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CiviCRM is an open source CRM built specifically for nonprofit organizations.
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CiviCRM is an open source constituent relationship management (CRM) system designed to help you manage information about your organization's contacts, members, donations, and events. It's built specifically for nonprofits, so you won't find yourself having to try to shoehorn your organizational workflow into a business-oriented model (as some find themselves doing when using similar CRMs).

Even better, it's built to be extremely flexible and customizable. You can create custom fields, location types, contact sub-types, relationship types, financial type and more. Best of all, it's customized to your nonprofit's specific needs. There are no hard-coded limits on the number of contacts you can store—and likewise, no arbitrary limits or thresholds that trigger a higher monthly fee. (I've heard an unfortunate story of a group that started out with, for example, a "Nonprofit Success Pack" on a proprietary CRM. When they outgrew it, they were trapped in what turned out to be a very expensive system, or they wanted to expand functionality with "apps" that ended up unexpectedly costing hundreds of dollars a month.)

Breaking down data silos

If your organization is storing data in many different places ("data silos"), you can imagine the benefit of having an accessible, centralized place to store information: no more maintaining multiple spreadsheets and databases to track your constituents. No more updating information in one place only to find out the contact is also being tracked in a different location with inconsistent, unreliable data. No more donations in one system, event registrations in another, and email lists in a third location. When you (or the contact themselves, if you allow it) updates the information, it's updated across the board. When you view a contact, you can see at a glance their donation history, a record of their attendance for your events and their membership status, for example.

Privacy is always a concern, and policies like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) work hard to preserve it. Using CiviCRM, you can fully own your data and store it on your own server and under your privacy policy, rather than off-loading it to third party systems with their own privacy policies. (There's also a GDPR extension to provide GDPR-specific functionality such as a "Forget Me" button).

Costs

Though the software is open source and available without charge, there can be costs associated with CiviCRM. The fees range from hosting fees to hiring consultants or developers who can help you set up, configure, and maintain the installation or import historical data from another system. In the meantime, instead of these costs being sunk into a proprietary profit-based system, they go towards deepening a sharing, educational, empowering economy that can benefit other nonprofits as well.

Core components and functionality

CiviCRM covers a lot of ground. Here are some of its core components and functionalities:

  • CRM: Tracks contact addresses, demographics, relationships with other contacts, activities with your organization, and custom fields you've set up. Uses groups, tags, and saved searches to categorize your contacts. A powerful API allows developers to do more extensive integrations and customization if the need is there.

  • Events: Tracks attendance to past events, and sets up events that allow registration (with or without payment).

  • Memberships: Tracks membership status and allows membership registration and renewal (with or without payment).

  • Donations: Tracks donation and contribution history and creates as many customized donation pages as needed. It also allows peer-to-peer fundraising pages.

  • Mailings: Sends email to contacts in certain groups or to subsets based on filters/searches. Allows people to sign up to mailing lists while verifying/updating their contact information. Uses special links in your emails to prepopulate the forms on your site with the contact's information and links it directly to their record.

  • Payment gateways: Connects directly to your payment gateway of choice with no additional middle layer or additional fee on top of your processor's fee. This puts more of the donor's money in your organization's bank account. This also allows you to change your payment processor if needed without having to change your entire CRM.

Contributed extensions of note

Those are just the broad categories, of course. CiviCRM is flexible, so if you need more than what's provided by default, you can install extensions developed by the community.

Here are some examples:

  • Contact Layout Editor: Take control of the contact summary screen. Rearrange, rename, and design blocks. Drag and drop fields. Choose which layout gets shown to each type of user, and design custom layouts for each contact type.

  • DIY Forms: Use Backdrop or Drupal's powerful Webform module to push data directly to your CRM database from form submissions on your site. Allows multiple contacts to be added and edited from a single form, including relationships between them.

  • CiviVolunteer: Manage your volunteers.

  • Extended Reports: Generate detailed, customizable reports.

  • Mosaico drag and drop email builder: Use the Mosaico library for a drag and drop interface when creating email templates.

Examples of integrations with the website

CiviCRM currently requires a CMS (although there is some talk about allowing it to run as a stand-alone system in the future). At the moment it supports Backdrop, Drupal, WordPress, and Joomla. It can be run on one of these as a separate CRM-specific subdomain or can be integrated directly into your main site (if you use one of these CMS's). Here are some examples of the types of website integrations that are possible:

  • Private members area/intranet: Sync membership or group status from CiviCRM to a role on the website, allowing access to private information for certain contacts.

  • Member directory with filters: Pull specific contact information into a searchable directory on your site that dynamically updates based on data in CiviCRM.

  • DIY updates: Allow contacts to update their own information and avoid manual entry of hand-written or emailed changes. Use deduplication rules to match contacts, allow logged in users to update their own info and send special customized links in an email to pre-populate the form with the contact's information and link it directly to their record (whether they are logged in or not).

  • Mailing list signup: Add a mailing list signup option on contact forms.

  • Create user accounts: Allow users to register for an account on your website while also capturing their information in CiviCRM.

Try CiviCRM

The CiviCRM community is interested in educating and empowering users of all kinds. There are free online manuals for users, administrators, and developers. If you think your organization could benefit from CiviCRM,  ask a question or just give it a try.

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Laryn Kragt Bakker's avatar (apple floating in front of a man's face with the words "Ceci n'est pas un Laryn").
Laryn Kragt Bakker is the director of the Stuart Center's CEDC office doing nonprofit graphic design and #BackdropCMS, #Drupal, and #CiviCRM web development. He maintains a wide variety of modules for Backdrop and is a core committer for the project.

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