Wednesday, September 14, 2016 - 14:04
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It’s been on my tasklist to write about the CiviCRM community. Like most people it seems, my task list is longer than I care to admit, so I’ve put this off for some time. I had a moment of inspiration the other day when I was jogging about trying to visually represent some of the key elements of our community, however this was problematic for two reasons. First, our community is complex, offering different ways for people to participate around a common vision, often with little structure to support them. Second, because even though I am often struck with great ideas (at least, I think they’re great) when I’m running, I rarely remember them by the time I return home. Sadly, I don’t typically run that far.

But this one stuck with me: put together a very simple venn diagram demonstrating how the community works. Ideally this will help clarify and deepen understanding of this open source project, specifically within our end user base such that we see greater support and participation. Yeah, it’s a bit selfish of me to want more support come into the project from those that benefit most. But then, in my view, it’s actually a win-win for everyone.

I started using CiviCRM in 2007 as an end user (and include a list below of things I'd do differently if I could go back). I was working with a nonprofit focused on animal welfare and was taken with CiviCRM because it was free. It’s taken me a few years to understand how simple that perspective is. Yeah, it’s free. But, what keeps it that way, and in fact what keeps it improving, is the community behind the project. So, let’s start with a basic diagram and then get into the nuts and bolts.

CiviCRM Community

Admittedly, this diagram is oversimplified. There are individuals that are unaffiliated with end user organizations or with partners that contribute back. There are 3rd party systems that benefit from integration with CiviCRM that fund the project. And there are supporters that benefit the project, yet do not integrate nor directly benefit themselves from it in any way. And while there are complexities not represented therein, this diagram does highlight a key element of community; active participation.

If you view the combined circles as the overall community, and each individual circle as a unique stakeholder, then where they overlap represents areas of engagement within the community, specifically where individuals, organizations and companies give back to support the project for everyone. This can come in the form of bug fixes, improved documentation, hosting an event, making a financial contribution, or any number of ‘activities’ within the project.

What’s key to understand is that, in this community, you can and are encouraged to pitch in and help. Naturally, there are a large number of moving parts within CiviCRM, and the more overlap between it and its stakeholders, the more all of the various areas of the project move forward. Sure, you can use CiviCRM for your organization and not participate. And you can implement CiviCRM for clients and not participate. Both are perfectly fine and are a first step in becoming a part of the CiviCRM community. But, it’s through active participation that CiviCRM grows and improves.

If you’ve ever frequented the forums or Jira, you’ve probably seen the phase “patch welcome”. While that literally means that we welcome a code contribution from you that might fix a bug or enhance a feature, I think it has more significance than that. I think it’s an elegant way of saying, “get involved, take ownership, and make this project what you want it to be. You’re in the driver’s seat.” That’s the beauty of open source, and that’s the benefit of being a part of this community.

CiviCRM is very lucky to have the community that it does, and we’re thankful for everyone that participates and contributes back to the project. We have nearly 100 members, over 50 partners, dozens of contributors, volunteers willing to step up and run events, and others to manage documentation. We’re also continuing to push the team and working group structure as a way to help drive community engagement and hopefully make it easier to get involved.

There’s always more to do with CiviCRM, and there’s always opportunities to help. We encourage you to get involved and support CiviCRM today. In the words of Donald Lobo, “patch welcome”.


Top 5 things I would do if I were an end user organization

Nearly 10 years into my relationship with CiviCRM, and I can honestly say that I would do things differently. Here’s my list of the top things I’d do if I could step back into 2007:

  1. I’d learn more about open source, its philosophy, how it can be leveraged, and how it should be supported.
  2. I’d either invest in becoming a developer or commit to making an annual contribution. Knowing me, I’d probably do the latter.
  3. I’d be more engaged in shaping the software via bug reporting, documentation, and supporting new feature development via Make It Happen campaigns.
  4. I’d advocate more for the project, and would encourage more adoption. I’d join or start a meetup, and I’d connect more with peers to demonstrate how CiviCRM could be used.
  5. I’d participate more in events and make an effort to go to one annual conference a year.
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I think this well written description puts a positive, modern spin on "patch welcome", a phrase which in the past has been a frequent source of confusion, even consternation.

What has been confusing about the CiviCRM community of people, like the software itself, is that it doesn't do just one thing...and it's not obvious how to do anything.   I think senior members of the community are trying to be more clear and more proactive about letting new people know how they can contribute and get stuff done, in turn asking them what their interests and abilities are. 

Clarity is the first step in creating this "hopeful exchange" of giving and receiving . Thanks Josh!