CiviCRM Annual Report & 2020 Roadmap

Written on 25 January 2020

2019 is long over, however we wanted to do a brief recap of what the Core Team accomplished throughout the year as well as present our priorities for 2020. Since 2016, the Core Team has largely scaled down its operation in order to balance its budget and continue to transition to a community driven and funded project. Now that we've reached some financial balance, our focus going forward is on doing what we're best suited to do while continuing to grow community support and direction of the project.

Factoring out events, we saw a 27% increase in funding from the community1 in 2019 over 2018. For the same time period, our overall funding grew by 23% and our earned income grew by 16%. The two largest drivers in community funding are via Make It Happen campaigns (income is up 41% year over year) and through our Technology Partners (income is up 190% year over year).

So the short of it is this: the community is funding more and at a faster rate than in previous years. We view that as a very positive trend.

While we provide a list of financial reports online, we’re not going to make this a thorough financial report. We achieved a financial equilibrium in 2018 and carried it forward into 2019, resulting in Core Team members being back at full pay (based on actual work performed).

As we stressed at the Community Summit in Barcelona: 1) things can change quickly as our budget is sensitive to small ups and downs in funding and 2) if you like the progress we’re making on various fronts, then keep in mind that additional funding will result in faster implementation. You’ll hear us say this last point frequently.

On the more operative side, the Core Team pulled back somewhat on various initiatives in 2019, taking more of a ‘wait and see’ approach (or simply lacking the capacity to move things forward). For a few years prior, we attempted to play an active role in driving non-core (i.e. what could be argued as “non-essential” for the product) initiatives forward such as marketing, events and community engagement. 

While these are absolutely vital to the success of the project, they’ve stopped and started and sputtered, and ultimately have consumed Core Team resources without a clear result or path forward. Unlike other efforts such as Form Builder, ongoing release management, security, etc., many of these require skills or capacity, or both, that we simply do not have, or that the community would like to come from outside of the Core Team. 

A clear and significant example of this is marketing, where efforts to centrally coordinate it have not met with consistent success nor been widely embraced by the community. Instead, marketing is and has been more locally driven, if done at all. At the same time though, specific marketing initiatives have moved forward, such as the transition of the website to D8, a rebranding of the CiviCRM logo, and, most recently, a community oriented video. At the same time, we have already seem initiatives continue as we’ve stepped back… notably the social media efforts for CiviCRM. Once entirely run by the Core Team, and now entirely run by community volunteers.

This is not to say that the Core Team will not play an active role in any such efforts, just that we’re not going to expend unnecessary resources trying to force them when we’re showing progress in other areas over which we do have direct responsibility. At the same time, the Core Team is always present in the event of an impasse in the community or to assist where appropriate.

In our view, these sorts of ‘non-core’ (for lack of a better way of saying it) initiatives are ideally suited to be managed by the CiviCRM community instead of by the Core Team anyway. The process of doing so will still adhere to the group structure whereby an individual takes on a role based on the size of the effort they’re going to put forth. If somebody wants to lead the marketing group, which is no small task, then by all means they can. Likewise, if someone wants to work on a very specific project within the umbrella of marketing, like a video, again, they can. (More on this soon)

In the big picture, our lesson from 2019 and our plan for 2020 is around focusing the Core Team on what it’s best suited to do, on maintaining a stable and growing budget, and on cultivating and supporting the community such that it can continue to take on more responsibility over various aspects of the CiviCRM project.

Things we’d like to celebrate

On the technical front, we’re very excited about the work we’ve done on APIv4 and on Form Builder. These are significant improvements for CiviCRM that we believe will present users and providers with new capabilities, and will ultimately advance the longer term sustainability of the product.

On the financial side of things, we’re happy to have stepped back from the brink and begin to see success specifically in the growth of Make It Happen campaigns and in our Technology Partners. The former provides not only funding but a window into what is most important to the community. The latter is maturing thanks to revenue sharing agreements we have in place with PayPal, Stripe and, thanks to AGH Strategies, now with TSYS.

Note that these agreements do not increase transaction fees for users in any way. They do, however, provide a way for all of us to have more ‘skin in the game’. Your success is our success, after all!

While we have seen a few CiviCRM partners drop out of the partner program, we’ve seen new ones coming on board and others deepening their engagement with the project. And though we are weak in contributor engagement, we saw a strong showing of contributors at the Community Summit in Barcelona, several for the very first time. There may not be a specific number that we can point to that demonstrates the health of the project, however it feels like there is a lot of positive energy coming out of 2019. By no means perfect, but still, significantly better than the mood in 2018.

Since we mentioned Barcelona, we gotta just say again, WOW! That was a very positive event that was well received by attendees. Huge thanks again to Ixiam Global Solutions for hosting the event, to our Global Sponsor JMA Consulting, and to all of our event sponsors: Third Sector Design, Ixiam Global Solutions, CiviCoop, Circle Interactive and Systopia Organisationberatung.

Finally, we’re starting to see Spark and Extended Security Release (ESR) mature into stable, scalable products with viable income streams. We’re very thankful for the support of ESR, particularly from Backoffice Thinking as they’ve stepped up and are funding a significant portion of the initiative. Big thanks to our other ESR partners Palante Technology Cooperative, Progressive Technology Partnership, Nubay, JMA Consulting, Skvare, Symphony3, Greenleaf Advancement and Joinery that are also helping make ESR happen.

Things we’d like to improve on

Things are not all roses with CiviCRM. We continue to lack capacity, are often slow to respond, and are faced with an increasingly competitive marketplace in which we’re often overlooked. Ok, that sounds grim enough.

One area that we’ve struggled as a community is in contributor cultivation. We’ve lacked processes around identifying and fostering new contributors, and on mobilizing our contributor base. This isn’t a new phenomenon. We’ve struggled over the past few years to have a well defined process for ‘managing contributors’. Nonetheless, this is vital to the project and we’re committed to working with the community to identify and implement opportunities to improve our contributor engagement.

On the more technical side of things, we’ve been slow to produce a stable release of CiviCRM + D8. Even though it’s being used in the wild, the integration is not simple nor as easy to implement as currently with other CMS’s. That said, the integration is complex and we’ve been juggling it alongside other developments.

We’ve also been largely successful at shifting to Gitlab for overall project management, but it’s not our only resource. In conjunction with it we use Mattermost, email lists, social media and the CiviCRM website itself for communications purposes. The result has been, at times, a lack of clarity on what should be communicated, via what channel and when. As a community, we can always improve in our communications and should endeavor to do so. Good communications result in greater clarity, in better engagement, and foster an overall sense of being able to direct and shape the project.

2020 CiviCRM CT Priorities

Recap done, what can you expect to see in 2020? The update below should provide a general overview of what’s underway as well as what our technical and operational objectives are for the Core Team. Two points to raise: 1) this list is in flux as priorities can shift based on unforeseen opportunities and 2) this list does not reflect the entire community’s priorities, just the Core Team’s.

Expand the Core Team

Growing the Core Team is a lot like walking a high wire. It’s scary and there are risks, but at the same time, there’s really only one clear path forward. In order for us to build upon what we’ve achieved in 2019 (as well as simply to build momentum), we have to add capacity. Consistent with our focus on ‘core’ work, we’re particularly interested in growing our development capacity in order to 1) deliver a better product and 2) push new development forward, faster.

Having said that, we’re pleased to announce that Seamus Lee of JMA Consulting and Eileen McNaughton have officially come on board to the Core Team. 

Prior to signing on with JMA Consulting, Seamus worked with the Australian Greens. On his own time, he focused heavily on PR review, maintenance oriented tasks and security work for CiviCRM. Seamus is heading up the Security Team for CiviCRM.

Eileen McNaughton needs no introduction. She is and has been a huge contributor to CiviCRM and we are all indebted to her (let's hope she never comes collecting!). Her interest is in product maintenance and overall stability. She is heading up the Maintenance Team for CiviCRM.

Formalizing the Group Leaders

Growing the Core Team is just part of the bigger picture to improve the organization behind CiviCRM the project. A few years back, we introduced working groups into CiviCRM in hopes that they would become a model for organizing and directing the project. The idea was that groups would form around key areas of the project and volunteer contributors would take reins of each, managing the various initiatives and contributors therein, and coordinate initiatives across groups.

This has worked in some cases, despite the fact that we’ve not aggressively driven the model. Individuals like Allen Shaw of Joinery have taken on managing the Extensions Group, and others like Mikey O’Toole of MJCO have taken on the Documentation Group without much recognition or fanfare, and not a lot of guidance on what it means to be a ‘group leader’.

We hope to change that in 2020. We want to raise the profile of the groups and the amazing work that’s going into them, and we want to foster collaboration between them. We also want to clarify and promote how individuals can take on group leader roles and what that means. Stay tuned for more details as this evolves.

Form Builder

Form Builder took a huge leap at the end of December with an alpha release of a GUI. Interest continues to grow around this initiative and, like last year, we’re spinning up what we believe will be our target funding budget for the year. Like most technical things in CiviCRM-land, the more we raise, the faster we can roll out the work.

That said, our objectives for Form Builder for 2020 include 1) expanding it to work with other entities, such as cases and events, 2) replacing core screens such as Add/Edit Contact with flexible forms, and 3) release of a stable Form Builder extension. 

We’ve said consistently that this is a big initiative that has massive potential for CiviCRM. It’s already starting to touch other aspects of our work including improvements such as the contact layout editor and the export UI improvements, and will even more so on planned improvements such as Search Builder. 

Coleman Watts is heading up Form Builder at present for the Core Team. Once again, we’re fully committed to moving the ball far on this initiative in 2020 and we welcome your support.

Support Form Builder Today!

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CiviCRM + D8

Official support for D8 has been a long time coming. We say ‘official’ because, well, it’s already in production in over 300 sites, and growing! That said, installation and set up of CiviCRM on D8 is not as foolproof as it needs to be in order for wider scale adoption. Our focus continues to be delivering a stable package that can be consistently installed on D8 as readily as on other supported CMS’s.

Tim Otten is actively engaged in this initiative and is hosting a webinar on progress on January 30. Our target completion date is Q1 2020.

Support CiviCRM + D8

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Search Builder

New to the roadmap is potentially significant interest in reworking CiviCRM’s search and reporting functionality. Like Form Builder, this is a large initiative that stands to leap CiviCRM forward and improve a vital function of the system. Details are going to be light on this effort for now as, again, it’s quite new to the roadmap.

Coleman Watts and Eileen McNaughton are currently assessing this initiative.

B Corp Certification

The Core Team researched legal structures several years ago and ultimately concluded that the B Corp Certification is likely the most ideal, efficient potential change to our current structure. In essence, it validates that CiviCRM, as an LLC, has adopted and practices standards consistent with balancing “purpose” with “profit”. It is an increasingly popular standard that is intended to build trust that CiviCRM, as a legal organization, is doing everything in its power to provide greatest benefit to the CiviCRM community, to the environment and to society at large.

While certification itself does not change the legal structure of CiviCRM LLC, it does apply additional requirements around transparency and accountability.

B Corp assessment is currently underway and is being led by Josh Gowans. 

CiviCRM Website

We pulled the trigger on migrating to D8 in 2019 and have the infrastructure in place. Now, it’s time to start cutting over the content, redoing the structure and, most importantly, preparing the site to be multilingual. No small task, but necessary in order to build out CiviCRM’s most important marketing asset.

The process of redoing the site is going to be long and painful, however the focus is on simplifying the site, removing as much technical debt as possible, and reworking the structure and content to target new, prospective users of CiviCRM.

Lots of outstanding tasks on this, however here’s a good summary:

The website transition is being led by Mathieu Lutfy with support from Josh Gowans. This initiative could benefit from volunteers that want to help transition the site.

Security Audit

Thanks to the efforts of Nic Wistreich, CiviCRM will very soon benefit from a Mozilla Open Source Support Program (MOSS) funded security audit of the CiviCRM the software. This is a tremendous opportunity to test what for many organizations is the most important piece of software in their operation, and is consistent with our focus on product stability and security. The audit is beginning toward the end of January and, depending on the results, work will continue well into 2020 to ensure that CiviCRM is secure.

The security audit is being managed currently by Mathieu Lutfy with support from Tim Otten and Seamus Lee.

Contributor Program

We touched on this above and just want to reiterate here that reworking the contributor program to better engage and cultivate contributors within the CiviCRM community is a priority for us in 2020. By ‘us’, we should be clear… this is vital to the project, but it’s probably not going to work for the Core Team to prescribe the process. Instead, we plan to work with interested community members to develop a plan and process for contributor engagement.

This effort is primarily being driven by Mathieu Lutfy and Josh Gowans, with support from the rest of the Core Team. Note that like the website project, successful revision to the contributor program requires participation from the community.

CiviCRM Community Summit & Other Events

We’ve held two community summits2 so far and the next is planned for October 6 - 14 in the United Kingdom. As stated, we anticipate that these will rotate around the globe from year to year with 2021 to be held in the United States. The purpose of these community summits is to provide a forum for community members to come together to assist in the management of the CiviCRM project. While agendas will almost certainly vary from region to region, we expect that, in the big picture, the community summits will be venues for stakeholder discussions and planning around improvements to the project, areas of weakness, new developments, etc.

We expect that these events will include a sprint portion as well as may serve as a venue for the annual Core Team meeting. These are unofficial meetings of a majority of Core Team members where we focus on project planning. A little face to face time is good, after all! And, as has been the case the previous two years, the Core Team will act as the fiscal sponsor of the event.

With respect to other events for CiviCRM, we expect change in 2020 as a result of 1) the transition of to a new website and 2) our own internal changes on event management. Regarding the latter point, the Core Team is, officially, bowing out of any role in producing events for the project. Details on what exactly this means are forthcoming.

Suffice it to say that we have struggled over the years to get events off the ground and growing, resulting in effective promotion of CiviCRM. While we do believe that events are vital to the growth of CiviCRM, this represents one of those areas where we, as a Core Team, should be less involved than the overall community.

While we’re currently reviewing the impacts of this change, we do want to provide some clarifying points now:

  1. The Core Team will no longer act as a financial sponsor for events, i.e. we’re not taking on the responsibility for any loss or any gain.
  2. The community is free to run whatever events it wants… Camps, Cons, Sprints, Days, dev training, whatever. 
  3. Likewise, events can be run over the infrastructure and we can assist in receipt of payments. There are some details here that we need to work on, but, by all means, events can run through the website as per usual.

Of course, the Core Team is present to address any infractions that negatively impact the community, the brand, the product or infringe upon the CiviCRM trademarks. Again, we’re actively working on the details of this transition. Stay tuned.

The Community Summit 2020 is being driven by community volunteers with support from Josh Gowans. The transition of all other events on to the community will be managed by Josh Gowans and, ultimately, by an Events Group team leader.

Growth plan for CiviCRM Spark

We’ve been sitting on Spark for some time, making small improvements here and there. We’ve now dialed it in with auto-account creation and are adjusting its feature set to be more consistent with how it’s being adopted.

We’ve also watched as new users come on board and gathered feedback as others have left. Our original objective of creating Spark to growth ecosystem remains and we’re proud to say that a significant number of users do go on to adopt the full version of CiviCRM either independently or through a CiviCRM partner.

Still, we haven’t exactly scaled Spark at all, or really attempted to. That’s going to change. We continue to believe that Spark can help grow the ecosystem and provide an entry level solution for organizations that are new to CRMs. Our objectives for 2020 are to more aggressively promote Spark directly and through provider relationships. 

Spark is currently being managed by Mathieu Lutfy.


Ok, let’s wrap this up and focus on 2020:

That’s a wrap!

1 This includes general donations, grants, membership dues and make it happen campaigns.

2 The first community summit was held in New Jersey and was inappropriately named "the governance summit". While governance is an important aspect of the project, it is only one part. The community summits are intended to be a place where community stakeholders convene to shepherd all aspects of the project, incuding governance.

  1. We’re very product focused this year, bringing on Seamus and Eileen to stay on top of security and maintenance, and pursuing large development efforts such as Form Builder, APIv4 and Search Builder.
  2. We’re fine tuning our priorities to focus on only that which we, the Core Team, have responsibility over. Everything else, while vital, is on the community to drive. We’ll play an active role, but we’re counting on the community to take CiviCRM to a new level.