CiviCRM 201 - Getting the Most Out of the Platform 2012

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facilitated by the CiviCRM team

Background and history

CiviCRM started almost eight years ago. It is still growing, and has found a much larger market than originally expected.

It's estimated that there are currently between 5,000 and 10,000 active installations of CiviCRM. It's been very popular with political campaigns, and many of their websites are deactivated, so there have probably been 15,000 total installations over the eight year history.

When it first started, it only integrated with Drupal, but since then, they have decided to be "cms agnostic", so it now works with WordPress and Joomla as well. It has really amazing integration with Drupal webforms and views. Wordpress also has a sophisticated development community. The only database system it works with is MySQL, however.

The public radio community has created "MakeFiles" which works as a CiviCRM starter kit.

Historically, it's been an end user focused model, but they are now moving to make it more developer friendly. These changes are partially based on the model of the Drupal community of developers.

CiviCRM is not a host, but sites like CiviHosting and Koumbit are popular examples of sites that will host your CiviCRM site for you.

Updates and Extensions

New versions of the platform are released about twice a year and usually have about 50-150 changes. A team of about 40 people works on a sprint after the semi-annual conferences to prepare these updates.

The CiviCRM team is focusing on making upgrades more straightforward and clear. Starting in version 4.1 they introduced the concept of extensions which better integrate with WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal. Extensions are moving CiviCRM away from the "kitchen sink" approach, so you can just download the extensions you need. However, the downside is that the basic setup will not necessarily include extensions you need, so it involves a little more work to set it up the way you want it.

CiviMobile (makes sites work better on mobile devices) and CiviDiscount (lets your customers enter coupon codes) were originally developed to work only on Drupal, but because they are now extensions, they will work with the other CMSs as well. They are also working to implement the php related to Symphony over the next few releases.

The CMS developers have to participate to pull in links to CiviCRM. CiviCRM doesn’t use the internal code of any CMS, so they have a love hate relationships in some way.

CiviCRM is moving more activity to the client end. CiviCRM is not a low resource hosting solution. It has a fairly heavy demand on server resources.

CiviCRM lets the user create groups of similar individuals, organizations, or households so you can target each group most effectively. It now also has contribution functions that can be set up quickly for public facing contributions. Wikimedia currently uses these functions for there donation processing, so it scales very well from small to large campaigns.

It also has event management functionality for simple event planning needs and remote sign up.

It supports CiviMail which sends email and is integrated to the database and CiviMember for membership management. CiviGrant is an extension for keeping track of grants a foundation has given out. Another extension, CiviCase, is designed for use by case managers, and its functionality is improving.

You can now use CiviSMS for text message campaigns.

Upcoming Updates

In version 4.3 there is going to be more inbound SMS functionality. There will also be better integration with certain accounting systems funded by some Canadian groups. There will soon be a function for phone banking that lets you "drag and drop" contacts. The user interface is constantly changing, and many new functions are being supported all the time.

Who is the CiviCRM Community?

The organizations that use CiviCRM range from the Electronic Frontier Foundation to the New York State Senate.

Open Source projects need a viable community, and CiviCRM relies on other open source projects and has therefore changed modules over time. There are very active support forums and an IRC channel.


Reputation management can be a challenge when sending email. CiviCRM lets you use an external smtp email provider and use their api to update your records. An open source email server called Zimbra takes votes on enhancements from the user community, so it tends to be very responsive to user needs.