the sector, and frankly their offerings are pretty poor. These include Convio Luminate, a CMS system that’s designed for nonprofits, but that’s grossly behind the times. We’re giving it 29 points out of 100, which on our scale makes Convio our first ever  “F” — poor usability, archaic functionality, and significant security concerns make this a solution best avoided. Read on for our full review.

Convio CMS Functionality = 10 points (out of 30)

A content management system (CMS) should help you organize, create, and maintain web content. Leading CMS solutions—such as WordPress or Drupal—are popular because they’ve balanced great functionality with great usability. Convio does neither.

Convio users rely on a “windows explorer” type file structure to find and modify web content. Don’t remember where the page is nested? No shortcuts here—you’ll have to dig through folders and sub-folders, or wrestle with the awkward search.

Once you’ve found the content you’re looking for, updating it is a multiple-click, inflexible, 1995-inspired disaster. Seriously, try adding anchors without arbitrary spaces entered into the HTML. Or try inserting dynamic media. I dare you.

Just about the only redeemable feature is the “preview” link, which you can use to share unpublished content with non-Convio users. That’s helpful.

Overall though? 10/30 for functionality.

Convio CMS Usability = 10 (out of 20)

Functionality and usability go hand in hand, so it’s no surprise we’re displeased with Convio’s user experience.

Endless windows and lists aside, there are some serious head scratchers here: when inserting an image, why doesn’t Convio remember where images are stored (within their own system)? Why aren’t display preferences saved between sessions—or, you know, within the same session? Why is the system so slow?

In the interest of fairness, Convio might be liked by users who love windows explorer (crazy I know, but I assume they’re out there). The author toolbar—which lets you edit pages by navigating to their URL—is another nice touch (though it comes with security concerns, detailed below).

At the end of the day though, Convio is about as user friendly as a pack of razor blades. 10/20 for usability.

Convio CMS Security = 0 (out of 20)

This is's file structure - revealed using their own authoring tools.

This is’s file structure – revealed using their own authoring tools.

Any self-regarding web application should have a clear security statement, detailing where and how data is stored, along with encryption and redundancy standards. Convio doesn’t offer this (though, on the login page, there’s a quaint reminder that unauthorized access is “forbidden”—thanks, Convio).

More troubling, however, is that if users enable the aforementioned “author’s toolbar,” they’re then able to view the file structure of ANY Convio hosted site—not just their own. While folder structure isn’t necessarily private information, it doesn’t always correlate with URL breadcrumbs, and often contains unpublished “test” folders. Not informing users of this backdoor, however benign it may be, is a major security oversight.

To add to our displeasure, Convio has an unsurprisingly atrocious security record. 0/20 for security.

Convio CMS Integrations = 2 points (out of 10)

Convio CMS integrates with other Blackbaud products, but they mostly suck. There’s an open API that’s related to the CRM side of Convio (not reviewed here), but virtually no 3rd party integrations with the CMS. Pretty terrible.

2/10 for integrations.

Convio CMS Price = 0 points (out of 10)

Lack of transparency means you can’t find data on pricing structures, a tell-tale sign of an archaic system. We do know, however, that Convio contracts aren’t cheap, and include significant price additions for storage space (which, in an age of sub-$50 terabyte hard drives, is downright extortionist).

0/10 for price.

Convio CMS Support = 7/10

This is one area you won’t find us complaining too loudly. Convio support is fairly responsive, and offers detailed in-depth training webinars with friendly and helpful staff. There’s also a fairly robust helpdesk center, and quick email support. No user forums as far as we can tell though, and no feature request or bug reporting avenues.

7/10 for support.


Convio CMS is a poorly designed, archaic CMS that organizations should avoid like the digital plague: look to more established solutions like WordPress or Drupal. If Blackbaud’s CMS is any indication of the general quality of their other products (which include the ever popular “Raiser’s Edge“), we’d recommend staying away from the lot.

As a tangential sidenote, Convio is a good example of why we don’t generally recommend vertical-specific software. While it sounds like a good idea to invest in software built specifically for your industry, it’s too often inflexible, outdated, and poorly conceived.

VM Associates is a New York City based cloud computing consulting firm. We help companies (and nonprofits!) transition into newer, better, smarter software. Contact us to talk about your organization, the cloud, and how we might help.


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Chris Bliss works at VM Associates, an end-user consultancy for businesses looking to move to the cloud from pre-existing legacy systems.