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This chapter covers different ways to find information you've stored in CiviCRM. Two of the techniques in this chapter - finding contacts and the "search-action" workflow, described in the second bullet below - are core functions in CiviCRM, so most, if not all, users will find this chapter helpful.

We will start off with some simple searches and then move on to more advanced techniques. CiviCRM beginners should be familiar with Quicksearch, Advanced Search and the component searches. More advanced users should also look at reports, custom searches and Search Builder.

There are three main reasons to search:

  • To find a specific contact: the Quick search box can find contacts by name, email address or a variety of other characteristics.
  • To perform an action on a contact or contacts that meet certain criteria: a common workflow in CiviCRM, called a search-action, is to find contacts that meet certain criteria and then perform an action on them. For example, you might want to find all contacts in the advisory group in order to invite them to a meeting, find all those whose memberships have recently expired to send a renewal reminder, or find all contacts aged under 25 in a specific location to send them an email about an upcoming event nearby.
  • For ad-hoc reporting.

As a form of ad-hoc reporting, searching is often useful but does have limitations. For example, you can't group results by particular criteria, summarize, or easily produce graphs of the results. For more advanced reporting, see the CiviReport section.


The easiest way to find a specific contact is to use the Quick search box that appears in the navigation menu at the top left of the screen. You may choose to search by one of several criteria. The criteria can be modified by going to Administer > Customize Data and Screens > Search Preferences. On the Search Preferences page, options are available to customize CiviCRM's QuickSearch to hide contact's basic fields that are not normally used in a quicksearch and to add custom field options.

Once you click in the Quicksearch box, you can start typing immediately to use the default Name/Email search or you can click again to expose several other criteria in a dropdown selection list. Contacts that match the phrase you enter will appear in a dropdown list below the box. For example, if you are searching with Name/Email and you have left automatic wildcard enabled via Search Preferences, entering "peter" will find:

  • people who's first or last name is Peter
  • people who have Peter appearing as part of their name, e.g. Mary Peterson
  • people who have Peter as part of their email address, e.g.
  • organisations with Peter in their name, e.g. Alpeter Community Centre.

You often don't need to type the full name of the person - just the first few letters. However, if you don't see the contact you are looking for, either refine the search by typing more characters, or hit the 'Return' key to convert your search into an Advanced search.

Quick search displays up to 10 results (by default). You can change the number of results returned from the Search Preferences screen described above by changing the Autocomplete Results setting.

CiviCRM also allows for the collection of a nickname when entering new contacts. For example, "Joe" can be a nickname for "Joseph" and "IBM" can be a nickname for "International Business Machines". When you first install CiviCRM you will find "Joseph" when searching for "Joe" and you'll find "International Business Machines" when searching for "IBM".

You can change this behavior from the Search Preferences screen described above by changing the Include Nickname setting to yes.


If you search by phone then you will need to enter the digits of the phone number without any formatting. The phone search is done against a field that consists only of digits with all non-numeric characters stripped out.


If you want to search by first and last name, use the format "Lastname, Firstname", not "Firstname Lastname".
For example, "Peterson, Mary" not "Mary Peterson".

Screen shot of advanced search

Advanced search allows you to search across all the information you have about your contacts. For example, you could find "all contacts in Venezuela" or "all advisory group members". If you specify two or more categories of information, the search displays every contact that matches all the categories. For instance, you can combine the two criteria just mentioned to find "all advisory group members in Venezuela".

The Advanced search screen is accessible from the navigation menu Search > Advanced Search. On this screen, search criteria are grouped into sections which refer to different types of data that you can search on, such as address data, notes and information from components such as Contributions or Events. Each group of criteria is shown as a blue bar (known as an "accordion" because it expands when you click on it). For example, if you want to search for all people in your database from 16 to 18 years old, click on the Demographics accordion. When it opens, you can specify the birth date range you are interested in.

Display Settings For Results

Screen shot of Display Results As

Advanced Search returns your results as Contact records by default. However, you may want to get another record type instead. For example, you may want to search on the Membership renewal activity to find everyone who renewed their membership last week then display the results as Memberships so that you can export name, address and Membership expiration date to create and then post out membership cards to those contacts. Simply select the record type you want from the Display Results As dropdown.

Views for Display Contacts

Screen shot of Display Contacts

Advanced search allows you to change the columns displayed in your search results. The default columns are Name, Street Address, City, State, Postal Code, Country, Email and Phone. If you want to display a different set of columns (perhaps to include a custom field or remove a column you don't need), create a Profile with the Search Views option selected. Make sure that the fields in this Profile are set to "Expose Publicly and for Listings" visibility, and are marked as Results Columns. (For more information about creating Profiles, which are described in detail in the Profiles chapter in the Configuration section.)

For example you may want to include columns for Gender and Date of Birth, while eliminating Country. Create a profile that includes birth date, gender and address fields.

Screen shot of Search View setting in a profile

Screen shot of Visibility setting in a profile

Screen shot of a profile

Read more about creating profiles in the Profiles section of the chapter on Organising Your Data.

Combining this feature with the "Batch Update via Profile" action provides a powerful method of viewing and updating a specific set of fields across a batch of contact records.

Search settings

The Search Operator determines whether your criteria are combined with AND statements, or combined with OR statements. For example, you may want to find all individuals who are in the Volunteers group AND who have a Volunteer Training activity recorded for them. In this case use the AND operator. If you need to find everyone who is in the Volunteers group OR has a Volunteer Training activity recorded, use the OR operator.

The Search in Trash allows you to search contacts that have been deleted but not deleted permanently. When a contact is deleted, the contact and all related data are moved to trash. Only users with the relevant permission will be able to search in trash and will be able to restore the contact from trash.

Screen shot of Search in Trash

The Date Range Filter

Screen shot of Date Range Filter

Most component searches include a date range filter. The images below show examples of both:

  • by using an absolute date range, e.g. "1st Jan 2010" to "31 July 2010"
  • by using a relative date range, e.g. "Previous week"

Relative date ranges are especially useful for searches that you would like to then save as Smart Groups (automatically populated groups that are configured to include contacts that share a certain set of characteristics or activities). For more information see the Groups and tags section in the Organising your data chapter.

Screen shot of Relative Date Range Filter

For example you may want to use a relative date range search to find:

  • Contacts who have contributed in the last 7 days (Relative date range - "From 1 Week ago")
  • This (financial) years registered Event Participants (Relative date range - "This Year")
  • Contacts who are a certain age

Relative dates filters based on the time interval "week" assume that Sunday is the first day of the week. This is not true in all countries, for example Europe and many countries in Asia/Pacific region consider Monday to be the first day of the week. To set which day is the first day of the week, you need to go to Administer > Localization > Date Format.

Screen shot of how to change the first day of the week

Combining search criteria

Different criteria are combined by "ANDing" them. For example, if you select the tag "major donor" and the country "Mexico", the search will return major donors from Mexico. The search will not return major donors who are not from Mexico, nor those from Mexico who are not major donors.

You can change the default search operator from AND to OR in the Search Settings.

Within criteria groups that allow you to check boxes for more than one value, these options are also combined by "ANDing". For example, you can search for contacts whose Preferred Communication Method is both Email AND SMS.

With fields that allow you to select more than one value from a dropdown list, the values are always combined with "OR". For example, you could find contacts that live in Alaska or in Arizona.

advanced search address selected

If you expand one of the dropdown sections, and make selections, as shown above, a cross appears at the right end of the header, indicating that this panel is being used in the search. If you no longer wish to use Address Fields as a part of the search, it is not enough just to close the panel. You must click the cross on the header.

The Advanced Search is an effective way to search for many things in CiviCRM. However, there is an issue with searches where Contacts are the client in more than one Case, and they are engaged in the same Activity Type in each of these Cases. The Advanced Search is currently not able to filter these Activities correctly by Case Type. This issue is expected to be resolved in the near future.

Search Builder

Advanced search lets you choose from a wide range of criteria in a user-friendly panel, but this has limitations. Search builder allows you to define your own search and arrange the criteria according to your specific needs.

Search Builder allows you to choose from a range of operators:

Operator Purpose Example
= Equals. Matches on the exact value you specify "First Name" = "Bob" will find contacts who's first name is exactly "Bob"
Not equals. Matches on everything that is not the specified value. "Gender" ≠ "Female" will find contacts who are not female
> , ≥ Greater-than, greater-than-or-equal-to "Birth Date" ≥ "Jan 1 2000" will find contacts born on or after Jan 1 2000
< , ≤ Less-than, less-than-or-equal-to "Last Name" < "J" will find contacts whose name starts with a letter that comes before J in the alphabet
In Value is one of those you specify "Group" In "Board Members, Staff" will find contacts who are in either of the specified groups
Like Same as the = operator, but supports the % wildcard character "Last Name" Like "Gree%" will find contacts whose last name begins with "Gree" (Green, Greenberg, etc)
Regex Same as the = operator, but supports all regular expression operators. See "Middle Name" Regex "[a-c]" will find contacts whose middle initial is A, B or C
Is Empty, Not Empty Empty means the field exists and is equal to the number zero or contains nothing. "City" Is Empty will find all contacts who do have an address but the city was left blank
Is Null, Not Null Null means the field does not exist or contains nothing. "City" Is Null will find all contacts who do not have an address at all

Search Builder also allows you to combine criteria with multiple AND and OR groups. To AND criteria (which means to find results matching all criteria specified), click Another search field and enter criteria under Include contacts where. To OR criteria (which means to find results matching either one OR the other criterion), enter one criterion in Include contacts where and the other under Also include contacts where. The following example will search for females born after Jan 1 2000 OR members of the Administrators or Advisory Board groups:

Search Builder

Your search results will contain each contact's name, plus a column for each search criterion you've defined. If you export search results, the export file will contain those same columns.

Just like other searches, you can choose from a list of actions to apply to the results of your search. If you export results, you can select fields for export. Note that the fields you searched on will get exported by default in addition to those you select.

You can also save your Search Builder search as a Smart Group. For more information on Smart Groups, see the Groups and Tags section.

You can use this to search for text values all fields of the database. This is particularly useful, for example, if you can remember specific words that you have used but can't remember where you have put them. For example, lets say that you recorded an activity with a contact and added specific words to the description but have now forgot the contact's name. You can use Full text search to find the contact and activity by words that you remember from the description.

Component searches

Most CiviCRM components offer a search on the data they maintain, such as Find contributions, Find members, etc. These forms work in a similar way to Advanced search but return rows of the main objects associated with the components, instead of contacts. Find Members returns memberships, Find Participants shows event registrations, Find Contributions returns contributions and so on.

Each component search has its own Action list. See the Component chapters for more details.

Note that you can also use the Advanced Search in conjunction with Display Results As to search for component objects based on criteria available in Advanced earch. For example, you could find all event attendances from contacts that are also members.

Custom searches

Custom searches are designed to answer specific questions that can't be easily answered using Advanced Search or Search Builder.

Go to Search > Custom Search in the navigation menu and look at the list of available custom searches.These customized searches have been written by members of the CiviCRM community to meet their own needs, and then contributed back to the community to share with others who need the same or similar custom searches. It's worth spending some time exploring these searches as some may be useful to you, and they will give you an idea of the sorts of things that are possible. Though some of these searches can be done in the Advanced Search (especially in later versions), custom searches are also set up to display results according to your search and may provide more useful columns in the results for your needs. Here's a short description of the custom searches available.

Finding contacts in one group but not in another

This is probably the most popular custom search.

When using Advanced Search, if you select several groups in the Group list near the top, it will treat the search as an OR search, and return results for contacts who are in any of the groups you select. If you want to find contacts who belong to all of the selected groups, you will need to use Search Builder.

There is also a very useful built-in custom search, "Include/Exclude Contacts in a Group/Tag", that enables you to find contacts who are in one group but not in another, which you can find by going to Search > Custom Searches in the navigation menu.

Include/Exclude Search

By combining Include and Exclude options, you can find contacts who are in one group but remove just the group members who fit another criterion. For example, you may want to find all the contacts who are Newsletter Subscribers or volunteers, but exclude members of Advisory Board, perhaps to create a new mailing list to receive a message targeted at the most external circles of your constituents.

Household Name and State

Search households in a state or province.


Which states or provinces are available in the search depends on your localization settings. Add additional countries by going to Administer > Configure > Global Settings > Localization. Add to the column of "Available States and Provinces", but note this change will also affect profile forms which include country or state/province fields.

Contribution Aggregate

Find aggregate totals of contributions from contacts within a range of dates.

Postal Mailing

Search for contacts in a given group and display results with mailing information. Use this search to batch update contact information, send an email, export contacts, or other actions.

Search for contacts located within x miles/kilometres of a specific geographical area.

  1. Go to Search > Custom Searches > Proximity Search
  2. Enter the distance in miles or kilometres.
  3. Enter the country within which you want to search.
  4. Enter any other parameters you wish to give your search.
  5. Click Search.


You can also incorporate Proximity Searching in a profile which you've configured for use as a search form.

Event Aggregate

Search on event-related payments for a given event or event type in a given date range. You may also limit results to show credit card payments only or payees only. See also event reports for more useful event search options.

Find activities using any or all of the activity-related criteria. This is also possible in Advanced Search by using Display results as.

Price Set Details for Event Participants

Get detailed information about which participants opted for which different paid options related to an event. For example, see who paid just the event fee, who paid for the additional workshop and who paid for dinner.

Find Contribution Amounts by Tag

Search on any tag for contributions within a range of dates.

Zip Code Range

Find contacts in a specified zip code or postal code range. This is useful for targeted mailings or conducting surveys in a particular geographical area.

  1. Go to Search > Custom Searches > Zip Code Range.

  2. Enter the start and end range of the zip or postal codes.

  3. Click Search.

Date Added to CiviCRM

Search for contacts that have been added within a particular time period. Including a group displays just those added within the specified time frame who are also in that group. Excluding a group removes those group members from the results.

Custom Group Multiple Values Listing

A search for multi-value custom data.

Contributions made in Year X and not Year Y

Search for contributions that have been made in one year but not another. This is useful for following up semi-regular donors and encouraging them to donate more regularly. See also the LYBUNT and SYBUNT reports.

None of the fields are required; you can choose whether to search a specified amount range as well as a time period, and whether you want to exclude minimum or maximum amounts.

It is possible to write your own custom searches, but you'll need to be comfortable with MySQL and PHP. See the Developer wiki at for more information about how to do this. If you create a custom search that you think could be useful for others, consider contributing it back to the community.

The 'search-action' workflow

After you retrieve your search results, you can perform a number of actions. An Actions box appears above the results. You can select either all records or specific records, then carry out an action with the selected records. Different actions are covered in more detail in the chapter on Everyday Tasks.

Screen shot of Action Dropdown

Some of the most commonly used actions are Add Contacts to Group, Export Contacts, Map Contacts, and creating and printing Mailing Labels. (To use Map Contacts, you will need to configure Mapping and Geocoding. You can read more about this in the Installation chapter of the Configuration section of this manual).

For example, to send email to a selected number of contacts, mark the contacts you are interested in and then select Send Email to Contacts in the dropdown list of actions.

The contact summary pop-up

You can see a pop-up box with detailed information for any contact listed in your search results by hovering over the contact icon in the left column, as shown below. You can adjust the fields shown in this "pop-up view" by modifying the fields included in the "Summary Overlay" profile (Administer > Customize Data and Screens > Profiles).

Screen shot of Contact Summary pop-up

The wildcard (%)

Understanding wildcards greatly expands your search options. A wildcard represents any character (letter, numeral or punctuation mark). In CiviCRM, the wildcard is represented by the % symbol (you may be familiar with other symbols such as * from other applications). It is most easily understood through examples.

Suppose that somebody asked you to find a contact with a first name similar to "Michael", but possible something different such as "Michelle" or "Michał". If you search for "Mich%" you will find all these variations, including a contact who is supposed to be named "Michael" but whose name was misspelled as "Micheal". Wildcards can be used before, after, or even within words. For example, searching on 'Mich%el' will exclude "Michał" and "Micheal" but still find "Michelle" and "Michael".

Case sensitivity

Note that when you search for character strings, the search is not case-sensitive. For example, if you search for 'brooklyn', the search will return strings with capitalised letters if the string exists, e.g. 'Brooklyn' or 'BROOKLYN'. Entering "mi%el" in lowercase will also find contacts with an upper case 'M' in their name.

Default number of rows to be returned.

In CiviCRM Advanced Searches and in CiviCRM reports the number of rows displayed on the screen has by default been 50 previously. As of CiviCRM version 5.39 System Administrators can under Administer > Customize Data and Screens > Search Preferences change the number of rows to be outputted on the screen. You should not set a too high a number as higher the number the slower the screen will be to load.