Using CiviCRM

By Joseph Murray , Brian P. Shaughnessy
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  1. Achieving Your Mission with CiviCRM

About this book

CiviCRM is a web-based, open source CRM system, designed specifically to meet the needs of advocacy, non-profit and non-governmental organizations. Elected officials, professional/trade associations, political campaigns and parties, government agencies, and other similar organizations are among its growing number of enthusiastic users. This book shows you how to harness CiviCRM’s impressive array of possibilities as you develop and execute performance-critical CRM strategies.

This book will help you become familiar with the structure and main functions of CiviCRM. It will guide you in developing and successfully implementing a CRM strategy for your organization using detailed explanations and practical examples.

Using CiviCRM walks you through developing a CRM Implementation Plan that is suited to your organization's size, culture, and needs. Readers will take away many constituent relationship management best practices and the knowledge of how to implement them with CiviCRM. Benefits of Using CiviCRM will be felt across your organization, and help it better achieve its mission.

Overall, your organization will interact with constituents more effectively and handle staff growth and transitions by tracking all contacts and interactions with them in a system shared across the organization. Gathering and analyzing data about your constituents and their interactions with your organization will better inform your decisions.

If your organization fundraises, you’ll be able to raise more money and reduce costs by identifying qualified prospects for targeted fundraising initiatives. We show how to attract new prospects and convert them to donors using online, direct mail, telemarketing and direct contact channels Using CiviCRM. You’ll learn why and how to set up and then grow your monthly donor program, as well as improve the frequency, average donation amounts, and retention rates of your donor base.

With this book you’ll be able to reduce the burden on administrative resources by providing online payments and self-service options for event registrations and membership renewals. You can increase the likelihood your existing subscribers will become more involved with your organization, ensure more of your members show up to volunteer, identify potential leaders and steward their volunteer activities

Finally, you'll be making relevant information easily available that quantifies what a great job you've been doing, including the number of hours that volunteers gave to your organization last year, the number of cases managed, or the number of new viral signups from your latest urgent action e-mail.

Publication date:
February 2011


Chapter 1. Achieving Your Mission with CiviCRM

Most people working in the non-profit sector would love it if their organization could do more with its existing staff and volunteer resources. We often care passionately about the work we do, but lament the wasteful ways we have to do things. Wasted hours, wasted money, wasted contacts, and wasted opportunities! We're tired of being frustrated by the way things are. We want to make a difference, a bigger difference.


Why your organization needs Constituent Relationship Management

Your organization will better achieve its mission with a well-formulated and well-executed Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) strategy. If you're like most non-profit, advocacy, and membership-based organizations, CiviCRM is the best tool for enabling success.

Does your organization lack an integrated system for managing contacts? This is a common issue for non-profit organizations, be they large or small, more or less organized. Can you identify your organization in any of the following situations?

  • Do people in your office have their own personal Excel sheet of contacts that they use in their fundraising, volunteer work, or mail merges?

  • Do you have one system for e-mail subscribers for your online newsletter, another online system with people who have attended one of your events, a different one containing responses to surveys, and a desktop system for labels for season's greetings cards?

  • Do you have a separate old membership database in Microsoft Access, maybe developed by a volunteer or staff person, long since departed?

  • Does your fundraiser have his own system, maybe an expensive one like Raiser's Edge, while your volunteer organizer does everything in Outlook?

  • Have you lost access to data when a staff person left?

  • Do you have old paper sign-in sheets from people attending events, indicating that they were interested, but haven't been entered in any system?

A contact management system is the heart of every CRM. Yet, CiviCRM is more than just a contact management system. As an integrated online system that handles contacts, donations, event registration, bulk e-mailing, case management, and other functions, such as activity tracking, grants, reporting, and analytics, CiviCRM consistently receives top ratings from non-profit technology users.

A successful CRM strategy can help your organization in many concrete ways. Here are some strategies:

  • Improving the frequency, average donation amounts, and/or retention rates of your donors

  • At a more basic level, enabling supporters to donate online through your website instead of having to get checks from them and recording everything yourself in your accounting books

  • Automating the registration process for members attending an upcoming conference

  • Increasing the likelihood of your existing subscribers becoming more involved with your organization and its mission

  • Ensuring that more of your members show up to volunteer

  • Identifying contacts that are already interacting with your organization who have the right skill set and interests to be worth approaching for a commitment about an open board position

  • Making information easily available that quantifies what a great job you've been doing, including the number of hours that volunteers gave to your organization last year, the number of cases managed, and the number of new viral signups from your latest urgent action e-mail

CiviCRM can help in all these areas.


What is Constituent Relationship Management?

Constituent Relationship Management is the set of processes and supporting technologies used to initiate and improve relationships with constituents. It's important to realize that CRM is not just a technology that is brought into your organization. Managing relationships with constituents involves all of the workflows, processes, and reporting that your organization uses to get things done in order to achieve its mission, and then show how well it has achieved its mission.

Constituent Relationship Management is the non-profit equivalent of Customer Relationship Management in the business world. By comparing and contrasting these two concepts, we will understand the purpose and scope of this book better.

Customer Relationship Management versus Constituent Relationship Management

In the business world, Customer Relationship Management systems are used to optimize a company's sales by focusing its resources on those who are likely to buy. They are also used to improve customer satisfaction and lower costs by providing self-service options.

In order to do this properly, these systems track, automate, and personalize all aspects of client interactions across all communication channels, including website, phone, in-store, e-mail, and social media such as Twitter, forums, and blogs. Every time a customer touches the organization in whatever way, the interaction is logged. This information is used to better understand the relationship with the client, and ensure that all the interactions are designed, from one perspective, to maximize the long-term profitability of the client to the business. Typically, Customer Relationship Management systems focus on tracking and enhancing customer interactions in the marketing and sales funnel workflow for new and returning customers, and improving after-sales support. Depending on the industry and the company, CRM systems and techniques might also be used for tracking and enhancing relationships with other stakeholders, such as regulators, shareholders, or media.

The ideas developed for Customer Relationship Management systems in the business world have been adapted to the needs of the non-profit world in Constituent Relationship Management systems. While increased donations parallel higher business sales, there are slight but significant differences in terminology and processes. For example, good Constituent Relationship Management systems are designed to account for pledges, recurring donations, soft credit donations, and the portion of ticket prices eligible for political or charitable tax receipts. Relations with non-profit stakeholders including media, board members, and granting foundations may also be managed with Constituent Relationship Management systems.

Non-profit organizations have additional critical non-monetary measures of success beyond increased revenue and lower costs. These may include education, service, advocacy, or other outcomes relevant to non-profit missions. Nonprofit CRMs may need to track one or more non-monetary objectives along these lines. For example, in addition to wanting to increase donations as a means to support their mission, an advocacy organization might want their CRM to help them achieve their objective of influencing legislators or voters through means such as more letters to the editor, e-mails, visits to legislators, or forwards to friends. Similarly, a direct service non-profit organization might aim to improve the outcomes of its client cases with their CRM system's case management functionality, or a legislator might aim to assist more voters to access government resources.

Despite these differences, Constituent Relationship Management systems are similar to Customer Relationship Management systems in aiming to support the growth in numbers and depth of engagement of contacts with an organization.

In the business world, this is usually done by keeping existing customers happy in order to avoid high costs of client acquisition. Similar strategies and techniques apply in the non-profit world, given the generally higher cost of acquiring new donors, activists, volunteers, or members, as compared to retaining existing ones.

A good general strategy in business is to aim to increase the volume of business it receives from its existing clients. For example, this may be done by identifying prospective buyers and communicating better with them on why they would want a more expensive product (up-selling), or why they would want additional related products (cross-selling). It may also be achieved by focusing on increasing repeated business from customers who return more frequently for the same product (for example, to watch movies more frequently).

Non-profit organizations benefit from this strategy, both in fundraising and in non-monetary appeals. Fundraisers aim to increase the recency (that is, how recently each donor has donated), frequency, and monetary value of gifts from their donors.

For non-monetary contributions, non-profit organizations benefit by focusing on increasing the number of actions taken by the existing activists, such as appeals sent, educational programs attended, or shut-ins voluntarily visited. They also benefit by getting them to undertake actions that require more co-operation from them and result in more impact, such as calling up a call-in show in addition to signing a petition, visiting their elected representative as well as sending him or her a letter, and so on.

Increasing the number and depth of interactions can often involve targeting clients with shared characteristics, such as those who have made several recent low-cost purchases or small donations for a special treatment such as an offer, a special ask, or other follow-up communication.

Another objective may be to ensure that those best suited for a product or service receive such a great experience interacting with a company, that they recommend it to others.

In the for-profit sector, this can involve sales personnel or systems responding more appropriately, given the purchase history of an individual or a company, by offering appropriate discounts, cross-selling or up-selling suggestions, and so on. For example, a long term customer might be offered a discount when he shows up at a website, a computer buyer might be offered small items at checkout time including games for a previously purchased game system, or a client who has made premium purchases might get a more expensive range of products. After-sales support personnel would be provided with the whole record of attempts an individual might have made to resolve a problem, as this often helps narrow down an issue and avoid irritating requests to repeat actions. A complete customer record might show that an individual with a tough problem is considering a major purchase, or that they have had a history of making unauthorized technical changes to the product that might have impaired its functionality and voided its warranty.

In the non-profit world, the parallels might be to encourage:

  • A regular attendee at events to come to an upcoming breakfast seminar with a discount

  • Users who sign petitions to make a donation

  • Those who volunteered more than twice in the past year to consider becoming a board member

Similarly, tech support has parallels in non-profit case management. Imagine how much a non-profit serving "at-risk" youth could benefit from being able to easily pull up the records of someone calling in about depression when those records reveal a caller has a history of suicide attempts.

In all of the preceding business and non-profit examples, a tiny organization with a single staff person serving a small clientele would be challenged to recognize the individual, remember the history of interactions with them, and act appropriately by providing a discount. More difficult challenges include calling up someone who had stopped coming in, going the extra distance for someone who needs it, or curtailing resources dedicated to a relationship not related to the mission of the organization. Technology helps to scale these appropriate behaviors to situations where many staff members and volunteers have been involved in the interactions with the client or customer. It can help in situations where some of the staff members or volunteers may not have the best memory, and may not have the best judgment as to how to respond in the situation.

Who are your constituents?

We've made an assumption so far that you have a clear concept of your constituents, but it is worth taking the time to define this clearly for your organization. A constituent is any person, household, or organization that has some relationship with your organization. Depending on your organization, it may include:

  • Donors

  • Funders

  • Elected officials you seek to engage, educate, or influence

  • Newsletter subscribers

  • eNewsletter and action alert subscribers

  • Members of your organization

  • Coalition members

  • Participants in your petition, e-mail, and letter writing campaigns

  • Participants in your face-to-face events

  • Volunteers

  • Clients

  • Website visitors

  • Board members

  • Staff

  • Organizations or individuals who are not staff members, but help you deliver programs and services (for example, lawyers volunteering for a pro bono legal services clinic)

  • Users or purchasers of your products or services

  • Media outlets and/or personnel your organization contacts

  • Advertisers or sponsors of your organization, its events, or publications

  • Government agencies who influence policies impacting your organization

In some cases, your relationship with one constituent may need to be through another. For example, a parent might be the constituent who signs up their child for a program, or a staff person might be the contact person for the organization they work for.

Which constituents your organization needs to focus on—individual donors, volunteers, granting agencies, newsletter subscribers—depends on your mission and situation. It's usually good to keep in mind that one person often has many hats and may fall into several categories of constituents.

It's often effective to gather information about a relationship when the constituent can understand why it is needed, and that providing it makes sense. For example, explaining that a mailing address is needed to provide a charitable tax receipt when a donation is being made, asking about food preferences only when someone is purchasing tickets for dinner, or requesting policy interests when signing up for a newsletter helps reduce the burden in any particular interaction, and makes for a more natural deepening of the relationship.

While designing your CRM strategy, you will need to balance the benefits of having information on relationships with your constituents with the costs of acquiring, maintaining, and using it. As you develop your strategy, you should ensure that it focuses on gathering data that will help your organization act effectively, and know that it is acting effectively, in the constituent relationships that are most important to achieving its mission. These are often the constituents with the most transactional encounters with your organization—donors, volunteers, members, event participants, and so on. However, sometimes, a small number of constituents can provide a breakout value—a game-changing, qualitative improvement. For example, investing in some research and wooing a few key media contacts, potential coalition partners, or swing legislators may help your organization realize its mission more than great gains in number and efficiency at other levels.


When is CiviCRM the best CRM?

So far, we have discussed CRMs generically, comparing how they are used in the business world with the non-profit sector. However, there are many options for implementing a CRM, so when is CiviCRM the best CRM? CiviCRM is great for organizations that need to work with a lot of contact data, especially those that want to use sophisticated functionality prebuilt for common non-profit transactional use cases including the following:

  • Donations and pledges

  • Events management

  • Membership management

  • Case management

  • Bulk e-mailing

If your organization requires functionality in a couple of these areas, then it is very likely that you would benefit from CiviCRM. CiviCRM's integration with Joomla! and Drupal (popular open source content management systems that are excellent for running your website) also distinguishes it from a number of competing CRMs.

We're going to explain the many reasons why CiviCRM does so well in surveys of non-profit technology users. Still, we want to acknowledge upfront that CiviCRM isn't the right tool for every non-profit to manage its constituent relationships. It depends on your needs and resources, which can make it too big or too small, too feature-rich, or not flexible or powerful enough. This section provides some general guidelines for situations where you might want to consider an alternative to CiviCRM. We have tended to err on the side of excluding some cases, where people can, and have, successfully and happily used CiviCRM rather than including cases where people's expectations may not be met and surpassed.

As a low-end cut-off, your organization needs to have resources to set up, host, and maintain CiviCRM, either by paying a hosting provider and consultants, or by using internal staff resources. Tiny community groups with no budget or IT resources will not be able to afford these costs even though CiviCRM is free open source software without any upfront or ongoing license fees. While the public-facing pages are easy-to-use, administering a CRM also requires a certain amount of tech-savviness to construct searches, set up templates that will be merged with contact data for e-mail blasts, decide on the fields to put on forms, and other similar activities. More advanced skills are necessary for some initial setup tasks such as configuring e-commerce connections to payment processors and designing how to store information among fields representing contacts, their contributions, participation in events, memberships, relations with other contacts, and so on. Not all organizations have these skills available internally, or can afford to outsource for them.

Thinking through alternatives

If your organization does not have a need for more than one kind of CRM functionality, and especially if your needs are simple in that area, then it might be better to use a single-purpose tool, whether free, purchased, or available through paid subscriptions. Best-of-breed single-purpose tools can provide superior usability, desirable flexibility, lower cost, lower administrative burdens, and higher-end features for that particular functionality. Google, Yahoo!, and numerous other providers of free group e-mail broadcast and discussion software is one example. EventBrite is an example in the events management area; e-mail management systems like ExactTarget can be good for bulk e-mails. Many single-purpose tools have built out some functionality into other areas, but are primarily focused on one area. In contrast, CiviCRM is very good in most of these functional areas. Its superior capabilities across many areas needed by non-profits, advocacy, and membership-based organizations usually sets it above competitors with even moderate CRM functionality.

A downside for many organizations is that they start using one of these services to meet one need, and then adopt a second for a requirement in a different area, and soon end up with multiple data silos, systems that won't talk to each other, or complex data-syncing protocols and issues. Migrating to CiviCRM at that point is common, but the additional hassle of the migration and change in tools and procedures can be avoided by choosing CiviCRM from the start.

A different type of problem confronts organizations that have significant and well-defined needs that are not met by CiviCRM out-of-the-box or through configuration. In these cases, the question is often between building an in-house application and getting an externally-developed application like CiviCRM to do the job. CiviCRM as the base of a custom solution makes sense in a number of these scenarios. Some are specifically listed, as follows:

  • When the functionality being developed will be integrated into core (that is, the CiviCRM software that everyone downloads), similar to the case management functionality developed for the Physician's Health Program of British Columbia

  • When you have the skills to decode the various technologies used to build CiviCRM or the budget to hire those who can do that

  • When you are willing to invest more initially in more general and customizable software, in return for getting the services of other users who will report bugs, improve documentation, submit patches, and enhance the functionality you have contributed

  • When you can work with the core team and community effectively, which usually involves more time and a willingness to take other viewpoints and interests into account, which often includes the benefit of others sharing the costs of development

There are some scenarios when using CiviCRM as a base of custom solution doesn't make sense. For example, it can be cheaper and simpler to build a single CRM feature in Drupal or another CMS, especially if you don't need the rest of CiviCRM's functionality.

The strong advantages of building functionality into a full-fledged CRM also sometimes need to be balanced against the high cost of extending CiviCRM. It is programmed in PHP, Smarty templates, and other technologies such as jQuery using enterprise-oriented n-tier architecture. The variety of libraries and technologies and the size of the codebase have presented barriers for developers hoping to modify or extend the software that the CiviCRM team distributes and maintains. Developing in the CiviCRM project usually results in longer timeframes, higher costs, and a greater difficulty in sourcing personnel for development and maintenance as compared to building the same custom functionality in a rapid application development framework such as Drupal.

Though it wouldn't make sense for your organization to re-implement CiviCRM functionality, it can often make sense to extend CiviCRM with Drupal modules (or perhaps Joomla! extensions), especially with the variety of existing Drupal integration modules available for custom content, views, and access control. It is worth noting that several areas of CiviCRM functionality had been initially developed as Drupal modules. Then, as the use cases became clearer and the demand for integration with other CiviCRM functionality grew, they were re-implemented within CiviCRM itself.

CiviCRM is an open source project that is quite responsive to community needs and contributions to address areas it does not currently cover. Indeed, the project generally extends its functionality by working closely with organizations that can sponsor new functionality or contribute new features back. Instead of hacking the core just for your own implementation, you can improve the core code so that it handles your own needs and those of others with similar needs.

If you search the CiviCRM wiki ( and forums (, and communicate with the core team and the community via the forums, you may find that there are others who are interested in the same functionality and may be able to contribute something to having it built. Even if your needs are unique, there may be ways to generalize them so that they can be met with software that addresses the needs of others at the same time. Autumn 2010 saw some early successes with a Make It Happen initiative that helped aggregate support from many users and consultants for several new pieces of functionality.

Alternatively, your forum post may result in suggestions for simple or ingenious workarounds that can suffice in addressing an oddity in your requirements that was holding your organization back from going with CiviCRM.

While the burden of maintaining your own code in sync with changes in the core is significant, well-resourced organizations sometimes find that it makes most sense to develop custom versions of open source software containing features that are not shared back with the community. Usually, this is because the needs are quite unique, such as integrating with a custom in-house legacy application.

Other CRMs

When deciding on a CRM tool, there are many existing CRM offerings that could be considered. The Nonprofit Technology Network ( conducts periodic surveys of technology use in the non-profit sector and publishes the results. Though they are heavily focused on North American non-profits, they provide a good indication of CRM market penetration and user satisfaction with common solutions in this very large and influential region.

CiviCRM, Salesforce, and Convio are the three most-used systems in the most recent surveys. Other providers or tools widely used or acceptably rated in these surveys include Antharia, Blackbaud, SugarCRM, Kintera Sphere, DemocracyInAction, and Organizer's Database. Although the cost and functionality are significantly different, AmDocs and Microsoft CRM are other notable CRM systems in the larger non-profit sector, while Salsa sometimes crosses over from its focus on small and medium sized businesses.

Needs vary from one organization that uses a CRM to another. This affects which CRM is best for them. For example, Salesforce has tended to do better with large organizations (those with greater than $3M budget), though the CiviAccount enhancements in 2011 may change this. As you evaluate a CRM tool for your organization, you should take into account the current and expected needs of your organization, as well as the current and anticipated functionality in possible CRMs. Given this caveat, the next section will outline common reasons for adopting CiviCRM over the other alternatives.


Why CiviCRM?

Every organization should do its own evaluation of CRM options using criteria appropriate to their particular needs, weighing each suitably to provide the right overall balance. This section summarizes some of the reasons why CiviCRM is right for many non-profit, advocacy, and member-based organizations.

Focused on needs of non-profits

More than anything else, what sets CiviCRM apart from other competing programs is that it is designed specifically to meet the needs of non-profits, and provides a well-integrated platform that addresses all their basic needs. This avoids or alleviates the complexities, problems, time, and expenses associated with running separate systems for things such as donations, e-mailing, events, and membership, or trying to programmatically integrate them.

CiviCRM is well-suited to the needs of many kinds and sizes of organizations:

  • Non-profits

  • Non-governmental organizations

  • Government agencies and the offices of elected representatives

  • Membership-based organizations

  • Advocacy organizations

  • Grant giving organizations

  • Service providing organizations

  • Neighborhood associations

  • Political campaigns and organizations

  • Business associations

  • Government entities

  • Unions

  • Sports clubs

  • Dance studios

Many CRMs are built around common workflows in for-profit businesses that don't always map well into the non-profit world. The sales funnel model and terminology underlying sales force automation, for example, may not map well to the activities in an awareness raising campaign. Substituting some terms and adding some non-profit specific things, as Convio Common Ground does with Salesforce, doesn't always overcome the issues with the underlying model.

User satisfaction

NTEN's 2007 CRM Satisfaction Survey determined the following:

The three systems that were most commonly used by all organizations—CiviCRM, Salesforce, and Convio—were ranked first, second, and sixth, respectively in willingness to recommend respectively.

NTEN's 2009 Data Ecosystem Survey reinforced this result by finding that the overall happiness of organizations was similar, with grades of B+, B, and B- going to the top three tools: CiviCRM, Salesforce, and Convio, respectively.

No vendor lock-in

A significant problem with many proprietary CRMs is the difficulty organizations face in moving to a different vendor. As a free and open source software system, CiviCRM will always let organizations using it get their data out if they ever want to move to a different system. The ability to directly access and work with your data for customization, advanced database queries, data migration, and so on is often quite important.

Some proprietary systems are only offered by a single vendor. Service outages, poor help response times, or unhelpful technical support responses may leave your organization with no option but to switch to a different CRM just to deal with vendor issues. By contrast, the growing pool of integrators, trainers, and consultants for CiviCRM ( enables organizations to shift from one provider to another without having to change CRMs.

Unlike with some proprietary systems, there is no vendor lock-in with CiviCRM.

Integration with Drupal and Joomla!

Drupal and Joomla! are commonly used CMSs (Content Management Systems) in the non-profit world. CiviCRM integrates well with both of them. This is important because it allows your CRM to easily present public or staff facing forms and listings on the Web. Easy configuration of donation and event signup forms and self-serve functionality for membership signup and renewals are incredibly important to many organizations.

There are significant differences between the capabilities each content management system provides. The most notable one for CiviCRM is that it has more advanced access control capabilities, and more flexible repurposing of content when integrating with Drupal.

Drupal's use as a framework for developing customized sites, especially the way it facilitates mashing together data and functionality from numerous existing modules, can take advantage of CiviCRM's significant and growing support for important core and contributed modules. This includes exposing CiviCRM data in Views, Drupal 6 CCK fields for CiviCRM contacts, and synchronization of roles, groups, memberships, and organic groups in various ways. This allows user permissions on your website, e-mail privileges, membership status, group collaboration spaces, and expressed interests in topics to be mixed and matched in interesting and useful ways.

On the Joomla! side, there is a growing list of extensions available that tap into CiviCRM resources to display content in modules, limit access to content authoring, and control user authentication and account creation based on membership status.

In both cases, CiviCRM lets you take advantage of a powerful open source content management system, integrating your contact database directly into your organization's website. CiviCRM has a history of keeping up with developments in both CMSs, and there is every indication that this integration will continue and deepen with Drupal 7 and Joomla! 1.6 support in CiviCRM 4.0.

Total cost

The common saying that free and open source software is free like kittens rather than free like beer applies to CiviCRM. The total cost of ownership of a software system is an important metric for deciding which is more appropriate. Open source software costs for a system like CiviCRM are different from those of proprietary systems. The absence of an upfront purchase cost is not the end of the story. Costs of maintaining the system over its whole life need to be calculated. Instead of one-time purchase costs, or annual or monthly software license costs, there are likely to be additional expenditures on installation, training, and support. Depending on an organization's CRM needs, number of CRM users, and staff competencies, CiviCRM may be less expensive, or sometimes much less expensive, than the other alternatives.

Dynamic open source development

The "free" in "free and open source software" is primarily the freedom to modify the software to meet one's needs (see This is certainly an advantage for many organizations with resources that are unable to get proprietary systems adapted as they require, or that are unwilling to let another organization drive the feature development roadmap and timeframe of their enterprise CRM system.

CiviCRM has a strong, growing open source community and software ecosystem. CiviCRM is averaging over 8,000 downloads per month in 2010. There have been over 12,000 installations since version 2.0, with around 3,000 active CiviCRM installations in the fall of 2010 (see the following figure which counts most sites that have had administrative settings changed or reviewed during a month). Note that the apparent growth during 2.0 is greatly exaggerated by not being able to portray upgrades from earlier versions. Also note that the number of active sites is not being directly measured; so during upgrade, there are spikes as new and old sites are both counted, and on-going improvements to the usability and administrative ease of the system is likely to increase the number of active sites that are not counted in the following graph:

In terms of development energy, over 90 individuals and consultants donated to support enhancing CiviCRM during the fall of 2010. In addition to these Make It Happen contributions, there have been a large number of other contributions from the community in terms of code patches for new features, forum suggestions have sponsored major new features, including:

  • BC Physician Health Program

  • Front Line International Foundation for Human Rights Defenders

  • Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Organisation

  • International Mountain Biking Association

  • US Public Interest Research Group

  • Quest Scholars

  • Alpha International

  • New York State Senate

  • Progressive Technology Project

The number of issues reported and patches submitted by the community has increased significantly over the years.

While some might perceive more issues being filed by the community as a problem (people are finding the product buggy), it is very healthy from another perspective. For example, the most recent spike in community issues occurred during the alpha and beta testing preceding the major 3.0 release. Community members were encouraged to download, install, and test pre-production versions in order to provide feedback on features, usability, ease of upgrading, as well as bugs before the new version was released. This push was very successful and led to a spike in patches submitted, as illustrated in the following histogram, making it a better and more bug-free release. During 2010, there has been an effort to get consultants and better-resourced users to contribute patches in order to allow the core team to focus on enhancements for new releases.

Over 2,000 new posts appeared on the forum per month in 2010, continuing the gradual growth of previous years for this metric.

This relevant new content supported a steady and larger growth in page views, as illustrated in the following graph:

One unique aspect of CiviCRM that sets it apart from many other open source projects is the presence of a core development team working full-time on project development. While community involvement is a great sign of project health, the presence of a core development team has ensured steady releases, an aggressively-planned project roadmap, and more responsive support patching bugs and supporting users.


Extensive administrator, user, and developer documentation available at is updated for each version of CiviCRM before it is released. In addition, Understanding CiviCRM: A Comprehensive Guide is available for free at Often when an issue arises, others have tried to tackle the same challenge, and a record of how they were helped to solve their issue can be found by searching in the community forums at

Responsive community support

One of the challenges faced by users of some open source software compared to proprietary software has been the difficulty of assuring that support will be available when needed. In addition to the paid support offerings from numerous professional CiviCRM consultants mentioned previously, the CiviCRM community and core team are renowned for their quick and generous replies to questions in the forums. For those developing in CiviCRM, there is also a #civicrm irc channel on, where one can usually find the core team and other knowledgeable community members responding to more challenging inquiries.


How CiviCRM will help your organization

Good CRM implementations facilitate better outcomes and improved relationships with your constituents shown by, for example, more donations and volunteer time. They also improve staff efficiency and automate workflows, reducing the average cost and time involved in interactions with the constituents. This allows you and your organization to do more. CiviCRM will improve the relationship your constituents have with your organization through various features, including:

  • Easier online event registration

  • Self-serve membership renewal

  • More complete record of history of interactions available to the entire qualified staff

  • Automated workflow improvements for case management

  • Personalized e-mails

  • Anti-spam options to ensure all e-mail communications are permission-based

Improved relationships also result from deeper changes to the work of an organization. Segmentation of constituents can enable more targeted and effective communication and interaction. For example, sending a text version of your newsletter rather than the normal HTML version to those who have not opened three HTML issues in a row can improve deliverability. Cross-marketing action alerts to frequent donors or donation appeals to frequent activists can be more effective than sending these appeals to all donors or activists, since the latter may end up filling people's inboxes too frequently, leading many to unsubscribe. Surveying those who immediately return for more service on their case can reveal systemic issues in case of management protocols, or quality assurance issues.

Organizations with well-focused and right-sized CRM strategies properly balance the costs of acquiring and updating constituent information against the benefits of having and using it. Staff effort and constituent inconvenience mean that it is often better not to force or even encourage the entry of less important information. Nonetheless, CiviCRM will provide quantitative and qualitative information that can guide actions, inform executive decision-making, and allow balanced scorecard types of reporting to boards and external funders.



In this chapter we looked at:

  • The reasons that organizations choose to adopt a CRM strategy

  • The importance of considering the work processes as well as the supporting technologies when developing your Constituent Relationship Management strategy

  • The ways in which non-profit constituent relationship management is similar to, but different from, business customer relationship management in objectives and techniques

  • How to identify and prioritize the constituents and interactions to be managed by your CRM

  • When CiviCRM is more appropriate as a tool to support your CRM strategy rather than single purpose tools, custom software development, or other CRM systems

  • The common advantages that CiviCRM provides include:

    • Better focus on non-profit needs

    • Greater user satisfaction

    • Avoidance of vendor lock-in

    • Excellent integration with popular and powerful Drupal and Joomla! content management systems

    • Lower total cost of ownership

    • A strong and active development community

    • Extensive documentation for all kinds of users

    • Good free and paid support

  • The benefits your organization will be likely to see when it adopts CiviCRM

It might be tempting to jump in and start installing and configuring CiviCRM and migrating data from your existing systems. However, our experience is that there are great advantages in developing a CRM implementation plan that identifies, at a minimum, your team, your requirements, and the major tasks that will need to be accomplished. The next chapter will walk you through how to develop a CRM implementation plan that is suited to your organization's size, culture, and needs.

About the Authors

  • Joseph Murray

    Joseph Murray is the owner and principal of JMA Consulting, specialists in e-advocacy, e-consultation, and citizen engagement for progressive organizations. He has extensive experience on nonprofit boards, at senior levels of government, and in running electoral, referendum, and advocacy campaigns. JMA Consulting has provided CRM systems to hundreds of political campaigns, tracking interactions with tens of millions of voters, as well as providing CiviCRM, Drupal, and Wordpress strategy, implementation, development, and training services to numerous nonprofits, associations, and advocacy groups. JMA Consulting has published extensions for CiviCRM integrating it with mail, social media, chat, and other services, as well as enhancing the core functionality for grants and other areas.

    Joe is an active contributor to the CiviCRM ecosystem, and assists the CiviCRM core team in areas including accounting functionality, sponsorships, and community governance.

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  • Brian P. Shaughnessy

    Brian P. Shaughnessy is the owner and principal of Lighthouse Consulting & Design, a web development firm specializing in CiviCRM implementations for Joomla!, Drupal, and WordPress. Brian previously worked with a communication firm serving not-for-profit professional, trade, and charitable organizations for over 10 years. After starting his own business, he channeled that experience into effective implementations of CiviCRM for not-for-profits and government institutions. He has worked with organizations around the world, helping them to achieve greater efficiencies and expand functionality through CiviCRM.

    Brian is very active in the CiviCRM community, regularly contributing code to the core software, speaking at CiviCon events, and helping to lead a local user group in the Albany, NY area. In the past he has worked with the core development team to provide end-user training and maintains a strong working relationship with the project leaders.

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