There are a lot of misconceptions about what the Raiser’s Edge API is and what it can be used for. A lot of organisations are put off by the fact that the API is expensive to purchase on top of the fact that they may have to cover the cost of development too.
Firstly you do not need a licence for the API in order to create working plug-ins for Raiser’s Edge. The Sample database has all the modules unlocked so that you can always write a plug-in against that and then use it on your production system.
One of the problems however is that in order to write a plugin you need a licence for a development environment. It is becoming harder and harder to purchase Visual Studio 6 (for using VB6) because Visual Studio 2005 (for using VB.Net and C#) is what most vendors will try to sell you instead (being the latest greatest). You can in fact use either of these systems. If your organisation has a subscription to MSDN then you may already have the older VB6 media in house so it is worth hunting through those stacks of CDs. Otherwise you should be entitled to a licence (although you may want to confirm this with your software providers). There are alternatives such as PowerBasic that is much cheaper (I have not tried this but it is supposed to work with regular VB6 code and is much cheaper)
If your organisation has a licence for the RE:VBA module then it is possible to write “plugins” using the VBA environment. These are are not in fact plugins but macros. They appear on the Tools, Run Macro menu but you can also put a short cut onto the RE homepage. You can do almost everything here that you can do with the API and it saves you from buying the Visual Studio environment.
One thing that you cannot escape from is the cost of the development work. The cheapest approach may be to do it in house. However depending on your skill set this may work out more expensive and less reliable than approaching those professionals who do this every day. Blackbaud consulting is an obvious choice. At the same time they are probably the most expensive choice. There are some alternatives including (and I apologise for the shameless self endorsement) Zeidman Development. Many consultants will be able to offer a deal on any upgrade checking to ensure that your plugin will survive a Raiser’s Edge upgrade (the majority do).
However you choose to proceed do not be inhibited by the API. If you have an idea that will increase your process performance by implementing it you could be saving your organisation a lot of money.