Nov 9 2013

CiviCRM: First Impressions

The Shtibl Minyan may be a unique Jewish community, but it has the same administrative needs as any other Jewish organization. We also face a challenge because we’re an entirely lay-led community and have no professional staff to handle administrative tasks. We rely mostly on emails and ad-hoc Google Spreadsheets for tracking information; as you can imagine, that setup is less than ideal.

To help us deal with some of our administrative needs, I recently began setting up CiviCRM, a web-based software package geared to non-profit administration. CiviCRM bills itself as a “constituent relationship management system”; in plainer terms, the software allows you to manage contacts and members, track contributions, organize events and registrations, and create mailing lists. At the moment, we use only a fraction of CiviCRM’s features—namely, maintaining a membership directory and listing events on a calendar—but having everything in one system will eventually make other administrative tasks, like coordinating sign-ups and payments for our annual Shavuot retreat, much easier.

CIVICRM events screenshot
Screenshot of CiviCRM’s events feature (with some things left to set up). I really hope that we don’t call our Chanukah potluck a “Thanksgivukkah” potluck; I hate that word.

So far, I’m pleased with CiviCRM. CiviCRM works with the most popular content management systems (WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal), allowing me to add features to our current website without too much frustration. I will say, though, that CiviCRM works best with Drupal—by far the most-used and best-supported option—and I ended up moving our website from WordPress to Drupal as a result. (I was considering Drupal anyway for other reasons, but CiviCRM motivated me to make the switch.) CiviCRM is also free[*] and open-source—a good thing for organizations that operate on lean budgets.

Having a full-fledged system to handle administrative tasks is great, of course, but the more important thing is getting people to use the system. My next step with CiviCRM will be training people how to use it: right now, one other person uses it to add basic events to our calendar, but at least twelve people will be using it in some capacity eventually.

While this post is only a brief introduction to CiviCRM, I wanted to write it to alert readers to its existence and set the stage for future posts. Are any of you using CiviCRM or similar software packages in Jewish organizations?

[*] Keep in mind, though, that setting up CiviCRM—or any software system, for that matter—still requires time or money, especially if you need customizations.

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