civicrm logoMost non-profit organizations deal with a large number of participants - be it individuals or firms. This task always involves a set of challenging organizational tasks: customer or rmember registration, keeping track of activities, reporting, communication, fund raising, collecting fees. CiviCRM was created to handle all of the above and many other accompanying aspects of non-profit daily operations. Currently there are two flavors of CiviCRM available: Joomla CiviCRM and Drupal based one. Both are free and naturally Allora's CiviCRM installation falls into the realm of Joomla.

We'd start with the core functionality of CiviCRM and then touch-base on its main modules in context of real-life examples.

Registration

During the CiviCRM setup it integrates with the user system of Joomla and provides several routes for adding new registrants. The most natural way is an online sign-up form. One can also import a list of desired members (via a powerful CSV file import procedure) and distribute the invitation links through a built-in mechanism. It's important to note here that such sign-up forms have a very wide selection of built-in fields as well as unlimited number of custom fields that an administrator may define in CiviCRM setup. The registration revolves around a user Email address which serves as a Unique identifier in Joomla & CiviCRM.

Aside from individuals CiviCRM also handles Organization registrations. A registrant of an organization can register other folks; there may be multiple administrators for any given organization. The advantage here is the ability to control user activities based on their Organization, update their registration information, etc.

Real life Example (A): a non-profit organization CHTOP handled an online nation-wide database of respite service providers. Their system (web interface and database) was proprietary and over years they naturally lost support for the aged OS, database not to mention that the original coder changed his profession. CiviCRM proved to be perfectly versatile and had success at importing:
  1. registrations of thousands of organizations
  2. dozens of custom fields of various properties - text, yes/no, number ranges
  3. multiple registration interfaces for Searchers and Program Providers (registrants)
  4. custom search interface with dozens of custom selections
Allora conducted CiviCRM setup, orchestrated the migration process and helped the customer expand the functionality by adding extra features such as document library, displaying additional info for each state, proximity based location search, etc. The live site can be found here: ArchRespite.org

Now that we talked about a pool of registered users (essentially an interactive address book) let's focus on other practical tasks:
  • CONTRIBUTIONS
  • EVENTS
  • MEMBERSHIP
  • MAILING LIST / SURVEY
and some more described in CiviCRM's book.

Contributions

Very often non-profits need collecting some funds in order to conduct an educational event, provide an online tutoring program, grant access to certain materials, issue membership, etc. CiviCRM setup handles this task via integrating popular online payments processors (PayPal, GoogleMoney and others).


Real life Example (B): a non-profit organization United Star Distance Learning Consortium provides online courses for teachers from various regions of the country. Historically they have built their portal as a duo of a registration portal and the educational engine guiding teachers through training and running assessments on their performance. Civi CRM successfully replaced the registration module allowing for the educational engine to link directly into its database from another server in order to pull new registrations. One impressive aspect of this design was that USDLC had to deal with three different types of registrations a) individual registrations b) registering a new organization c) registering a member for an existing organization; add here collecting fees plus expiring memberships and you'd get an idea on the scale for this challenge. Allora conducted a research on possible online solutions to reach these goals and consulted with several providers prior to tackling this task. It turned out that the only solution that would be cost-effective and flexible enough to handle such demanding re-incarnation was CiviCRM. It must be noted here that the online Forum and prompt responses from CiviCRM developers greatly facilitated this project for Allora Consulting.

Events

Organizing an event is probably the most trivial task (post CiviCRM installation which has become pretty simple over the years). If one seeks additions and advanced functionality then there's a decent choice of things like Payment processors, custom registration forms, disclaimer/instruction pages, maps, automated email reminders and CiviCRM reports. The latter feature is crucially important to most non-profits because that's the most natural way to account for their success and use the results in order for apply for new grants.

Real life Example (C): a non-profit organization APPCNC have organized numerous events via CiviCRM. Their participants had a choice of an online PayPal payment or simply mailing a check. CiviCRM reports, contact export and follow-up mailings established a strong value for the event organizers.

As a summary we'd list what our clients and ourselves find to be the strong sides of Civi CRM along with some weaknesses. As a shining proof of non-biased approach we'd start with cons ;)
Cons
  • if one seeks strong customization of CiviCRM default looks and performance it might present a formidable challenge. While it's easy to customize CSS properties for cosmetic changes it won't be trivial to inject new elements, even re-arranging the order of existing items might require tedious back-engineering and consulting with developers. Since Civi CRM is a very dynamic project its inner-workings are constantly changing and keeping yourself up-to-date can only be handled by a person with strong PHP skills and lots of spare time. Having said that, beware if you have a strong appetite for heavy customization. On a bright side - there's a handful of professional firms that can handle a variety of tasks of any complexity (though not cheap)
  • some users (especially those without much experience with sophisticated systems) get somewhat intimidated by an extensive management console of Civi CRM. We find that it's fairly easy to handle standard tasks via Web tutorials (short videos) and numerous books (online and printed). Nevertheless the interface is not very intuitive. To Civi CRM defence we must note that upon close comparison and test-runs their "user-friendly" competition required similar amount of actions, however the process is broken into steps and easier to follow. Options are vastly limited this way but there's less confusion for a user.
Pros
  • the system is free (including free basic support)
  • large community, the odds are that someone already ran into your problem and you can implement a pre-cooked solution found on CiviCRM forum
  • if you need professional help there's plenty of integrators (like ourselves) and programmers for custom jobs. Switching a provider for Civi CRM tech-support is always an option thus you eliminate the jeopardy of becoming a hostage of a proprietary design.
  • very wide scope of functionality. CiviCRM development is driven by popular demands for new features and thus most common tasks for non-profit organizations have been handled within CiviCRM setup for years.
  • upgrade-ability: Joomla development is always active and Civi CRM releases new versions just as frequently thus it's very important to note that there's always a proven path to upgrade. Out of the box CiviCRM installation would automatically handle the upgrade procedure (if there were customizations one might need to re-code those pieces).
  • User documentation is abundant in all shapes and flavors: video tutorials, books, online manuals, forums.
If your organization deals with a large number of participants the odds are you'd need a CRM - Contact Relationship Management system (also known as 'Customer Relation Management'). Our choice falls onto using CiviCRM. If you need help with CiviCRM installation and integration please feel free to contact Allora here.

© 2017 - Allora Consulting