What is CiviCRM?
CiviCRM is a powerful, web-based contact relationship management (CRM) system. It allows an organisation to record and manage information about the various people and other organizations it deals with. CiviCRM is more than just an address book, it also allows you to track your interactions with people and organizations and to get them to engage with, and potentially give money to, your organization through your website. The information you gather is all stored in one place but you can access it from almost anywhere.
CiviCRM focuses on the needs of non-profits. Most business CRMs are focused on managing commerce; CiviCRM emphasizes communicating with individuals, community engagement, managing contributions, and administering memberships.
CiviCRM is open source, which means there are no license costs or user fees associated with downloading, installing or using the software. You may incur costs if you use a consultant to implement CiviCRM to meet your specific needs and you may incur website hosting charges.
CiviCRM is web-based, which means it can be accessed by many users at the same time from different locations. It has been developed with the international community in mind, and translations and multi-language options are supported.
A model for understanding CRMs
One way to understand what a CRM does is to think of your personal address book with enhanced capabilities. Imagine that every time you make a phone call to a given person, your address book automatically makes a note of it, together with brief description of the conversation. It can also decide whether to ask this person for a particular favor, based on whether she did this favor for you a week ago, and schedule a follow-up meeting following the call. After using this address book for a while, you could ask "What were my interactions with Ji Lao?" or "How many people helped me this month?" and it would give you the whole history.
Now let's say you're organizing a dinner party and you want to invite all the people you've met during the previous year. Just write the invitation and tell your address book to send the email. You don't have to worry about anything else after this point (apart from preparing the dinner!). Your address book handles the RSVPs from all invited guests, together with information about who is vegetarian and who is not. It even lets you know two nights before the event how many people you can expect.
It would be great to have such an "assistant", right? Organizations need one even more. It's hard to remember all of your meetings, phone calls and other forms of contact (especially over the long term), but the more you know about the people and organisations you interact with, the more successful your work will be. You'll be able to target your message to specific groups, because you know who will be interested in specific topics, and you'll be able to observe their reactions and adjust your next interaction, and continue to improve how you talk to different groups.
CiviCRM and Content Management Systems
CiviCRM works together with another common piece of software: a content management system (CMS). A CMS is a tool for creating and managing websites, and most websites these days are based on a CMS.
Integration with a CMS offers a number of advantages for CiviCRM, most notably:
- visitors to your website can carry out many activities on their own, such as renewing their membership, signing up for events, requesting email updates, and donating money
- you can share parts of your data, for example event information, with visitors to your website
Drupal Content Management System - Content Types Screen
Joomla! Content Management System - Control Panel screen