Bigfoot of the Black(baud) Forest

Bigfoot exists.  Laugh at me all you want, but I’ve seen it.  Actually, I have seen it just about every day for the past ten-plus years.  Sure, at first I didn’t believe it existed but after years of hearing about its existence my curiosity peaked and I finally decided to find out more about the elusive beast.  I’m glad I did.

You’re probably wondering why I’m writing about Bigfoot.  Well, the beast I’m referring to is actually Crystal Reports.  Think about it: for new (and even a good number of experienced) Raiser’s Edge users, Crystal Reports and Bigfoot have a lot in common:

  • You’ve probably heard of it
  • You might have seen a quick glimpse of it
  • Others swear they have seen it and some even claim they know it well
  • Even with all the sightings, a lot of people still have very little idea of what it really is
  • If you came face to face with it you would probably be scared of it
  • It would be very expensive and take some time to learn more about it

I think that last point is the main reason Crystal Reports remains a mystery for so many nonprofits, especially smaller organizations.  Crystal Reports training can be expensive, anywhere between $1,000 to $2,500.  Even a Crystal Reports book will set you back at least forty bucks.  But who has time to go through a 1,000 page book, or even take two to four days away from work for a training class (assuming their organization can afford it in the first place)?  Certainly not someone who is already overwhelmed with their daily responsibilities of entering gifts, managing the database, sending acknowledgement letters, exporting data to Excel, etc.  Sound familiar?

I feel your pain.  It frustrates me to no end to hear from colleagues at other organizations about their struggles with getting data and reports out of The Raiser’s Edge.  They spend a ridiculous amount of time exporting to Excel and then formatting, sorting, deleting, adding, etc.  Then they spend even more time exporting again and having to do the work in Excel all over again, and on and on every day, week, month, and/or year.

I’ve been there.  I once spent two years repeatedly trying to get co-workers to let me build custom reports for them so they can be free from the Fifth Circle of Excel.  I’ve seen what custom reports can do and how they can change a development department.  It’s because of experiences like these that I have made it my mission to demystify Bigfoot Crystal Reports for as many Raiser’s Edge users as possible.

As part of this mission I have given presentations on Crystal Reports at the Denver Raiser’s Edge Users Group and at the 2013 & 2014 Blackbaud Conference for Nonprofits (BBCon).  I’ll keep the momentum going from last month’s BBCon presentation and begin a series of posts about Crystal Reports and I won’t stop until every morsel of Crystal Reports knowledge that is in my pudding-esque noggin has made its way onto this site.

Read the next article in the Crystal Reports track: Canned Reports: The Level Before the Next Level or view the track listing here

10 thoughts on “Bigfoot of the Black(baud) Forest

  1. When I was learning CR years ago, the only training here was general, not specific to Raiser’s Edge. Lots of frustration with those one-to-many fields! So I laid out a report that I wanted to create and convinced my boss that it would be cheaper to hire a consultant for a day than to send me for more training. It worked! The consultant and I spent an entire day working on a report that had a number of challenges that helped me learn the ins and outs of Crystal. I’m still learning but I love how much you can do with this program.

  2. I’m also a recently self-taught user of CR and I have had pretty good luck creating reports that I need. We are really pushing the envelop of capabilities of RE and using it in place of a POS system (challenging – not recommending it) but we had to have an End of Shift report to collect all transactions entered by a specific operator so they could reconcile their cash drawers. I was able to create a report that works just fine. My frustration is that the version of CR that comes with my hosted RE is too old to use current CR viewers so I have to create reports in RE, export them, attach them to email to distribute. If the RE packaged version was newer, I could email directly from RE and the recipient could read the report with any free CR viewer. Its frustrating that I have to do all the intermediate steps instead. Course I could buy a newer version – but we’re a non-profit so not very likely.

  3. A skills-based volunteer who knows CR? Just went on my list to Santa! Please, please, please continue this discussion. I have tried to be good but just in case Mr. Claus doesn’t think I’ve been quite good enough I might pick up enough info on resources to help me move forward alone. I have been stuck in the Fifth Circle of Excel way too long. I am iffy on the Bigfoot thing but I know Santa exists. If he didn’t why would I have such an enormous collection of his images?

  4. I am also a self-taught CR user. It’s not a rocket science and does not take ages to learn, although only if you’re dedicated enough to spend time reading the guide and practising. Anyone knows any good forums to use for support? (My organisation does not have CR expert included in the pack).

  5. I’ve had some luck with CR……self teaching myself with a book (No Stress Tech Guide) and lots of googling….and have built a couple of reports… for our big fundraiser and the second an improved Annual Statement for our donors that includes cash gifts and gifts in kind and are more user friendly than the canned reports.

    I’m working on a new report for our prospect pipeline, but got stuck in CR… am trying it in MS Access……just because I can find more useable help in Google land for MS Access than CR.

    What are your thoughts on using MS Access vs CR?

    Looking forward to your future posts

    • Hi Mary, thanks for sharing your experiences with CR. As for Access vs CR, I’m basically forced to stay away from Access for reports that RE users need to be able to run on their own as they can’t be run through RE. I also use Queue to email a lot of reports, which also rules out Access. If I didn’t need these two things I would definitely consider using Access.

  6. I used the on-line learning tool and for $25 and 2 hours, I learned enough to make some changes to existing CR that I inherited. Plus, my BB help includes a CR expert so I called on them a couple times for trickier stuff. Finally, I got a skills-based vol to create a new CR for me from scratch. These reports are GREAT and my users can run them by themselves.

    • Hi Jennifer, thanks for sharing that information! The folks at Blackbaud CR support really know their stuff and I also rely on them when I get stuck. I wish all orgs had a volunteer to write a report for them, you are very lucky!

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