CiviCRM Donor and Events Management for Nonprofits

This post was first published on CiviCRM community web site. 

At first glance, one might think CiviCRM donor management for nonprofits is just another tool for development officers, fundraising professionals and executives.

One might want to take another look.

There is a jungle of nonprofit donor management systems on the market today. Capterra lists over 140 different systems  All promise the heaven on earth but, in reality, few other open-source systems offer what you find in CiviCRM.

Aside from its fully integrated system which manages all contact information and activities around all people involved in your organization, CiviCRM is also state of the art technology with a very attractive price point as open-source. There are no licence fees. It’s all installed on your host if you’d like to stay in control of your environment, data and security. As with any software system, it needs its fair share of set-up, configuration, maintenance and training.

I have been burned with open-source software quite a bit in the last decade but working with open-source has also been the biggest delight. There are open-source software communities that stand out and CiviCRM is definitely one of them.

How to judge an open-source software and avoid the pitfalls?

As with any technology project you have to look from three different angles: the technology, the processes, and the people involved.

Technology

A motherboard for computers

For most mature technology projects, the technology is sound. The engineers put their hearts and souls into it and gave it their best. I always assume it’s really good.
Most technology projects don’t fail because the technology decisions were wrong. Most of the time, it’s the people and the processes which become the hardest to align.

CiviCRM has been built with PHP probably, the most used web programming language. It runs on a LAMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP). It is an open-system for developers. It has a managed public API and maintains an infrastructure for custom extension. If a software has been around for almost 10 years and successfully installed around ten-thousand times, it’s safe to assume most of the bugs in the core were already discovered and fixed.

Both the maturity of the CiviCRM system and the managed infrastructure for developer contributions make for an excellent basis upon which to build organization’s core administrative tool for employees.

Processes

Flow Chart (Processes)

Next step on my CiviCRM journey was to dive into the processes of the CiviCRM community.

In this case, processes mean to me: where to find documentation and discover how current it is; find out how can I ask questions, what is the process to report bugs or errata in documentation; discover how forums are run, how was the wiki assembled and how does the issue tracker work.

I witnessed first hand how the community came together and jumped through hoops to become an official Stack Exchange public forum and sunset the existing forums on the site. This was a major effort. You need to prove to Stack Exchange there is a sufficient enough community to support a forum on the site. Stack Exchange doesn’t want ghost towns. The process opens up the community to even more users and also allows for many more people to help each other out while relieving the core contributors from the vast amount of forum posts to be answered and moderated.

I read through all the documentation and successfully installed CiviCRM on top of WordPress, in our company’s test server.

Again, a pleasant surprise. I did not experience a single hiccup or mismatch between the documentation and what I saw in reality. Until this experience I found it quite normal that complex systems would not always behave like the best case scenario in the documentation.

I don’t normally get it right the first time. Nine out of ten times, luck would have me hit a roadblock or surface a bug no one else had found. With CiviCRM I didn’t encounter any of it.

The developing contributors did a fantastic job testing the code before is was released and thoroughly documented the phases of installation and configuration. We all love when a plan comes together. But when you have been around technology long enough, you really don’t expect it to go smoothly right off the bat.

While testing the systems and diving into several different use cases and requirements for the my first project, I received plenty of assistance through the people volunteering on the forums. When I read through the documentation I mostly found the necessary additional information on how to handle special cases of events or a so-called household memberships.

For fun, I also read about scheduled reminders and scheduled jobs. Of course, at this point I was set-up with higher expectations but CiviCRM did not disappoint at any level of my self-paced, fast-paced education. I tested the membership module, events module, the email mass mailing software and the contributions module. Nothing brings more knowledge and lets me test drive a system than when applied to a real life project. So later that year, I took on migration of a membership organization from Filemaker 7.0 to CiviCRM.

People

People

Equally important to technology and process, if not more important for its success, are the people who run the software and the community around it. Who are the people involved? How large is the community? Who are the leaders? How approachable are they? How welcoming is the community to newcomers? How can normal everyday users get help? Is there a network of consultants available to do the heavy lifting for organizations which don’t have their own IT departments?

I started interacting with the CiviCRM community about 15 months ago, when I was searching for a speaker for the local Tech4Good group.

In my search, I reached out to Donald Lobo, CiviCRM’s founder, and David Greenberg, co-founder, got back to me. What a delight. Although as I mentioned I didn’t know any of them, their status in the community soon became quite clear. Both were very helpful – I felt quite welcome. Unfortunately, we didn’t find an evangelist for CiviCRM in Florida. If there is a need, and my interest is peaked, I normally run with it and research some more. Donald and David definitely planted the seed.

After a few months of testing and documenting some of the lessons learned, I started to get even more involved with the CiviCRM community. I signed up for the CiviCRM User Summit in September 2014 (Check out scheduled CiviCRM Events ) and was really amazed about the climate of collaboration and community. The CiviCRM User Summit started with a social showcase gathering the night before in an art gallery with four presentations in which implementers and nonprofits showed-off their use of CiviCRM or discussed new modules or extensions.

The presentations and presenters at the User Summit the next day were outstanding. I was totally intrigued by the versatility of CiviCRM software and the generosity of the consultants, implementers, contributors and community managers.

I finally met David Greenberg and CiviCRM newsletter editor, Linda Wu Pagano, in person after connecting with them often on twitter and on the CiviCRM site, it was like meeting long time friends again. I also met new people, like Tony Mazzarella of Web Access, who showed off some amazing implementation for a political campaign; Nate Porter of Ukuu People, who I met again at WordPress Camps as well as at #15NTC; Frank Gómez and Michael Daryabeygi, the fearless CiviVolunteer code wranglers of Ginkgo Street Labs, and Paul Keogan from BackOffice Thinking, who with his team around Linda Wu Pagano and Brad DeForest started the newest NPTechClub in Pennsylvania. There are so many more interesting CiviCRM people with whom I hope to connect.

The CiviCRM community radiates a genuine spirit of making this world a better place with the best tools available and that spirit enables better software and collaboration.
After working four years extensively with WordPress, I learned to embrace the community driven software. I have the choice to work with open-source vs proprietary software, open-source wins every time.

Fill out below form to learn more about our Implementation Services for CiviCRM and we schedule full demo session with you.

Being online is today part of business

“So how is business?” a friend asked me quietly the other day.  I could see the barely disguised fear in her eyes at the prospect of having to hear in reply another devastating story of how the Great Recession has turned yet another business into … let’s say a non-profit entity.  Imagine her delight when I told her that I feel blessed and business for Pauli Systems  has been fantastic.  “People are now coming with bigger dreams to our boutique web development and design shop on Radio Road,” I added.  

SBDC Distinguished Entrepreneur Award 2013Once upon a time we were seen as a mere office supply store, where one just buys something to put up on the web and is forgotten until something new is needed on the web.  Gone are the days when one hops from web developer to web developer, who invariably rip up an old website and installs a new one, which then an instant small business website & ghost town.

I never cared for those cookie-cutter web site shoppers who only want a Number One spot on Google Search and want it with a single key phrase, like “real estate” (in a town with 7,000 Realtors) and want it instantly, without any sense of content or context.  “Water removal,” “pet grooming.” .

The conversation has changed and I am very happy about that.

Business owners and managers realize today that “being online” is part of their business and content is king.  High demand for story, data and image sharing online have become a strategic part of savvy business plans and daily operations.  And the savviest business owners come to us looking for a partner to take them beyond single parts and who offers a broad spectrum of tools, services and guidance. We share our experience to help build systems flexible enough to grow with the business’ and customers’ needs but also stable enough, scalable enough to integrate into operational processes of a growing business.

SWFL WorkForce Development Board

We don’t have a chinese menu, from which one picks and choose. Online presence and online marketing has so many different moving parts that picking one over the other is like asking which pencil an architect might use to design a structure. As with building a house, we first need to better understand your vision, goals and budgetary outline.

Our motto is “Form follows Function” or “Form follows Content”, all depends on what you want your web site to be or do and what you think your various groups of visitors would want to see or do on your website; and in which context will they interact with you.

Similar to architects, we will find the right combination of software, tools and services that would best fit your overall content strategy, internet marketing plan and budget. Then we will oversee implementation, acquire resources (software, developers, graphic designers, services providers) and manage the configuration and assembling process.

Clegg Art - Responsive Design - Browsing imagesMost online systems integrate with APIs (Application Programming Interface) and the trend now goes to single purpose apps.  That’s what mobile phones and tablets brought us but as an enterprise you depend on the best integration of systems. You need a consultant who has a good working knowledge in many systems and is able to weigh advantages against trade-offs and manage the gaps between systems or innovations.  

Within the new paradigm, there are, however, challenges.  One of those is to keep fresh content filling a content management system, content to share over the social webs, keeping it fresh and real.  As most of you know, I founded two years ago, with journalist, author and friend, Steve Hart, a new company, Relevanza, to integrate all aspects of online technology with the ongoing need to produce relevant content and meet customers on their terms and within their own context. 

Business communication is not driven any more by corporate speak, no-one wants to speak to a 501(3)(c) any more (waving at Kivi Leroux-Miller).  On the other hand, businesses need to tell the stories of their products, how they are produced, what’s in them and how to put them to use.  Business news editors do that for industry publications  and that’s what your business needs to do, too.

Relevanza News RoomAt Relevanza, we provide the missing link. We are your own news room.  We help you speak, tell your story and, then, let the whole world know using the “new” online tools and social media. 

Each organization needs to develop an online community to be reachable, approachable and transparent.  The biggest challenge now is to understand what a business has to say and say it with authenticity, integrity and honesty.  That’s part of the contract with your customers. They chose you because you are able to build a relationship of trust.

Businesses now have plenty of data about their customers and can meet them on their own terms and within their own context. Yet most businesses are still not able to put the data to the best of their knowledge. 

It’s still hard to connect the real life interaction in the store, in the restaurant, in the classroom or in your office and continue your online relationship.  But how much richer does the business interaction become when you get personal and meet your customers as individuals. Most business schools don’t teach that kind of interaction and most corporations discourage that kind of approach to customer service. 

But, as a consumer yourself, how much do you like, perhaps even expect, personal interaction, personal services and customizable experiences? Your customers and clients are just like you. 

NCDevCon: A Beginner’s Guide to Load Testing w/ JMeter

This week I received notice that a talk on the same topic has again been accepted for this year’s NCDevCon.

As time passed by and 12 months is like eons in web/online technology, I will update the talk with more CF-related information as CF10 provides a few more tools and the other products also have a new version released.

Please feel free to submit questions you’d like to see answered in this year’s presentation via e-mail to bph@paulisystems.net or in below comment section.

I am looking forward to meeting everyone at the conference!


Fantastic Team of TACFUG Volunteers


Presentation, Recording, Resource

A well organized, most inspiring and content-rich conference has ended but the collective knowledge, ideas and solutions live on. Through the competent and quick crew of volunteers and with the incredible support from the NC State University, College of Textiles, the sessions were recorded and are already available for consumption. I am very grateful for it, as with four tracks the decision which session to visit was excrutiating and sometimes a toss up among great topics.

A big Thank You to the team of TACFUG and all Sponsors!

 

It seems that since the original post, the video of the talk has been deleted from the server.

The Slidedeck is still available, though.

More Resources for Load Testing & Performance Testing

Tools


Apache JMeter

Fusion Reactor

List of More Tools: CF411 Charlie Arehardt – Keyword:Page Performance Test

How-To’s


YouTube: Website Stress Testing using JMeter:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8NLeq-QxkSw

Stuart Marsh, beardygeek.com

CFMeetup recorded session Kurt Wiersma: Search for Load Testing with JMeter. (May 2010)

Articles:


Testing load balanced environment through distribute/remote testing (Pdf)

Improve the quality of your JMeter scripts

http://twitter.com/#!/bph/status/116351455786565633

Some very nice comments on Twitter!

Jean Lotz, AAUW Social Media Task Force

Blase Ciabaton, Naples Print Source

Nancy Shoemaker

Speaker Spotlight on #NCDevcon site