Taking on treasurer duties for a small nonprofit, I needed to migrate our constituent data out of Excel and into a proper constituent management system. Taking on a mailing list of 500 active constituents and 20 years of gift history, the system needed to be inexpensive, easy to manage, handle both contacts and gift history, and offer some potential for customization. Having evaluated several CMS’s, I chose CiviCRM.
I did not necessarily require a web-based system, but the feature set and user reviews of online solutions far surpassed those of desktop-based solutions. By going online, I also gain the benefits of being able to access the data from any location (useful because I squeeze in nonprofit work whenever I can) and share it with fellow fundraisers (we are spread out between the two coasts). One day, we may use CiviCRM’s feature of online giving pages that automatically create contact and gift entries in the CMS.
Choosing CiviCRM felt more comfortable than selecting a free, proprietary solution, because I would host the data myself, could add CiviCRM to an existing website, and already understand the basic architecture it would use to integrate with Drupal. I am also comfortable with the community-based model for software development and support that they use. CiviCRM offered the option to store its data in a separate database from Drupal, which I really appreciate in case I need to separately migrate or manage them in the future — nice and clean.
For the past several years, we have run a separate broadcast email list through Yahoo! Groups. This has not been integrated with our constituent management system, leading to problems when we discuss communication vehicles for each fundraising appeal. CiviCRM should be able to integrate mailing list function into its contact database, so that the two functions are finally merged and we understand which constituents we contact through postal mail, email, or both. This could improve the reach of our fundraising appeals.
So far, the system has run really smoothly, and I think I have mastered the basics pretty quickly. I am using individual contacts for half our constituents and household contacts for the other half, as we don’t have all of the necessary information for both individuals in a household. Hopefully, we will gain this over time. It appears that CiviCRM will be able to track gift history for either contact type without a problem, which allows us to proceed for now.
I was able to add 500 contacts to the database using the import feature, but I had to split the import files into batches of 70 records at a time to overcome some import limit. It didn’t present like a timeout error but rather redirected me to a /contact page that didn’t exist in the site and only imported 70 records.
Next, I will try to organize 20 years of gift history for import, so that I may start running reports to mine our history for giving patterns that might help us better form fundraising strategy. I will need to somehow match hand-entered donor identification information with CiviCRM contact records and better structure the information in Excel before merging.
I am interested in your feedback on this approach.