Why I Became (and still am) a CiviCRM Advocate

2014-02-24 09:04
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I now feel like a have a long history with CiviCRM as I first started working with the software in 2006. At that time I was working for GMCVO, a UK based organisation that supports local charities/not for profit organisations, managing a project that needed to provide a CRM system to sixteen organisations. Although I’d been working on web based IT projects for a number of years previously, I then had little experience in CRM systems.  After some research we decided to start using CiviCRM and it was a fantastic choice! Over a couple of years we rolled out CiviCRM and Drupal websites to all the organisations involved in the project. After completing this mammoth task I managed to persuade the Director of GMCVO that we should start to sell CiviCRM implementation services. This turned out to be a great idea and GMCVO Databases is still going strong.
As the team grew at GMCVO Databases I dipped my toe into becoming a CiviCRM supporter. I started by attending a few conferences and writing the occasional blog post. Heather Oliver and I then falteringly followed this up when we started the North of England CiviCRM Meetup. Meetups provide a great opportunity for CiviCRM users, developers and those new CiviCRM to get together. If you've never been to a meetup before, do go along as they are a great opportunity to lean more and share your experiences.The North of England Meetup is now well attended and we have recently decided to alternate the location between the North West and the North East of the UK. My goal is that this will lead to a new separate Meetup starting in the North East of the country. 
As part of the work we had always done a lot of CiviCRM training but in 2011 I started to work with Michael McAndrew delivering 2 day CiviCRM administrator courses. Delivering general training with large groups of users provides a real insight into how CiviCRM is used and the day to day issues people face. It also keeps you on your toes as you have to be able to answer random and complex questions clearly and intelligently. We still work together delivering these courses and in 2013, over a  few days, we wrote a whole new CiviCRM training course from a teaching perspective. We decided to do this as we felt the existing materials were not coherent and I had recently completed a short adult teaching qualification. This therefore seemed like the perfect opportunity to put theory into practice. The new course is modular and there is a lesson plan for each topic area with learner exercises. If you are interested this is available on the CiviCRM Wiki – see wiki.civicrm.org/confluence/display/CRM/Training. 
In 2012 things really started to change when I decided to leave the management role at GMCVO Databases to start my own company, a CiviCRM Founding Associate Partner, called Northbridge Digital. The services we provide are CiviCRM and Drupal website implementation, data migration and training. We work across the UK and beyond which is challenging but it is also rewarding. The organisations we work with vary in size, geography and the people they support. This means that every project has its own special challenges and I love working with people to help tackle the issues they face. Much of our work comes from general enquiries but a good portion also comes through our connections to the community. For example; a former training attendee may get in touch with a new project or a meetup attendee may ask for some advice and a mutually beneficial support relationship develops. 
In 2013 I also organised my first residential coders sprint as I felt I was well placed to find a great location. This took place after the CiviCON London Conference and was held in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales. Around 30 people, from all over the world, attended over the week and it was a great success. Setting up the sprint was hard work but worthwhile. I felt a lot of pressure (getting in on budget - will the Internet work - will the accommodation be suitable - will the caterer turn up!) but it all turned out amazingly well and it was a rewarding time. One great thing that did come out of this was experience – so this year I've volunteered to organise the 2014 residential UK sprint. It will definitely be easier to organise this year.
I've been involved with the software for 8 years now and I understand how robust yet flexible it is. Our focus is to always deliver a reliable system that meets client need. This approach stems from my sector background; don’t over complicate things, does this work for staff, is the system understood by everyone that uses it?
So why did I become an advocate for CiviCRM? My involvement started from the needs of a project and chance.  But over time I realised just how uniquely placed CiviCRM is and that I could, in my own small way, help the CiviCRM community. And most importantly, I enjoy being involved.