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Spicy Industry News: AFL-CIO Taps Salsa

BY Nick Judd | Tuesday, March 16 2010

People who know Salsa Labs co-founders April Pedersen and Chris Lundgren: Have they been inexplicably cheerful since, say, February?

If so, it's probably because they just landed a veritable white whale of a client: The AFL-CIO, which signed a contract with Salsa last month, according to Christine Kenngott, AFL-CIO's online mobilization and Working Families Network manager. The AFL-CIO is in the process of migrating to Salsa from GetActive, she said.

"They really kind of encompass a very large variety of users ... people who are a lot more sophisticated and can crunch things out very fast and those that ... have very simple needs," Kenngott said.

Salsa fit the bill chiefly because it's scalable, Kenngott told me. It has a lightweight e-mail application for the users that just need to be able to put out a newsletter, as well as power-user tools like Salsascript, its own scripting language. (Salsascript is basically Javascript modified to be purpose-specific to Salsa.)

The platform should also allow national-level unions to syndicate content with local affiliates, who can modify the content to suit local members before sending it out. Its user structure also handles the complex web of organizations involved — AFL-CIO is a composite of many national unions, each of which with many local affiliates, each of which have their own content to publish, memberships to manage, and needs to meet — in a way that, at least while Kenngott was looking, nobody else could, she said.

The union's 10-year contract with GetActive was nearing the end of its term when Convio announced in 2007 that it was set to purchase the company. AFL-CIO took the opportunity to re-evaluate the kind of technology that was available, hired a consultant, and started what turned into a two-year-long review, RFP and bidding process, according to Kenngott. The union made the decision in late 2009, she said.

Salsa beat out Blue State Digital and Kintera (now part of Blackbaud).

Blue State's contact-your-congressman ability wasn't a perfect fit, according to Kenngott. The details are hard to follow — Kenngott says that at the time she was looking for technology, BSD's software didn't provide the ability for users to e-mail congresspeople. BSD spokeswoman Kerri Chyka, however, says they've had that ability for quite some time. The thing is, the contact-your-congressperson features BSD uses send e-mail or faxes depending on the office the client is trying to reach. The best way to put it is that the way BSD software goes about reaching legislators is not the way Kenngott and AFL-CIO wanted to do it.

Kenngott still went out of her way to sing BSD's praises as a software and development firm, as well as to speak highly of Kintera and Blackbaud.

As for Kintera, the company didn't have a product ready that was robust enough to handle an organization of AFL-CIO's size, as far as the federation of unions was concerned. Kintera offered to build something to spec, Kenngott said, but the union wanted a tool that was already proven. Blackbaud now offers three or four different enterprise or large-database solutions.

In a press release, Salsa described AFL-CIO's platform as "Salsa Labor," an expansion of the platform available through Democracy in Action and Wired for Change, tweaked specifically for the union coalition's needs.