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Key concepts and configurations

This section explains the key concepts underpinning CiviContribute and outlines the high-level configuration needed for its use.

Before you begin it is helpful to list out the types of contributions your organisation receives (or wants to receive), and identify which of those you want to track using CiviCRM.

Financial types, financial accounts and accounting codes

Organisations that use CiviCRM have differing needs in terms of financial reporting. Some just want to know the total donation or membership income recorded in CiviCRM whereas others want to be able to export a full set of double-entry financial transactions to import into their accounting software.

CiviCRM caters for both those groups by using Financial types to hide the complexity of double-entry bookkeeping from everyone who doesn't need to know about it, whilst still recording those transactions for organisations that do need them.

Each financial type is linked to a number of financial accounts that can track income, assets, fees and premiums (if applicable) as required as shown for the four default financial types in the following image.

financial types and accounts

The financial accounts should be based on your organisation's Chart of Accounts. In CiviCRM each contribution must be assigned a financial type. When the contribution is saved the appropriate debits and credits are automatically recorded for the financial accounts linked to that financial type. (If you are using price sets, each option in the price set could be linked to a different financial type and CiviCRM will still record the appropriate debits and credits for all linked financial accounts.)

You should consult with your organization's bookkeeper or accountant before setting up new or modifying the existing the financial types and financial accounts.

Financial Types

The standard financial types included with CiviCRM are event fee, member dues, donation and campaign contribution as shown in the image above, but you can modify these existing accounts or set up new financial types to suit your needs.

Generally you will need one financial type for each type of income (revenue) you receive in CiviCRM and track in your accounts. So if you report on tax appeal donations, festive appeal donations and recurring donations separately then having only one "Donation" financial type in CiviCRM will not work, you will need one financial type called "Tax Appeal", another called "Festive Appeal" and yet another called "Recurring Donations".

To create a new financial type navigate to Administer > CiviContribute > Financial Types, and click on Add Financial Type

Adding Financial Type

When you create a Financial Type of a specific name, CiviCRM automatically creates a similarly named revenue (income) account and assigns it and the default accounts for asset, expenses and cost of sales to the new financial type. If you need to edit the accounts allocated to a financial type, you can do so by clicking on Accounts to the right of the appropriate financial type on Administer > CiviContribute > Financial Types. The aim behind this two step process is to simplify the common use case where an organisation has only one each of Deposit Bank Account, Accounts Receivable and Accounts Payable, but provide flexibility for more sophisticated setups.

Note that you can use CiviCRM's roles-based permission system to control user access to Contribution data by setting Financial Type permissions.

Editing accounts linked to financial type

Financial Accounts

As with financial types, the list of preconfigured financial accounts will suit the needs of many organisations but it can also be customized if your organisation requires changes or additions. (Remember, each new financial type will add a new revenue account with the same name.)

You edit financial accounts at Administer > CiviContribute > Financial Accounts.

The only required fields are Name and Financial Account Type. For revenue accounts these are set when you create the financial type.

Editing Financial Account

How many of the other fields you fill in will be determined by your workflow. If you plan to export financial transactions from CiviCRM to import into your accounting software package you will need the accounting code (without extra or missing spaces). If you are using Quickbooks you will also need the account type code.


Changing the financial account name will also change the financial type name.

Payment processors

CiviCRM provides you with the ability to take payments online on your website. You can take payments for a variety of reasons including fundraising campaigns, membership dues and event attendance.

To start taking payments online you need to configure a payment processor which will connect your website to the credit card and banking infrastructure that actually processes the payment.

Payment Methods

Navigate to Administer > CiviContribute > Payment Methods to edit existing options that can be used for contributions or to add a new option through Add Payment Methods. The common options - credit card, cash, check, debit card, and EFT - are installed by default. You should get your accountant or bookkeeper to confirm that each payment method is linked to the correct Asset account.

Accepted Credit Cards

Navigate to Administer > CiviContribute > Accepted Credit Cards to edit existing acceptable credit cards or define a new option through Add Accepted Credit Card.


If billing information is collected on the payment processor's website then you will need to configure accepted credit cards/payment methods on that site.


All Contributions have one Status, the most common are:

Pending (Pay Later) indicates a contribution that has been entered but payment is not yet received. This is usually by paper or electronic check.

Pending (Incomplete) was entered into CiviCRM and sent to online processing. However, either payment was not completed at the processor, or a response from the processor was not yet received. Contributions perpetually stuck in this status in CiviCRM yet completed at the processor warrant investigation of the communications between the two systems.

Failed was entered into CiviCRM and forwarded for processing. However, the process declined, rejected or received an error and returned this result to CiviCRM.

Completed entered into CiviCRM and payment processed and response received successfully.

Other status such as In Progress, Overdue, Partially Paid are used by optional features for partial payments and automatic recurring payments. Changing the labels of Contribution Status is possible at Administer > System Settings > Option Groups but adding additional status is not recommended as it may interfere with the accounting validation of CiviCRM.

Data needs and fields

CiviContribute has a set of predefined fields to track contribution information. If you need to track more information about contributions, you can do this by defining new custom data fields. Custom data might be useful to further categorize your contributions or track additional information.

Write down all the information you want to track about your contributions, including reports (described later in this chapter), then compare your data needs to CiviCRM's predefined fields. An easy way to do this is to look at the screen for adding a new contribution. A lot of useful functionality is built in to the core contribution fields so there's no point in duplicating them with custom fields, but your organisation may have specific needs that require custom fields.

If you do need to create custom fields to meet your needs, read Creating Custom Fields.