Is CiviCRM for You?
This chapter will help you to decide whether CiviCRM is the right tool for your organisation.
CiviCRM is powerful software and has the potential to help your organisation reach its goals - but it won't be the right choice for every organisation. Here are some ways that you can find out whether CiviCRM is right for your organisation:
- read the book! (you might be doing that right now)
- play with a demonstration site
- install a test database
- talk to others who use CiviCRM
- talk to a CiviCRM consultant.
CiviCRM hosts several demo sites - there is at least one for each of the two supported Content Management Systems (CMS) - Drupal and Joomla!. The demo sites present a working copy of the latest stable version of CiviCRM with sample data. You can use them to play around with CiviCRM but be aware that they are publicly viewable so you shouldn't enter personal data.
A list of the available demos can be found at http://demo.civicrm.org/
Other people are likely playing on the demo sites at the same time as you, so they may be configured strangely, missing functionality or appear in different languages.
The demos have some limitations - you can't send emails from them, you can't set permissions for Drupal users or do a full exploration of online payment options.
If you are having trouble working on a demo site, contact the CiviCRM core team via the forum or IRC. If you want a more controlled environment for exploring CiviCRM, install your own test site.
If you have technical skills or are feeling adventurous, you can download and set up a local version of CiviCRM, that is a version that is stored on your local computer rather than on a server on the internet. You'll still access it through a browser, but it will only be visible on your computer. The advantage of a test installation is that you can configure CiviCRM in the way that you want to use it, and experiment with your data.
Up-to-date information for installations (including troubleshooting tips) is maintained at http://wiki.civicrm.org/confluence/display/CRMDOC/Installation+and+Upgrades.
Talking to others who use CiviCRM
If you know of another organisation that uses CiviCRM, talk to them about their experience. Obviously the more similar they are to your organisation, the better. If you don't know anyone that is using CiviCRM, have a look on the CiviCRM forums, at case studies on the community site, or try your local non-profit technology mailing list.
The CiviCRM forums (http://forum.civicrm.org) have a few boards for people who are new to CiviCRM, such as "Pre-installation Questions" (http://forum.civicrm.org/index.php/board,5.0.html). Remember that the forums are staffed mainly by volunteers so you will get a better response if you spend some time formulating an easily answerable question. You can also search the forums and browse for questions that others have asked. If you wish to ask questions or contribute to the discussions you must register first.
Talking to CiviCRM Consultants
Another option to help you understand CiviCRM is to make use of a professional. The CiviCRM website lists professional vendors and consultants that can walk you through CiviCRM (http://civicrm.org/professional), and there are many others; you may find a local website company who has experience with CiviCRM. Consider hiring a consultant for a day to discuss with you how CiviCRM could help your organisation.