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 organizations it interacts with. CiviCRM is more than just an address book, it also allows you to track your interactions with people and organizations, engage with constituents, and solicit donations 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. CiviCRM emphasizes communicating with individuals, community engagement, activism, outreach, managing contributions, and managing memberships.

CiviCRM is Free/Open Source software, which means there are no license costs or user fees associated with downloading, installing, or using the software. Being Free/Open Source also ensures that you have the freedom to view and modify the source code and to distribute copies of the original source to any person or organization.

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.

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 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 is a modular system. In the simplest set-up you can:

  • record basic contact information such as name, home or postal address, email address, phone number
  • define relationships between your contacts
  • send emails
  • keep a record of your interactions with your contacts

Components and extensions will let you do more things such as sign up members for your organization, take registrations for your events, receive donations or distribute grants. See the Components and Extensions chapters for more information.

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.

CiviCRM integrates with Drupal, Joomla and WordPress. Integration with a CMS opens up a lot of useful possibilities. 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 and you can share parts of your CRM data, for example event information, with visitors to your website. You can read more about integrating with a CMS in the Website Integration section.