Fourth-quarter earnings at software firm Blackbaud Inc. jumped even as its recession-battered customers remained hesitant to make or increase technology investments.

The Charleston-based company's profit for the period ended Dec. 31 was almost $8 million, up 22 percent from the same three months of 2008 and helped by a $2.1 million decline in operating expenses. Revenue slipped 2 percent to $79 million.

"The December quarter was a solid finish to a successful year for Blackbaud, particularly considering that 2009 was the most difficult economic period the company has faced in its 28-year history," said Marc Chardon, chief executive officer.

Headquartered on Daniel Island, Blackbaud develops, sells and leases its financial software products and services to the nonprofit industry, which has been ravaged by a steep drop-off in donations.

For the year, Blackbaud's profit fell about 5 percent to $28.5 million, while sales edged up about 2 percent to $309 million over 2008. The company projected revenue growth in the low single-digit range for 2010.

"Our focus is to continue to deliver strong profitability, invest in our long-term growth initiatives and position the company for enhanced growth when the economy and nonprofit budgets improve," Chardon said.

Until then, the company is bracing for more of the same this year, at least in the short run. Despite hopes about an economic recovery and strong interest in Blackbaud's products, Chardon said customers still are watching their budgets closely, as reflected by an uptick in postponed purchases.

He added that he is "very confident" that most nonprofit groups, which typically start their fiscal year July 1, will remain skittish as they plan their next round of annual expenditures.

"While our financial results exceeded our expectations during the fourth quarter, we are still not at a point that we would call a 'turn' in our target market," Chardon said. "There's growing optimism that the economy is stabilizing and may begin to improve during 20010, but we've still not seen material change in buying behavior at this point."

Even so, Blackbaud said Thursday that its board of directors has bumped up its quarterly dividend by a penny to 11 cents a share. It is payable March 15 to stockholders of record Feb. 26.

The company released it 2009 earnings after U.S. stock markets closed. Shares of Blackbaud fell 63 cents Thursday to $22.28 along with the broader markets.