CRMs are must-have for any organization, large or small. There is some debate over what the “C” in CRM stands for - client, constituent, customer, etc., but at a very base level it manages information about your contacts. Organizations now understand that communication is not always linear, flowing to one central point. To further complicate things, organizations have a splintering of data from a multitude of tools. For example, maybe you are using Evite for event registrations, Salesforce to manage your customer communication, PayPal to collect donations, and Constant Contact for your email blasts. How can your organization get visibility into all of this data with it spread out amongst various systems and databases? The solution is CiviCRM.
Editor’s Note: I was initially going to make this one blog article, but since there are so many great features to talk about in CiviCRM, I’ve decided to break this up into two parts. In this segment we will cover this tool’s most widely used features: the CRM, email marketing, and its access control features.
At its core, CiviCRM is a contact relationship manager. It comes built-in with three contact types - Individual, Family, and Organization. However, the system allows you to set up different types of contact types. Each contact type can have its own set of data fields to store information based on your organization’s needs. Contact records can be created manually in the backend, imported from spreadsheets, or automatically created via your website integration. Each contact record can store a variety of information, from basic contact info to custom fields you’ve set up for each contact type. The system can track relationships to other contact records as well. For example, see all employees related to an organization, all family members related to a person, or even business referrals from other contacts or organizations. Contacts can also be segmented by using groups, tags, or even activities.
Each contact record has an Activities section that tracks any action the user has been associated with. For example, events the user has registered for, when their membership was renewed, what emails they’ve received from the email marketing tool, and donations/contributions they’ve made to the organization. Activities can also manually be added for any offline communication between your employees and customers. For example, your sales team can log phone calls or in-person meetings with their contacts. The system allows admins to create custom activity types. So the possibilities of tracking communication and other forms of interaction are endless.
CiviCRM also has powerful search feature. You can search by a contact’s basic information, such as name, email address, or phone number, but you can also search by contact types, including custom contact types. For example, let’s say you created a Volunteer contact type. The advanced search will allow you to see all Volunteers in the system. It doesn’t stop there, you can also search by relationship types and demographics. Let’s say you need a list of all female employees of an organization. Simply set the relationship type to “employee of” and the demographic to “female.” You can also search for contacts based on their activities such as event registrations, membership types and statuses, donations, etc. Search criteria be combined in numerous way so you can get as general or specific as you’d like.
Next to the CRM feature, the CiviMail component is by far the most widely used feature in the system. CiviMail can send personalized email blasts utilizing just about any data stored within the person’s contact record. It also adheres to the Can-Spam Act by offering opt-out and unsubscribe options so users can choose to stop receiving emails if they wish. It comes with granular statistic reporting that can track open rates, click-through rates, bounces, and unsubscribes for specific contacts.
Email messages can be composed on the fly in HTML or plain text, or scheduled to be sent to at a later time. They can be sent to a single user or multiple users. For example, smart groups can be created for people that have registered for an event. You can then schedule an email reminder that the event is about to start and send to all users that have registered up until the time the email has been sent. Meaning you can create the email reminder at any point in time and rest assured that if someone registers after the email was created that they will be included in the list.
If you have the same email that needs to be sent in an ongoing basis, CiviMail also allows you to build templates. These templates can be combined with Civi’s scheduled reminders feature. Scheduled reminders will automatically send messages to users based on an various entities, such as activities, events, and memberships. For example, if a user’s membership is about to expire, set up a scheduled reminder a certain number of days before their membership expires and provide a link to membership renewal form.
In the default version of CiviMail, message templates can be composed with a WYSIWYG editor or with HTML code giving you the ability to compose beautiful emails that fit your organization’s branding. However there is an email template builder extension available which provides a drag and drop interface which allow you to quickly compose visual emails similar to other email marketing tools such as Mailchimp. Currently this extension is only available for the 4.7 branch of CiviCRM. If you are the 4.6 branch, which is the long-term support (LTS) version of CiviCRM, and want to utilize the email template builder extension for your organization, contact Skvare for more information.
There are two separate types of permissions that can be utilized for access control. CiviCRM comes with its own set of permissions that can grant access to different areas of CiviCRM. These are called Access Control Lists, or ACLs for short. For example, maybe you only want some of your users to access certain extensions such as CiviMail or CiviContribute. It also allows you to grant permissions to certain entities within the system and define how users can interact with them. For example, maybe some users can only View contacts or contribution details, and other users are allowed to View, Edit, and Delete contacts or contributions. But what about granting access to different parts of your website?
CiviCRM ACLs can also be used in conjunction with your CMS user roles to grant certain groups access to parts of your website that are not available to the general public. CMS permissions will generally grant users access to an entire section, but it's an all or nothing approach. It won’t allow you to differentiate between contacts that fall into different groups within CiviCRM. For example, if you were to set permissions on the CMS side to grant users access to a specific type of content, they would be able to see all the content. By looking to CiviCRM to enforce permissions, you grant access at a more granular basis. Let’s say you have an article and also a downloadable PDF on the same page. You could give access to the web version of article to your basic members, and give access to both the article and the downloadable file to your premium members.
This is just a highlight of the most popular features of these CiviCRM components. In part 2 of this article, we will explore features that will help bring additional revenue to your organization: fundraising (including peer-to-peer fundraising), membership management, and event registration. Get a sneak peek at part 2 of this article,, one week before it's released on Skvare.com.