Just over a year ago I posted this item on how the Evangelical Press Association is using CiviCRM as its association management software system. To my knowledge, CiviCRM is the only open source product on the market that directly addresses non-profit/membership organization data management needs, so I’m always interested to hear how it’s being used.
Doug Trouten, who I quoted in the earlier post, had some more to say about his experience with CiviCRM. I’m quoting him here, with his permission.
CiviCRM is pretty powerful, and you can make it do most AMS tasks (database, event registration, dues, e-mail blasts, etc.), but it’s not specifically designed for association work, so you’ll need to bend it to your needs. For instance, when I upgrade to a new version of CiviCRM (and there’s an update every month or two), I have to go into the PHP by hand and change “contribution amount” to “annual dues.”
I’d also say that CiviCRM is not for the faint-hearted. It’s not a very user-friendly system. In fact, in some ways it’s almost user-hostile. For instance, there’s no easy backup-and-restore for your member database, in part because things wind up being scattered over a number of MySQL tables. I’ve suggested the addition of a simple back-and-restore function, and the
developer say, “Why don’t you just use phpMyAdmin to dump all of the MySQL tables to your hard drive?” And of course you can do that, but the fact that they believe this makes a simple “backup” command in the program unnecessary shows the hacker/hobbyist ethos that drives the project.
Having said that, it should also be noted that CiviCRM integrates very nicely with Drupal — better than with Joomla. If I was redoing my site in Drupal, I’d definitely take a hard look at CiviCRM. It’s open source (free), which is nice, and you can pick up and move your whole operation to another server easily — you’re not locked into a proprietary software-as-a-service kind of deal.
If you make the move to CiviCRM, you’ll need to have a tech-savvy person on your staff to oversee everything on an ongoing basis, or you’re going to wind up hiring a developer/consultant every now and then to help you with things.Just last weekend I upgraded our CiviCRM installation to the latest version, and in the process “broke” some of our search and registration forms. It took an hour or two of digging around to find the settings I needed to change to fix the problems. But on the bright side, I was able to find it and fix it myself, rather than waiting a day for a vendor and then paying for the work. There are plenty of trade-offs, but for an organization with a small budget and a tech-savvy staff member, open source can be a great way to go.
I think Doug makes some pretty good points here, especially that even “free” open source is not free (i.e., either you do the work yourself or you pay someone else to do it, neither of which is free).
As always, I’d love to hear from others who have had experience with open source data management systems.
“Wes was able to come in and offer tangible, relevant advice that made us more productive immediately. I value his understanding of databases but more so, his understanding of how nonprofits work. There was no lost time educating him about how membership organizations are “different.” Wes recommended changes in processes as well as tips and tricks that were easy to implement made an immediate positive impact.”
“We came to Wes because we were very frustrated with our existing AMS and we wanted to improve our capabilities as soon as practicable. Wes very quickly helped us through a process of identifying our needs, identifying potential vendors, and selecting a new system that we’ll be able to move into very quickly. I especially appreciated Wes’s candor about our processes as well as the systems we were looking at. He was a great resource to have in a period of high anxiety for our organization. I would highly recommend Wes for any similar project.”
Mary Pat Paris, Executive Director
International Registration Plan
“This is the second database implementation we’ve done since I have been at Western Arts Alliance (WAA). The first I did on my own. This time we engaged Wes Trochlil as our database planning consultant. Let me tell you, this process is a whole lot easier having Wes on your team! For a small association like WAA, it’s tempting for board and EDs to question the justification and expense of a database planning consultant. But it’s the small associations that need Effective Database Management the most. Wes strengthened our planning process, clarified our needs requirements, helped us steer around solutions that couldn’t meet our objectives, and saved us money in the long haul.”
Tim Wilson, Executive Director
Western Arts Alliance