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Real World Examples

CiviCRM is used by all shapes and sizes of organisations that are located all over the world. Some have no paid employees, while others might have several hundred. Their needs range from very simple to fairly complex. In this chapter, we will have a look at real world examples of how organizations are using CiviCRM.

In addition to the detailed examples below, many case studies are available on, and will help you explore more uses of CiviCRM. The CiviCRM Statistics site can also give you an overview of current usage.

Throughout this chapter you will see references to CiviCRM features such as CiviEmail, CiviMember, CiviPledge, CiviCRM Profiles and others. These are all components of CiviCRM and we have included references to them so you can become familiar with the language of CiviCRM; however, it's not important to understand the finer detail of these features at this point.

Suffering Relieved!


The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) is a large, Quaker-based, peace and social justice organization with over 400 employees. Worldwide, they run programmes that work to relieve and prevent suffering through both immediate aid and long-term development, and they seek to serve the needs of people on all sides of violent strife.

Their main headquarters are located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. They have nine regional headquarters located throughout the United States, some 50 area offices also located in the USA, and numerous international field offices located in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean and the Middle East.

Lists of constituents are maintained by each office. The specific CRM system needs of each office vary but the general needs are: searching for constituents that meet certain criteria; sending emails, newsletters, postal mail and announcements; and collecting the contact information of people who sign online petitions and register for events online.

Through a survey conducted by the AFSC Information Technology Department, it was revealed that AFSC staff were using a variety of systems to keep track of their constituents. It also became obvious that these systems were not working effectively: repositories of data were everywhere, contact information was duplicated, staff were having a hard time managing their contacts and the IT Department was unable to provide adequate support.

The survey also found that staff members were frustrated with the systems they were using because they lacked the necessary functionality for them to effectively communicate and do outreach. Specifically: search capability was limited; there was no ability to send high-volume emails which meant that it was not possible to send newsletters or announcements; and there was no ability to collect information online.

After investigating several database systems, the IT Department finally decided that, all things considered, CiviCRM might be the best fit for the AFSC.

What They Did

Initially, CiviCRM sites with CiviMail, managed by an external vendor, were established for offices in Los Angeles, Rhode Island, San Francisco and Seattle. Los Angeles also chose to use the CiviEvent component to track event registrations and the CiviMember component to track contact information of committee members.

After implementation, an LA staff person discovered that certain functionality was missing from the CiviMember export component and this was preventing them from being able to compile a membership directory. AFSC talked to the CiviCRM Core development team and contracted them to add the missing functionality. This was a win-win situation: AFSC got the functionality they needed and because it was integrated back into the CiviCRM product, the entire CiviCRM community was able to benefit from the addition. An extra advantage for AFSC is that because the functionality became a standard part of CiviCRM they don't have to worry about compatibility with future upgrades.

The Results

The decision to have their sites hosted and managed by an external vendor turned out not to be a good one when the vendor ran into difficulties and was not responsive to issues or in providing the services that had been promised, such as timely updates for CiviCRM. Once the hosting issue was resolved, staff were able to take full advantage of the capabilities of CiviCRM and do all of the things that they had previously been unable to do.

The Los Angeles office is in full swing, using CiviCRM as the main repository to track their constituents, board, committee members and volunteers. Their constituents are able to sign up for events and petitions online, and staff can send volume emails for newsletters and announcements.

Getting rid of their old system and being able to send out a monthly newsletter was the main goal for the Colorado office, who came on board with CiviCRM a little later in the process. They are now able to identify newsletter subscribers and send the newsletter to them via CiviCRM. They couldn't be happier!

The AFSC currently has nine CiviCRM sites and the IT Department is now recommending CiviCRM as the "database of choice" for all of its offices. Support from the CiviCRM community is excellent and CiviCRM itself is improving every day, as more and more functionality is being added. AFSC staff are now able to access their data from any place that has internet access, run complex searches, manage online event registrations and send online newsletters and postal mailings. CiviCRM has enabled them to better manage their constituents. This makes their life easier and in turn, is of great benefit to AFSC.

A CRM Education


Schoolhouse Supplies (SHS) is a Portland, Oregon, USA-based non-profit organisation which gathers and distributes school supplies to students and teachers.

Prior to implementing CiviCRM, SHS used a combination of software programmes including Exceed, EROI, Constant Contact, Salesforce, Auction Pay (for online contributions) and, of course, hundreds of spreadsheets. In addition, SHS had a custom web application for managing its online store inventory and processing in-kind donations.

What They Did

By moving to CiviCRM, SHS has centralised their operations and the management of all their constituent data, and been able to unify and coordinate several of their core business processes.

All data from each source has been migrated to CiviCRM Standalone (an installation that is not integrated with either Drupal or Joomla! CMS). CiviContact and CiviContribute have replaced Exceed and Auction Pay. CiviMail has replaced EROI and Constant Contact. Salesforce data was moved into CiviCRM and the custom e-commerce application it supported was integrated with CiviCRM. Lastly, the inventory and in-kind management system was integrated with CiviCRM. Spreadsheets have been imported.

The Results

Each business process at SHS can now take advantage of their full constituent database and business activities are easily coordinated. More importantly, SHS is now in the process of taking manual business processes (such as volunteer coordination) and moving them to CiviCRM. New campaigns are now being planned and executed which would previously have been impossible or prohibitively expensive.

Growing Satisfaction


The New York State Nursery Landscape Association (NYSNLA) is a member-based association providing resources and advocacy support for nursery and landscape professionals throughout New York State. The organisation seeks to advance the interests of New York State's nursery and landscape businesses and professionals by promoting sound business practices, expanding state and local markets, and exercising leadership in the development of sustainable communities.

Prior to migrating to CiviCRM the Association went through several iterations of member-management solutions, beginning with a series of spreadsheet documents and later moving to a Microsoft Access database. The move to CiviCRM was prompted by the desire to consolidate data, provide members real-time access to contact details, and to create a searchable member directory to website visitors who may be looking for a nursery or landscape professional.

What They Did

Working with a CiviCRM consultant, NYSNLA began the process of analysing the structure and content of their existing database and mapping the various functions to CiviCRM structures. They determined that they would use CiviMember, CiviEvent, CiviContribute, and CiviMail to address their core database needs, and would consider using CiviPledge at some point in the future for soliciting contributions to their associated non-profit, the Nurserymen's Foundation.

One data area that required particular attention was their Certified Nursery Landscape Professional program (CNLP). CNLP is an intensive, on-going educational programme designed to increase the skills of garden and landscape employees. The programme was designed by members of the nursery and landscape industry with assistance from Cornell University. Interested individuals must apply to the programme and successfully pass a test. Certification lasts two years, after which time the individual must recertify.

NYSNLA used CiviCRM's membership functionality to track the status of CNLPs. The ability to define a rolling-period membership and to gauge when they are nearing expiration perfectly met their management needs. The initial application process, which also must be carefully tracked, was handled through CiviEvent, as an application to the programme is essentially a registration to attend one of the bi-annual test events.

The Association also took advantage of CiviCRM's open source platform to make some interface customisations that improved the way they view contact records. Because of the importance of the CNLP programme, they wanted to be able to look at all employees for a certain nursery/landscape company and quickly know if any of them are CNLPs or Lifetime CNLPs. They also needed to easily find out which employees are authorised to manage the company's records.

The Results

The Association has worked hard to communicate to the public the importance of using a qualified landscape professional. Essential to this effort was the inclusion of a searchable member directory on their website. Using CiviCRM, they were able to create a search page that included geographic segmentation (the Association divides members into 8 regions state-wide) and a list of services provided by members (using CiviCRM's tags feature). The resulting search tool, because it is directly connected with their contact data, ensures website visitors are always looking at current information. The Association is also able to provide members direct access to their own contact details so they can update and maintain their list of services provided and other information.

Campaigning for Efficiency


The Green Party has been the third largest party in New Zealand politics for most of the last decade, with strong roots in the Values Party (the world's first national Green party) of the early 1970s. They achieved parliamentary representation in 1996 and after the 2008 election had 9 Members of Parliament, 5,000 financial members and some 50,000 contacts. The Party has more than 50 branches around the country and contest elections across all 67 electorates in the last election.

Prior to adopting CiviCRM, the Party and its parliamentary units employed a range of systems for managing members, donations, contacts, campaigning, media and advocacy.

The Green Party policy states:

  • Development of IT must be socially responsible and sustainable.
  • The use of free and open source software should be encouraged.

What They Did

CiviCRM was adopted by the Party in 2007 (version 1.7), with a switch to Drupal as a parallel project. This was inspired in part by work done by the Canadian Greens on developing a voter canvassing module for Drupal. A Party database was set up using CiviCRM and online donations, memberships and event registrations were instigated.

The Greens have over 100 different issues that they generate media releases about. These were reconstructed as a check-box custom data field, and Smart Groups were built for each of these, for use when sending out media releases via CiviMail.

The highly complex access control requirements of the party necessitated the development of an alternative approach to the use of ACLs (Access Control Lists) in order to provide a more easily managed, highly granular system. This approach has now been incorporated as a hook (something that can be utilised by developers to extend CiviCRM) into the core code.

For the 2008 election campaign, a look-up function was developed so that when new contacts were added to the database, addresses were checked against a table containing the Electoral Roll, and links were created where matches were made. "Soft" matches were also recorded.

The Results

In the 2008 election campaign, the Party made extensive use of online fundraising and greatly exceeded previous online income. Membership renewal has been streamlined with more online renewals occurring.

As of May 2009, the Party was still using CiviCRM v2.0 on Drupal 5 and therefore had not yet benefited from the many features that became available through the 2.1 and 2.2 releases. An upgrade was in progress at the time.

In a complex organisation such as the Green Party, training can be a limiting factor, as well as the need to nurture more in-house super-users. New features in CiviCRM have led to some rethinking about the Party's usage of custom data fields, particularly with regard to the use of CiviMail for media releases. New options for both nested groups and Drupal Organic Groups suggest that a more time effective approach may soon be possible.

Quest for Success


QuestBridge is dedicated to helping bright, motivated low-income high school students get accepted to and able to pay for college. QuestBridge recruits high school juniors throughout the USA and invites them to fill out the QuestBridge application online. QuestBridge also partners with the USA's most selective colleges and universities with the aim to increase the socio-economic diversity of their student bodies. QuestBridge's college partners accept the QuestBridge application in lieu of their own admissions application.

What They Did

QuestBridge has built most of its business processes around CiviCRM. They wrote their online admission application using CiviCRM and extended it using the PHP scripting language. CiviCRM is used to store biographical and application information and communication histories about the students.

The Results


In the 2008-9 school year, QuestBridge helped more than 1200 students get accepted and pay for college at its 25 partner schools. They accomplished their goals in a very efficient manner, in part thanks to their effective implementation of CiviCRM. QuestBridge is currently planning to upgrade to the latest version of CiviCRM in order to take full advantage of the new email features.

If Questbridge were to start over they would have invested more in training on CiviCRM up-front.

Changing with the Times


The San Francisco School (SFS), is a Preschool through 8th grade coeducational school with a diverse student body of about 270 students. Like all schools, communication between the school and families is very important. Whether it's updating a home phone number, email address or allergy, it is essential in meeting the needs of the students. The head of school was a strong supporter of the project from the beginning which led the staff and parents to be able to make a strong commitment to help the project move forward.

What They Did

They used CiviCRM to create a Parent Portal to:

  • required parents to log in to view their contact information and their child's school information
  • had an automated system to schedule parent teacher conferences
  • used a computer to record after school class sign in and sign out
  • managed after school class registration (example: music, cooking, sports) and view their child's after school fees

To ease the transition of the school community, each of the above features were shown gradually rather than all at the same time.

The Results

Enabling parents/guardians to view their contact information meant that they could confirm what the school sees and hence notify the school of any changes. Also, they could view their child's after school fees and view a record of what classes their child is signed up for. Online sign ups allow parents the flexibility to schedule parent/teacher conferences and after school classes on their own time. Changing the existing school systems to an online system allowed both parents and staff to work together, view the Parent Portal so that contact information is current, parent teacher conferences are scheduled in a timely manner, and that access to the information is widely accessible.