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CiviCRM and Associations

CiviCRM is an open source CRM package designed specifically for the non-profit market. CiviCRM integrates with Drupal and Joomla, two open source CMS packages. CiviCRM includes modules for contributions, events, membership, and broadcast email.

I’ve been aware of CiviCRM for several years now, but have only recently spoken with an association that is actually implementing it.

With his permission, I’m posting the following from Doug Trouten, executive director of the Evangelical Press Association. Doug’s association hired Datascribe to help them with the implementation of CiviCRM.

It’s the kind of thing I could have done myself, since I’ve done okay at figuring out how to implement open source software (before going into journalism I toyed with pursuing computer science for a career, although this was back when computers were made with flint knives and bearskins). But I decided to hire somebody familiar with the program to do the initial setup [Datascribe]. We paid them $1,000, and for that they handled the initial structure of the database (including some data import) and built an initial form (our membership form, which is our most complex). I have to admit I was a little intimidated by the 1,000-plus page manual for CiviCRM, and thought it would be good to have the initial work done by somebody who was familiar with the program and could make good decisions  about things that would otherwise fall into the “I wish I woulda known” category.

We originally kept our membership data in Access, and had some forms and scripts that helped automate basic tasks. We moved to [another association management system] to transfer some of the data entry and upkeep to members and to automate some of our on-line transactions. We’re moving to CiviCRM now, not because of the cost of [the other AMS] (although that’s a factor) but because of the inability to integrate the log-in for [the other AMS] with the log-in for our own Web site, thus providing a single sign-on experience for the user. I think that if we were using [all of the functionality of the other AMS] package and building our Web site within their CMS we wouldn’t have that problem, but I’m not willing to tie myself that tightly to a single vendor.

I should also add that the Datascribe folks have been good to work with, and that the $1,000 contract includes integration with my existing Joomla-based Web site and some training for my staff. We’ll probably do that in January. My association is a small one and it employs me part-time. My full-time job is as a college professor teaching journalism, so Christmas break will give me time to complete the transition from [the current AMS] to CiviCRM. We just finished sending our printed directory to press, and during the proofing we found a few things that we’ll want to clean up before doing a final import into CiviCRM. That’s my Christmas project.

Thanks for the update, Doug. I’d be curious to hear from other associations that have implemented CiviCRM. I think the product holds great promise, but like any other open source product, a critical mass of users is necessary to maintain its long-term viability.

Full disclosure: EDM is an independent third-party consulting firm. This means we have no financial relationship with any of the vendors mentioned in this blog. We provide unbiased opinions on what we see.

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  • I think we do have quite a few associations using CiviCRM. I’ve asked brian who does a fair amount with associations to respond here with more details. Critical mass is an important aspect for any open source project. At this stage, we do have a fairly robust and significantly large installed based. We have 200+ downloads on a daily weekday basis and over 7000 active ping backs since the 2.0 series was launched 🙂

  • Brian Shaughnessy

    I am a web developer who has implemented CiviCRM+Joomla on a number of not-for-profit sites (,,,,,,, and others).

    What CiviCRM has provided for these associations, perhaps more than anything else, is the ability to have a single data source for all records. No longer do they maintain an Access db for membership records, and periodically transfer data online for a member directory — the database and website are integrated in realtime, so all records are always current. Members can edit their own contact details, register for events, renew membership, etc. — all in real-time and interfacing directly with the single data source. This reduces data entry for staff and empowers members to manage their own data. Communications is also centralized, as the member database and broadcast email system are running off the same set of data.

    Realize, however, that CiviCRM is not a light-weight product. Getting your arms around the software can take some time, as its functionality is very robust. It’s very customizable (all open source), but that too can take some time and effort to really tweak it to the needs of your organization.

    The core development team are consummate professionals, and really listen to the needs and interests of the community. They also are incredibly helpful with support — far better than you get with many commercial products.

  • Wes Trochlil

    @Donald, thanks for your comments. I sense CiviCRM has a critical mass of users; I’m just not sure there’s a critical mass within “traditional” associations yet.

    @Brian, thanks for sharing your experiences. I really do look forward to a time when CiviCRM is competitive in the broader association space.

  • We’ve looked into using CiviCRM for our association but have been discouraged by CiviCRM’s apparent lack of support for associations in which the members are *organizations* but the member services/privileges are provided to people within the organizations. If anyone out there has experience implementing CiviCRM in an association of organizations (each with dozens and sometimes hundreds of persons that need to be tracked and given member privileges), I’d love to hear about it.

  • hey sam:

    actually CiviMember handles that quite nicely in 2.1/2.2

    A person registers a membership “on behalf of an organization”. So the org is the member

    A membership type can also use a “relationship” inheritance model. So if you have a “belongs to” relationship to model org individual relatioship, you can allow inheritance of the org membership through this relationship and hence meet your goals. Quite a few folks are using this quite nicely 🙂


  • CiviCRM is developing nicely and is good at what it does, especially for the price. I think it will continue to make in roads with small associations and nonprofits of all stripes. Its open source platform makes it attractive and customizable, although as the quote above states, it still is highly preferable if an experienced implementer installs it given the complexity of most projects.

    Where it struggles to match a traditional Association Management Systems is in the depth of features some associations require in key areas. To my knowledge it still does not serve as an AR sub-ledger (credits, refunds, aging), or have some of the robust annual conference, committee, and AR-based membership management features.

    I do look forward to its continued development.


  • Wes Trochlil

    It’s been a while since I reviewed it, Dan, but no A/R and no committee functionality were definitely show-stoppers. But, like you, I’m hopeful for future development.

  • I’ll be honest about this. We dont have a lot of domain expertise with regard to AMS system. If the AMS community wants to see more “robust” AMS features in CiviCRM they need to step up and help spec it and write the needed code (or sponsor the development). Waiting for someone in the community to built it might result in a long wait


  • Wes Trochlil

    Great point, and duly noted, Donald.


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Mary Pat Paris, Executive Director
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National Association of Life Brokerage Agencies

“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.”

Mary Pat Paris, Executive Director
International Registration Plan

Mary Pat Paris
International Registration Plan

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Western Arts Alliance

Tim Wilson
Western Arts Alliance
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