Share this article

print logo

AMHERST FIRM'S DATABASE PROGRAM HELPS NONPROFITS KEEP TRACK OF DONOR INFORMATION

The conservative Heritage Foundation and the Environmental Defense Fund are on different ideological wavelengths, but they have at least one thing in common: both use software from an Amherst company to keep track of donations.

So does the Lincoln Center, Catholic Relief Services and about 350 other non-profit organizations.

SofTrek Corp., launched in 1987 by area native David L. Spacone, has steadily built its business during the technology boom of the 1990s -- and the bust of the '00s.

"We were never perceived as a dot-com high flier, but we're still around and doing good," president and owner Spacone says.

SofTrek's product is a database program called "PledgeMaker." It helps nonprofits track donations from different offices, subscriptions and fund-raising events -- and from cyberspace as e-giving takes off. Donor information is assembled into one databank that can be used to generate mailings and analyzed to shape future fund-raising pitches.

In the late 1990s, SofTrek began offering its software as a service that clients could tap over the Internet, instead of installing it on their own machines and hiring their own computer experts to run it.

Now the 50-person company looks to jump to another level by hosting other database applications at its $5 million data center building off the Audubon Parkway.

"I think the potential is huge -- much larger than the fund-raising (software) could ever be," Spacone says. "We could do $30 million in revenue, in this building," about five times the current level of sales. Big financial firms and health industry companies use databases similar to the one SofTrek already hosts.

A native of Niagara Falls, Spacone studied computer science and business at the University at Buffalo, then worked in the area for a few years before the idea for pledge-tracking software came up. He was working as a free-lance programmer 18 years ago when the Creative Education Foundation, a creativity training group, sought a program that would help track of donors.

"I said 'sure I can write it for you,' " Spacone says, working out of his spare bedroom and using the Oracle database engine as a platform. His computer-trained wife, Mary Spacone, helped launch the business in its early years, he says. Now she spends more time raising their three children, the oldest of whom is 11.

The creativity foundation has since moved to Massachusetts, but remains a client. Now it's converting from the disk-based software to the online service, says Lisa LaPointe, administrative services manager. The organization uses SofTrek's program to generate mailing lists for subscriptions and to handle registration for events.

"One person might be a subscriber, an attendee and a donor," LaPointe says. "It's really important to have that all in one place."

Spacone's company recruited other local clients, but those have mostly fallen away as SofTrek evolved into a provider for medium- to large-sized organizations.

In 2002, Matrix Development completed SofTrek's $5 million, 15,000-square-foot building in the Audubon office park to accommodate the application hosting business. The building's data center has racks of computer servers in a bunker-like room that's connected to a fiber-optic data pipeline and guarded by fire-suppression foam and a backup generator.

Called "appitat," the hosting business looks to capitalize on a growth surge in outsourced computer tasks. There's also about a 50 percent price gap in computer chores here versus the New York City area, where giant data centers for financial companies are located, Sales Director Robert Bellitto says.

Another advantage is SofTrek's team of 17 Oracle programmers and system administrators, perhaps the largest concentration of Oracle expertise in the area, he says. If the approach succeeds it could snag some of the estimated $7 billion in computer outsourcing work that is shipped to overseas contractors annually.

"Having the infrastructure and lower cost of living allows us to compete with traditional outsourcing companies," Bellitto says.

The end of the dot-com bubble saw many application hosting companies founder, but appitat's approach is different, Spacone says. Having hosted its own PledgeMaker program as an Internet-accessed service, the company has experience and a track record that will help it with other Oracle-based programs. And, while the appitat side of the business is getting traction, PledgeMaker is still growing and generating revenue to continue paying the bills.

"This is what I enjoy doing -- I'm a computer guy, I'd like to grow the business," Spacone says. It's more about seeing his creation thrive than scoring a financial windfall. More business will mean more jobs, and his acreage in the Audubon office park has room for a 15,000-square-foot addition if needed.

"I think if we do the right thing we'll make money," he says. Besides, "You really can't stay stagnant; to be competitive you have to look at new opportunities."

e-mail: fwilliams@buffnews.com

There are no comments - be the first to comment