Working towards developing a CiviCRM community in Mexico

2013-08-15 13:31
Written by


Mónica Tapia-Alvarez and Isobel Platts-Dunn

Alternativas y Capacidades


In 2009, with Common Cause International technical assistance and while developing a new citizen advocacy model for educational reform, we assessed the importance of IT solutions for managing members, petitions and donations from a large number of citizens. The IT solutions that US-based organizations used were discarded because their license was extremely expensive for Latin American organizations (Convio annual license cost is around US$50,000) and had in-built US representatives and media that was useless for Latin American contexts.

Through searching for different tools (a search suggested by Lauren Coletta from Common Cause international and David Sasaki then Open Society consultant) and attending a workshop on IT and Advocacy in Santiago, Chile sponsored by Open Society Foundations, we assessed that CiviCRM was a powerful, web-based contact relationship management (CRM) system that could serve the needs of the advocacy model we wanted to promote. It allowed an organization to record and manage information about the various people and organizations we interacted with. CiviCRM was developed to serve the needs of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and their communication with individuals, through community engagement, advocacy and activism; managing contributions and memberships.


The fact that CiviCRM was a Free/Open Source software –with no license costs or user fees associated with downloading, installing, or using the software—was very attractive. We also valued the unique and diverse community of supporters:  developers, translators, users, consultants, and documenters of the software.


From 2011-2012, we experienced two implementations of CiviCRM; one for the Citizen Coalition for Education ( and one for Alternativas y Capacidades ( The first one was installed, configured and implemented by a pro-bono Mexican IT provider based on Joomla; the second by a Chicago-based consultant and our own communication staff trained through workshops and CiviCON attendance in London and San Francisco, based on Drupal.

Through both experiences we learnt:

1.       Although CiviCRM was free to download, to install and customize, organizations have to pay a consultant. However, in Latin America there were no programmers that were familiar with this software and the user community is still very scarce.

2.       CiviCRM was not fully translated into Spanish until late 2011 and also all the documentation of CiviCRM is in English. The Chicago-based consultant (Young-kin Jim: was more professional and reliable than the Mexican provider (even considering his higher hour/fee rates), but the work was rather difficult to handle being remote, in English and with very technical concepts.

3.       Although CiviCRM integrated better with Drupal as CMS, in Mexico the Drupal community is very small and inexperienced. The user-community of Joomla in Mexico was bigger than the Drupal one, but this platform was unsecure and unstable, the international developer community provided less support and documentation for the system. In 2013, the WordPress compatibility helped to find good web-designers and programmers at an affordable cost in Mexico.

4.       Added to the installation and customization costs, finding a good server and its support, backup and updating also became a problem and an added expense. Linoed was used for both CiviCRM implementations, but with large amounts of time invested in finding, recruiting and dealing with a Mexican IT provider that took care of this hosting.

5.       Adding to the previous costs, a communication intern was hired to help migrate and update the data of our 6,000 contacts and 3,500 contacts in each base. He became a very valuable asset to the organization, as the previous communication coordinator (Abril Rocabert: who had been trained in CiviCON  and workshops left the organization to study a masters.

6.       In the meantime, we discovered that we couldn’t find good, affordable and committed IT providers because there was practically no demand. The CSOs using or implementing a CRM in Mexico were scarce or non-existent. The few that had started to put together their CRM were large organizations or foundations that fundraised; most of them were using Salesforce with their license donated through the Salesforce Foundation in the US. The other few were international organizations, such as Greenpeace, Ashoka and Amnesty International that had their own CRM developed at their headquarters.

7.       Wingu (an Argentinean organization) was the only Latin American IT provider of CRM at a reasonable cost and scale for CSOs. They implemented Salesforce, but collaborated in different CiviCON activities. In 2013, they began to expand and make plans to open offices in other Latin American countries, like Mexico.

8.       The use of petition-based platforms like and spread quickly among different organizations, but very few organizations and individuals valued the contacts and membership collected through them. Mail-chimp and other mailing-managers, as well as Facebook and Twitter, also were used for Advocacy campaigns, but there was little awareness or vision about all the benefits of managing all contacts through an institutional CRM.

9.       In 2013, a new, young and very professional web-designer/digital communication provider (Lizeth Castillo) was hired to update the Education Reform site in Wordpress. We also sponsored her to attend CiviCON 2013 in San Francisco. There, she gained a new vision, learned about and had enough technical skills to install the first CiviCRM in Wordpress to a third project linked to the Education Reform cause (


In summary, we learned that there was a need to develop a local community in Mexico, based on enlarging the demand (CSOs that valued the system could pay for and use CiviCRM), the offer (IT providers and web-designers that could offer their knowledge, skills and services to these organizations at reasonable prices) and the links to the international CiviCRM community (understanding the steps towards expanding the outreach of the software and make its installation and usage more friendly in IT-scare contexts).


The beginning of a community: CiviDAY in Mexico


Taking advantage of a Wingu exploratory meeting to Mexico, that formed part of their expansion plan, a CiviDAY was convened by Alternativas y Capacidades. The meeting had several objectives: firstly, it endeavoured to bring together several Organizations and inform them of the advantages of CRM and CiviCRM. Secondly, it aimed to convince these CSOs of the benefits of creating a community of organizations that uses such a system. Thirdly, the meeting aimed to introduce potential IT providers who could provide technical support and expertise to these CSOs. Finally, after locating the potential obstacles and discussing how to overcome them, it aimed to briefly outline the next steps that needed to be taken to create a CiviCRM community. 


Twenty-six attendees were present on the CiviDAY-Mexico (July 24th 2013), including eighteen from from various Civil Society Organizations: Gisele Bonnici (International Detention Coalition), Vannessa Caldera (Fundación Dibujando una Mañana), Quetzalcoatl G. Fontanot (Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustin Pro), Rafael García Aceves (Fundación Este País), Elia Gómez y Antonia Orr (Semillas), Sergio Leñero (Instituto para la Seguridad y la Democracia- INSYDE), Eduardo Mancera y Alan Patterson (Yo Propongo), Agustín Martínez Monterrubio (Bicitekas), Francisco Montiel (Causa en Común), Madai Quiroz (Cooperativa Fotosíntesis), Rossette Ramírez (Colibrí: Educación, Cultura y Nuevas Tecnologías A.C), Pilar Tavera (Propuesta Cívica), Arturo Valdés Mendoza (Junta de Asistencia  Privada del DF). From Wingu, Mario Roset and Mariano Malia, along with Lizeth Castillo were also present, alongside Mónica Tapia, Miguel de la Vega, Claudia Natera, Gabriel Berrios Pino, Bernardo Padrón and Isobel Platts-Dunn from Alternativas y Capacidades.


Content: presentations and discussion

Two presentations by Wingu and Liz provided a brief outline of the advantages and obstacles of using CRM system such as CiviCRM and how organizations can prepare themselves to start using the system[1].

Wingu has worked in Paraguay, Chile and Brazil, implementing CRMs for organizations and universities. Interestingly, the director Mario Roset claimed that the problems that CSOs face in Mexico (such as the lack of IT providers detailed above) are similar to the ones organizations in Argentina faced two years ago. They have now formed a loose community, and it would perhaps be interesting to research how the Argentinians created such a community to facilitate the creation of such a community in Mexico.


The main advantages of using a CRM system, as expounded by Wingu were:

1)       It provides CSOs with a history of their relationship with their contacts – who has provided them with donations, what the organizations can expect from each contact, what their specific interests are.

2)        It combines the tools of Mail-chimp, Google, Gmail, Marketplace and is linked in with other systems such as administration/bookkeeping to manage invoices and deposits.

3)       It automatizes processes, such as scheduling follow-up meetings after a call and thus makes the organization more efficient.


Wingu also briefly outlined what a CSO needed in order to be able to implement CiviCRM:

1)       Financial and human resources dedicated to these functions.

2)       Time.

3)       Money.

4)       An institutional culture, the leadership and staff that understands and value a CRM system.


In Lizeth Castillo´s presentation, more concrete examples of CiviCRM’s success were highlighted, such as CiviCRM used in “Juntos por Educación” (a network of Mexican organizations that aims to improve the quality of education in Mexico) to consolidate the database (Excel sheets) of 5 different organizations that linked around 370 distinct organizations with different contacts. Amongst its many uses, Lizeth highlighted the following;

1)       The sending of mass emails to groups or sectors according to their different profiles/segmented audiences.

2)       Tags to illustrate the distinct characteristics of users.

3)       The creation of events, confirmation of attendance and contrast between the invites, confirms and attendees.

4)       Reports can be automatized (who donated what and when).

5)       A key difference between this system and ‘Change’ or any other platform for mass emails is that you, as an organization, maintain your contacts.

6)       It has a great capacity for integrating with other administrative systems such as Quickbooks and NetSuite.

7)       It integrates with Joomla, Wordpress and Drupal[2].


The Main Difficulties that CSOs face in adapting CiviCRM


The main obstacles that organizations face when implementing a CiviCRM system were highlighted by Wingu. They stressed that each CSO is different and there is no ideal CRM. The main difficulties expounded by Wingu were:

1)        Lack of training – a member of staff who knows the CRM inside and out and how to use it is vital.

2)       The lack of an institutional decision and the Leadership support – whether or not to use CiviCRM.

3)       Users do not adopt the system – the need for an institutional support and habits for the use of a CRM.

4)       Rotation of staff – the new staff are not sufficiently trained.

5)       The lack of a clear strategy to implement CiviCRM.


In order to overcome these difficulties and ensure an easy implementation process, Wingu provided three tips for organizations hoping to move to a CRM:

1)       Ask the opinion of other organizations that use the system (Alternativas y Capacidades offered to provide any advice to organizations thinking of using the system, having used the system successfully for two years).

2)       Analyze the associated costs (Installation, customization, migration and updating)

3)       Determine whether a community of users exists.


Furthermore, Wingu mentioned that they have a Diagnostic Guide (twenty questions) on the website that will tell the Organization if it needs a CRM or not and if it is ready to implement one. There are also some offers of free training as well as their Youtube channel – Wingu Channel, where there are Webinars. Organizations should be made aware of, and encouraged to use, such resources that will prove to be vital in ensuring the correct implementation of CiviCRM.


As well as the obstacles highlighted above, Mónica Tapia drew attention to the lack of IT providers and consultants in Mexico who can help CSOs set up CiviCRM. This lack of IT services, however, is due to a lack of demand from CSOs.  

In order to overcome this problem, a community of users, implementers and developers is needed in order make CiviCRM succeed on a large scale. It is thus important to create a “community” for the Mexican CSO sector with IT and web-designers who can provide good-quality and reliable services, and create a long-term relationship with the CSO. If this community doesn’t exist, the organization’s staff spends long hours explaining what a CSO is, as well as explaining their needs and prospects. This training time is very costly for the organization.

Furthermore, this diverse community will provide these organizations with the potential to exchange ideas, learning and strengthen communication amongst themselves. If a community is formed, it will allow to sponsor an Advocacy feature through CiviCRM tailored to include Mexican representatives (Congress and Senate), the main Government Officials and Agencies and even media contacts, with possibly a subscriber’s fee. The creation of a community of organizations using this system is therefore vital for strengthening the advocacy capacity of CSOs, and organizations were clearly made aware of this during the meeting.  


Analysis: Reaction from the CSOs and questions

Overall, a positive reaction was discerned from amongst the CSOs that were present, with many keen to ask questions and discover more about CiviCRM and its functions. 

1)       The first issue raised was security: several CSOs present claimed they had sensitive contacts and information, as well as credit card details that needed to remain secure. Wingu claimed that CiviCRM could be encrypted with security mechanisms. Furthermore, there is a possibility that one could restrict and choose the users of CiviCRM and establish levels of security.

2)       Second, a question was asked regarding the ability of the Software to be administrated by multiple companies/organizations. Wingu said that no, it was not but other CRMs allow such multi-administration.

3)       Third, a question was asked about CiviCRM being compatible with their administrative software (COI). Wingu replied that both Salesforce and CiviCRM can integrate with other administrative softwares such as Quickbooks.

4)       Two further questions revolved around the ability of organizations to control the budget of the system easily. Lizeth introduced her experience with CiviHosting fees and their IT support. Wingu replied that it is impossible to know exactly how much CiviCRM will cost to implement, as it depends on the organization. However, when discussing cost it is important to take into account four things: the cost of buying the system, installation, maintenance and training.

5)       A fifth question was raised regarding how an institution will know if it is ready to install the software. Again, Wingu stated that the diagnostic guide of 20 questions will advise organizations as to whether they are ready or not.


The next steps


Mónica Tapia ended the discussion with several aims and highlighted the next steps that needed to be taken. Firstly, exchange resources and build a learning community on CiviCRM, which include a network of local IT providers, users and ambassadors in Mexico and hold more meetings regarding the CiviCRM development. Mónica laid out three steps that need to be taken in order to insure these objectives are met:

1)       Send the diagnostic guide of Wingu to the organizations who attended the meeting and resolve other questions and concerns directly.

2)       Identify and bring together other IT local providers who would be interested in working with CSOs.

3)       Hold another meeting (in two months) in which these organizations will share their experiences and solve any further doubts and queries regarding CiviCRM.


A few days later, an email was sent to the attendees of the meeting with:

- The meeting minutes and presentations.

- Wingu’s guide to assess a diagnostic to implement a CRM in the organization.

- Valuable links on CiviCRM:

CiviHosting – Hosting and instalation services

CiviCRM to go – How to start from the CiviCRM official website

CiviCRM Demo

The CiviCRM International Community  - With the recommendation to subscribe to the monthly newsletter and learn from cases and people working with the software

- The CiviDay attendees contacts.


Additionally, Wingu sent interesting and useful links:

·  Vínculo a Nuestra Biblioteca, donde poder bajar los contenidos

·  Vínculo a nuestro canal en Youtube

·  Vínculo hacia donde gestionar los US$ 10000 mensuales que Google otorga en publicidad a las OSC.


[1] Much of the inner workings of CiviCRM and its numerous advantages can be found in the manual CiviCRM: A comprehensive guide 3.4/4.0 (Floss Manuals, 2011), this report will fleetingly summarize Wingu´s and Liz´s presentations. 

[2] The meeting confirmed our previous knowledge: a third of the organizations used Joomla and more than half, Wordpress. Only Alternativas used Drupal as CMS.



I think the experiences you describe are common to many countries as CiviCRM users are pretty scattered outside a few key areas. Great to hear about how you are organising your community and to see that you are organising yourselves (rather than being consultant or developer driven).

Anonymous (not verified)
2014-02-17 - 11:50

<p>Eileen, what about people who are more design driven rather than development side?</p>