INSTRAW Tech, Take 2: CiviCRM

There is (soon “was”) no unified contact management system here at INSTRAW. People employ Outlook Contacts, Thunderbird Contacts, Excel Spreadsheets, Word Documents (one with over 3000 contacts!), Custom Web Databases, Business Card Scanning Software, and yes, 3×5 paper card files.

For any organization, but especially a small, donation dependent, research oriented organization like INSTRAW, a CRM is indispensible. Pinging everyone in the organization when looking for contacts slows the whole organization down. For sending invitations to the upcoming film festival, contacting media with press releases, hitting up donors for donations, ordering toner. It may not be the sexiest application I’ve worked on this summer, but I have no doubt that it will make the biggest improvement to operations here.

When this requirement was first floated, we went out and evaluated our options. Commercial, open source, or maybe even develop something in house based on CakePHP. Finding CiviCRM clinched our direction. Free, open source, a distinctive pedigree, with connections to CivicSpace, and led by Don Lobo. I worked with Lobo at Yahoo, and his presence on the project made me confident that it is a solid piece of software, which will be supported in the future.

Of the three major techs deployed this summer, CiviCRM was the one I had to worry about the least. So much could be configured and customized through the interface, that for the most part our system administrator took over deployment. Of course, there is plenty of opportunity to contribute code, and make this workhorse even better, particularly some advanced GIS functionality, but only so much time…

Really the major challenge will be import. With so many different formats and users, it will be a challenge to get it all input, rationalized and verified. But once that painful social process is done (probably by one of the intrepid interns), it’s done.