CiviCRM packs a ton of features for nonprofit organizations, ranging from contribution and donor management, to event management and mass email capabilities. If you use CiviCRM, then you already know that it’s a competitive piece of software for nonprofits. And yet, as a CRM, it’s not widely known. In fact, it wasn’t even listed in Idealware’s recent review of plugins for nonprofits using WordPress.
As an open source project, CiviCRM relies heavily on community participation to not just build the software, but to spread the word, and to encourage adoption of the CRM and participation within the community. Just this year we’ve taken steps to form more defined project teams, including a community team, in order to help attract and cultivate contributions of time and talent to this end.
Just as CiviCRM relies on voluntary participation to drive the project, it also relies on community members to volunteer information that can help our communications, improve our understanding of how the software is used, and help shape the project’s direction. As an example, Stuart Gaston of CiviTeacher coordinated a survey along with support from Nubay Services and Emphanos that provided some interesting results with respect to component usage and priorities for end user organizations. The feedback provided has already shaped our focus and helped as we plan for future releases of CiviCRM.
We also ask for information during installation and upgrades… you know, the little message at the top that asks you to register your site. Like the survey, this provides the CiviCRM Core Team with useful information that we can act on in some way to make the project and the community better and more relevant to each user. When I say ‘act on’, I don’t mean in such a way as to peddle products and services. Instead, I mean that information that users volunteer during site registration helps us understand the number of organizations that use CiviCRM by sector, CMS, geographic location, components used and more. Again, this information is voluntarily provided. So, how does it help us?
Let’s consider a few examples…
We respect each organization’s privacy and will always ask that this sort of information be volunteered. But, let’s face it… not everyone registers their site, or reads the blog or subscribes to CiviCRM newsletters. That’s ok...we have another tool that we’ve recently used to help communicate to the CiviCRM community.
If you’re using CiviCRM version 4.3 or higher, you might have noticed the occasional message appear on your dashboard. Such messages are coordinated and managed by the Core Team and are intended to be used sparingly and to provide relevant project information, such as news about a release, an event or a significant project development. We call these “in-app messages”.
The Core Team spent a great deal of time evaluating the merits of using in-app messages and in the end decided that they should be implemented 1) infrequently and 2) with highly relevant content. CiviCRM is an incredible CRM that places a great deal of emphasis on end user privacy. Because of this and because of our reliance on volunteered information, our own data on users within the CiviCRM ecosystem is less than perfect, to say the least.
In-app messages present the best opportunity to provide relevant information such as releases, security updates, major events, trainings, and opportunities for the ecosystem. Their objective is both to educate and engage end users such that we can deepen community participation, the result of which is a better overall product for everyone.
In-app messages can target users based on information they voluntarily provide, such as geographic location, CMS used, etc., thereby allowing the Core Team to display (or not) a message that may be highly relevant to them. They can be toggled off by each user and hidden for the duration of the message, which will typically be between 3 and 5 days, not to exceed 2 messages per month.
The Core Team is committed to producing the very best open source CRM for nonprofits and is taking steps to more closely align our efforts with the market that uses CiviCRM. In order to do so, we need to leverage all of the available communication channels at our disposal that serve to connect our efforts to end users without compromising privacy. In-app messages, though not perfect, offer an extremely efficient and effective way of achieving this objective.
We hope they’re not too onerous for you. But, more importantly, we hope that you will register with CiviCRM and help us ensure that no matter the medium of communication, we’re providing each community member relevant and useful information about CiviCRM. That's the essence of open source, after all... your own input helps benefit the project for everyone.