JCA Turns 30! Part 1: A Brief History by CEO Steve Jacobson

September 21, 2018

As JCA celebrates its 30th Birthday, Steve Jacobson is giving us a recount of the history of JCA and nonprofit technology. Here’s the first installment…


For those of you who are fans of classic TV shows, you may recall a line oft-used by Ted Baxter, the bombastic news anchorman featured on the Mary Tyler Moore Show. When asked about his early years in news, Ted would reply, “It all started at a 5,000-watt radio station in Fresno, California, with a 65 dollar paycheck and a crazy dream.”

When asked about how it feels to be celebrating JCA’s 30th year in business, I couldn’t help but think of Ted’s line. For JCA, it all started in a 320 square foot sublet in an attorney’s office on the 33rd floor at 450 Seventh Avenue in New York City. There I was sitting amongst bookshelves full of law books, trying to convince nonprofits that they needed to leverage technology to make their operations more efficient and effective.

At first, it was only me. I remember starting out, knowing that I needed to register my business with New York City. So, I took the subway down to City Hall, eventually found the right office and proceeded to ask for the proper forms to fill out. (Remember that this was 1988 and Al Gore hadn’t “invented” the Internet yet.) I was dead set on creating a company name that could be referenced by a three-letter acronym, beginning with “J” (for Jacobson). I figured that Jacobson Consulting Associates or JCA would be a good option. However, when I handed the completed paperwork to the clerk, he looked at me skeptically and asked me who my “associates” were I responded that there weren’t any —at least not yet. To which the clerk replied, “Well, then you can’t use the word ‘Associates’ in the company name if there are no associates!” Despite my arguments, this clerk just wouldn’t allow it, so I had to think of what else I could call the company and still maintain the JCA TLA. And this was how Jacobson Consulting Applications was born!


Starting out in 1988, one of JCA’s first clients was NYU Medical Center, which included the NYU School of Medicine. One of JCA’s first projects was to perform a fundraising system selection. Many of the incumbent software products ran on a mainframe or minicomputer. In fact, NYU Med was running one of those products, called UFRS (aka the Universal Fundraising System). Their needs were similar to those we see today: ease of use, good reporting, structured notes, soft credits, matching gifts, etc. But, back then, we weren’t talking about analytics or leveraging the data to build propensity models.

In the end, the choice boiled down to two products, both of which ran on an IBM PC-based local area network (LAN). NYU Med chose to go with Fund-Master, which, at the time, was neck-and-neck with Blackbaud’s The Raiser’ Edge for market share. And NYU Med selected JCA to do the conversion and manage the overall implementation of Fund-Master, the first of over 500 nonprofit software implementations that JCA would go on to do over the next 30 years!

For those of you students of fundraising systems history, Blackbaud went on to acquire Master Software Corporation, the publisher of Fund-Master, in 1997, as Master Software struggled to get its Windows product to market. Blackbaud went on to acquire a number of other software providers, solidifying and then expanding the market for its flagship product, The Raiser’s Edge.


That’s it for now…here’s the next edition of “JCA Turns 30,” where we chat about exciting clients from the early 2000s.