I don't even know how to ask this question
July 7, 2014 8:16 AM   Subscribe

The nonprofit I work for is undergoing major growing pains and needs donor management and member management software. CiviCRM has been suggested to us, but I have questions which have to be answered in order for me to know whether it's a solution we can use, how to price the install/hire someone to do the install and explain to my boss and my board how this works and why we should do this.

We are simply not in a position to pay a monthly fee for a cloud-based service and not in a good position to spend thousands of dollars for Raiser's Edge or SalesForce. I've played with the WordPress install demo and I liked it and it looks like it will do what we need. We have a website that runs on WordPress and the two of us in the office who ever have to do anything with the website manage pretty well with their admin panel.

Otherwise, assume that I know nothing about anything about software, or apps, or websites, or computers, other than that you turn them on and use the software menus to make them do what you need done. This is about right and is probably obvious from this question.

Assume that my boss knows less than that. That is also about right. Assume that means he thinks everything related to our website should cost $20 an hour and take about a single work day. I know that's not rational, but I need to know what is rational.

Know that our staff is three attorneys and we have a guy we pay on an as-needed basis when we buy a new computer or when we moved our website to Wordpress two years ago.

Know that our budget for this is quite small, rather unstable, and does not permit paying a monthly fee to one of the hosting services for CiviCrm.

I have read through their website and watched CiviCon 2011 and I think it will work for us. And it sounds like--to me who knows nothing about this stuff--that it gets added to our WordPress admin panel and we just use it from there. I have looked at the Find An Expert page and am preparing to contact people listed there, but I honestly feel like I'm expected to conduct business in a language I don't speak and have never heard spoken, so I'm hoping to get a little guidance before I talk to people about this.

If I am correct about this: CiviCRM is open-source software that gets added to our Wordpress.org admin panel and we use it from there to manage our donors and members, these are my questions:
1. Am I right? This is basically an App (plugin? console? widget? what word do I use) that sits on our WordPress admin panel and lets us access/create/maintain our donor and member database?
2. What sort of person do we need to hire to set it up?
3. We're in Chicago; what is a reasonable price to pay for this?
4. What do I need to know about our WordPress install to make sure I hire the right person?
5. How do I explain to people who have the technical ability to do this what it is we need done, so that I can hire them to do it with a reasonable degree of confidence that they will know what they are doing?

Details that may or may not be relevant: We have roughly 200 regular donors and roughly 200 members to manage. We just want to be able to see donor histories, lapsed memberships, view past specific campaigns and report on this information.

It appears that CiviCRM can handle online donations, events, email campaigns and host of really useful things, but for now (and basically, until we have the budget to re-hire our development director) none of that is necessary. We just need something better than our excel spreadsheet with incomplete names, no dates, and mystical figures that don't correlate with fundraising events.
posted by crush-onastick to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Salesforce offers free software to nonprofits.
posted by MansRiot at 9:07 AM on July 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is not going to be a super-helpful answer and I'm sorry, but I think you should stick with manual Excel for now. A surprising number of nonprofits, even ones with fundraising staff, use Excel because it's easy.

CiviCRM is open source, which means it biases towards flexibility at the cost of usability: it is not easy to use, and the ideal users of it are tech-centric and enjoy e.g. debugging, figuring out workarounds, contributing code, etc. You're not in that position, and it sounds like a hassle your group doesn't need.

On preview, MansRiot is correct -- you can get Saleforce for free, if you want.
posted by Susan PG at 9:10 AM on July 7, 2014

My wife is trying to fix the implementation of a CRM system for a for-profit company. She has no experience in this area, and it is emphatically NOT something even an intelligent layperson like she is can just drop into place and expect to get usable results.

They are trying to hire someone to develop the various data entry screens, report scripts, etc. that they need, and administer it once it's in place. So far they have not been able to find someone with the necessary skills. (This is in the DC metro area for a job that will probably be paying close to six figures.)

In the meantime, they're trying to work with the one vendor firm in the area that specializes in this application, and was the one that put it in place for the company about a year ago. It's such a mess precisely because nobody at the company really had an in-depth understanding of what this thing was or how they should approach it, and they never managed to give the vendor a real scoping document that told them what the system needed to do. The vendor just responded to day to day requests as best they could.

The lesson here is that trying to do something like this will absolutely eat an organization of the level of maturity you describe and leave little nuggets of it in a pile of shit under a tree somewhere. I wouldn't dig yourselves in any deeper. I absolutely agree with Susan PG - who appears to have more specific knowledge of this field - and would urge you to keep your systems as simple as possible, as flexible as possible (once you implement something like this, the resource cost of getting out will probably be unbearable and you'll be stuck with it) and as idiot-proof as possible.
posted by Naberius at 9:26 AM on July 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think you kind of buried the lede here, but I understand why.

We just need something better than our excel spreadsheet with incomplete names, no dates, and mystical figures that don't correlate with fundraising events.

This is a people problem. Garbage In, Garbage Out will still screw up a CivicCRM installation, so I would recommend fixing your Excel issues. After that (or perhaps in parallel), you can much more easily hire a Microsoft Access consultant to convert your Excel spreadsheet into an Access Database with some data entry, event creation, donor/customer management, and reporting screens.

Consider also designating someone to have data management as part of their job description, which is a natural upgrade path for a receptionist or office manager type person. If you don't have that person, the person who is most affected by the bad data should have the power to crack the whip when people input bad data.
posted by rhizome at 10:00 AM on July 7, 2014 [4 favorites]

My company integrates CiviCRM with Drupal. It tends to be a bigger PITA than it looks on the surface. The data integration seems to always require manual intervention to work right.

And to follow on the above, a CRM, no matter how little or much you pay for it, can't make people populate it with data you want.

If you hire somebody, make sure they have documented proof of doing more than a couple of Wordpress / CiviCRM implementations. I'd expect to pay that person $100 an hour minimum in Chicago, and assume they'll need 40ish hours if you are not customizing the CRM much.
posted by COD at 10:38 AM on July 7, 2014

While Salesforce is free for nonprofits, it's usually overkill. And you still need someone to install and configure it.

I agree that your bad data is the place you need to start. A CRM/database will help going forward a bit because it can for people to enter full names, proper dates, etc., but it's not a magic bullet.

It sounds like Access might be the way to go.
posted by radioamy at 11:35 AM on July 7, 2014

We currently use donortools and insightly through Google Apps to manage our donor database (about 2K to 5K people, depending). It comes to about $60/m I think. It's not ideal, but it's a lot easier to have fewer features and high user-friendliness, than to have to spend way more on a bigger system. Part of the reason we didn't choose a bigger system like civiCRM was that the donor CRM field when I looked at it in Jan this year was pretty in flux with some promising new apps and older ones moving into the cloud, but nothing that hit the sweet spot. I shortlisted must-have features and wants, then systematically went through each package and ticked off what fit. I was left with about 5 programs and then I did the total cost over a 2-year period, and chose what was reasonable and had some wants.

civiCRM and drupal are great if you have a staff member who is going to maintain that consistantly (like expect a half day a week if they're supporting a medium-sized team). Ditto for wordpress - we are moving to squarespace when I have the time to do the transfer because twice in the past twelve months, we've had plugins break on us and despite all the added features, it's a pita for non-tech volunteers to use at the back-end, unless they have wordpress experience.

The guy who developed donortools btw has been fantastic for bug fixes and suggestions. I wish it had more features because it's reliable and pleasant to use for what it does, but it doesn't do pipelines, which is why we started using insightly as well.
posted by viggorlijah at 9:46 PM on July 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

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