Jeff Montgomery: Developing Technology with Soul

By Shelia Watson

Creating apps and plug-ins to make the world’s most popular software for nonprofits even better and more valuable is not what Jeff Montgomery, managing partner of Omatic Software, envisioned as his future. But it’s what he’s doing – and doing extremely well, with a workforce of roughly 40 people out of a building in North Charleston that he bought and renovated over the last few years.

Montgomery worked at Blackbaud until 2002, when he left with a business plan that had nothing to do with Blackbaud, but instead was focused on technology for employee scheduling and productivity.

While he got that project off the ground, his relationship with Blackbaud continued on a contract basis, with him working on various products. In the process he developed a suite of customizable integration tools that work with Blackbaud’s Raiser’s Edge and Financial Edge products. And that’s where his current company took off.

“Our tools essentially lay on top of Blackbaud’s products and provide a whole new user experience,” Montgomery said.

The interface is a “canvas” or “workspace” that shows information in a visually pleasing format, which pulls data from the Blackbaud database underneath it.

The Game-Changer

The company’s flagship product is Import-O-matic, a plug-in that expands the data import capabilities of Blackbaud’s Raiser’s Edge. The app has proven so useful to Blackbaud’s customers that for several years, Blackbaud itself has been marketing Import-O-Matic.

Mark Grisdale, Blackbaud Europe’s commercial director, noted in a release how important Omatic’s work was for the product. “It saves valuable time and labour costs, increases productivity and maximises the investment in The Raiser’s Edge.”

Import-O-Matic, originally dubbed “Lockbox-O-Matic,” was the first in a portfolio of apps, which Montgomery first developed out of his home office.

Wayne Pozzar, development systems and operations manager at Partners In Health, has used Blackbaud’s products for four years. He called Import-O-Matic “a total game changer,” noting that his organization uses it every day for the majority of its gifts.

“It has made gift processing one of many functions of our team instead of the main function,” he said. “It also means that holiday spikes don’t impact us as much because imports take about the same amount of time, whether it’s 500 gifts or 5,000. The fact that IOM can handle all of the variable formats of imports and also many of the follow-up actions on new records means that we can spend our time focused on customer service instead of processing.”

Partners In Health uses Omatic’s scheduler package, which allows the organization to run imports automatically.

“We use that for many of our data cleanup and maintenance functions,” Pozzar said. “The API functionality of IOM makes it extremely powerful. It’s like a mini Blackbaud API!”

Among the apps used by Partners In Health are Record Radar, which Pozzar said is used frequently for solicitor visits to other cities and event planning, and Magic Folder.

“We love Magic Folder for backing up images and documents on people’s records without cluttering the database and without risking a lost file link from the media tab,” he said.

Xochitl Nisbet-Vega, database analyst at the American Red Cross in the Greater Los Angeles Area, has used all of the Blackbaud products since 1999 and has both converted organizations and been part of building API connected products with other softwares. She met Montgomery when he had just introduced the Lockbox-O-Matic product.

“I knew he was a genius right away,” she said. “Jeff just kept coming up with bigger and better ideas to working with Raiser’s Edge, such as improving upon the events processing and developing a way to segment the direct mail lists. Now they have the App-O-matic, which totally blows my mind. It gives database administrators the ability to develop desktops that fundraisers can use to easily organize and access all their apps, documents and data links in one place.”

Nisbet-Vega explained that before using Omatic’s products, the Raiser’s Edge importing process took a huge amount of time, preparation and cleanup for her.

“You had to import donor records, check record and credit card records all separately, and in that order, and then when you had time, you had to go back and make sure that you did not import a donor who already existed,” she said.

She calculated her organization’s ROI for using Omatic’s software:

Hours saved per week:   4 hours 47 minutes
Personnel reduced:   2 people
Steps in process reduced:   10
Speed of entire process increased:   49 hours 5 minutes

“Using Omatic’s software took us from a five-days-per-week import process that was taking four people using 24 steps in 53 hours and 47 minutes on average down to one person using 10 steps in 4 hours and 42 minutes,” she said. “That does not even include the savings in number of hours of having to go back and do de-duplicating and merging of donor records.”

The calculations were done several years ago, and Nisbet-Vega said today the ROI would be even more dramatic.

“Over the years Jeff has refined the product and made it better and better, so today the ROI would be phenomenal,” she said. “And those figures were from a different organization. I’ve worked at two other organizations and each time I brought in Omatic. There’s no way I’d be able to get things done without it. It’s been a lifesaver.”

Company Expansion

Montgomery’s first office space outside of his home office was the Charleston Digital Corridor’s Flagship building in downtown. Over the years he outgrew office space on a regular basis as he developed more products and hired more people.

“2009 was the tipping point for our company,” he said. “That’s when we started to get serious about space.”

At first he relocated to a carriage house on East Bay and later took up a few floors of the main building, and finally found his current location on North Carolina Avenue in North Charleston, which he purchased 2012. The building had to be rezoned for commercial/office and had to be renovated to accommodate his workforce.

In fact, his focus on nonprofits and companies with a mission brought him into contact with South Carolina Strong, an organization devoted to rehabilitating criminals and substance abusers and moving them into economic self-sufficiency. He contracted with them to custom-build the cubicles in the office rather than purchase standard workspaces.

“I took all of what I really wanted back when I worked in an office and put it into this place,” he said. The result is a workplace that has the best lighting and space and amenities for maximum productivity.

And it seems to be paying off. The company’s growth has been impressive – an average growth in sales of 170 percent year over year the past few years. In fact, between 2009 and 2012, the overall company growth was a phenomenal rate of 2,192 percent, which produced today’s online store of apps designed to save nonprofits time, money and effort and help them to do their mission more effectively.

Which means a greater need for good people on his staff.

“We’re doing a lot of work, and sometimes the need to hire can sneak up on you,” Montgomery said. “I prefer to hire slowly as compared with other companies, but that’s because I don’t want to over-hire. I never hire speculatively. I wouldn’t want to hire people based on what might happen only to have to lay them off later. We hire people we want to keep.”

A Man with a Plan

Montgomery’s thoughtful, meticulous planning is a process that would make Dave Ramsey proud.

“Except for the building, which we paid half for, we are 100 percent self-funded,” he said. “We’ve never had to borrow money or get investor funding for our company. We have an organic growth, and that puts us in a great position.”

That growth gained the company a listing on Inc. Magazine’s 500 fasting growing private companies in America three years in a row and they were the only nonprofit-focused company on the list.

“It was quite an honor to be on that list,” he said. “For one thing, it showed that what we’re doing was having a real impact, and people were noticing.”

Among its current releases is the Score-O-Matic, which will give points for affinity, showing the relationship between the person’s giving pattern and his or her connection to the organization. Score-O-Matic is expected to be a hit with athletic colleges as well as other organizations that provide score-based rewards and perks such as season passes.

Another upcoming release is a free Donor Retention widget, which will be part of the data visualization suite and will lay out trends in a graphic format.

In effect, the company has gone from merely providing products that help nonprofits do the job better to offering strategy and industry expertise that enable nonprofits to be wildly successful.

“With our experience, we know what the clients need,” Montgomery said.

As it should be for a successful software company, roughly a fourth of his current workforce is in product development, with another fourth in support and professional services. His next hires will be in operations, customer service, professional services and project management.

“Back when I started, I used to do everything myself,” he said. “As the company grew, I realized I needed to hire people better than I am to replace me.”

He said he still misses the interaction with clients and occasionally still sits in on new implementation calls.

“It makes my day when I hear a client gasp at what our products can do for them,” he said. “And it happens a lot.”

His sitting in on the calls continues to have an influence, and his passion sets the tone for the employees, who in turn seem to absorb his outlook and passion for the work.

Montgomery insisted his passion comes from the client base itself – a group of companies whose focus is doing good in the world – which often produces a “giving” attitude in himself and his staff.

For instance, he donated a software package that helped to automate donation data processing to an organization providing healthcare in Haiti. He implemented and trained users on the software and wrote new software to further automate the process. The results were astounding: within a few days, the organization went from processing 100 gifts a day to processing 500 gifts in 1½ hours. Based on that success, Montgomery has offered the same service to any organization providing assistance in Haiti and has since implemented it for several others at no cost.

And yet, such success has never fed his ego. Rather it reinforced the humility that makes him a manager with soul for the technology with soul his team develops.

“How cool it is,” he said with a smile, “that organizations like Greenpeace, National Wildlife Federation and Special Olympics are using our product to help them with their missions?”

Published in the Charleston Digital Corridor