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Increasing Efficiencies at Engineers for a Sustainable World

Engineers for a Sustainable World

Pittsburgh , PA
United States
Pennsylvania US

Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW) is a community of technically minded students, university faculty and professionals dedicated to building a more sustainable world.  ESW does sustainability-oriented design projects, educational and training programs, and a shared community that fosters practical and innovative solutions to address local and global sustainability issues. ESW is comprised of 34 chapters and a total of >1,000 active members. In early 2012, ESW decided to replace their current website by implementing CiviCRM as part of a Drupal install. CiviCRM has helped ESW reduce their overhead cost by ~$4000/yr as well as giving them efficiencies in their administrative processes.


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On Drupal

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  • ESW-National 2012 Conference Attendees


In shifting websites, the one critical requirement for ESW was a strong membership management that keeps track of membership dates and renewals. Other functions, such as tracking non-member contacts or handling events, were a nice bonus. The implementation of CiviCRM has saved ESW anywhere from 8 to 40 hrs/month in manual, repetitive data inputting or editing. The dashboard feature allows the National Team to quickly see updates on membership, payments, and other activities. ESW is just starting to use CiviEvent for sign-up for their Regional Conference and their National conference.  ESW also uses the Communication component of CiviCRM to handle mailing lists for its contact base of ~4000.



Two years ago, ESW decided to redo their website.  At the time, ESW was using Affiniscape, an expensive solution with limited dynamic functionality, making it hard to have member-contributed content, or to track additional types of information about contacts and members. Alexander Dale, at that point the Communications & Technology Director for ESW-National, is a big proponent of open source software and immediately liked CiviCRM because it is an open source CRM geared towards nonprofits and pairs nicely with Drupal. Feature-wise, the most important aspects were a system for tracking membership and processing dues payments, and the promise of additional functions to help the organization grow clinched the deal. Having CiviCRM available for free was also a big plus.



The biggest challenge was figuring out the right data structures to use within CiviCRM for ESW’s use case - tags, groups, or custom fields all provided different uses. With the help of the great online documentation sites, Alex built a test site over the course of 2-3 weeks with a small subset of member data before deciding mostly on custom fields. The production site was built based on these structural choices, and transferring data from the old system to CiviCRM provided no major hurdles. The database of 2000 people uploaded and matched the existing individual contact fields and new custom fields (e.g. chapter affiliation) with minimal data processing. This final processing stage took ~6 hours of effort as part of the larger process of getting the website ready for launch. The website went live in March of 2012, and has been happily functioning ever since!


Developed by

Development of ESW’s CiviCRM install was entirely performed by Alexander Dale, then-Communications & Technology Director and now-Executive Director. Alex continues to be the main point of contact for CiviCRM development, although other parts of the website are more commonly managed by the current Technology Director. The rest of the ESW-National Team uses CiviCRM to keep track of chapter members, leader contacts, new sponsors or professional contacts, and current activity.


Why did this project use CiviCRM?

CiviCRM was chosen because it is an open source solution that integrates well with Drupal and is targeted specifically at nonprofit organizations.  Alex researched other CRMs but most were discarded for 2 main reasons: either they were not aimed at non-profits or posed a bigger hurdle in initial set-up. A few other options would have been hosted outside of the main website, while CiviCRM allows the use of member status and other fields to integrate with online resources for members. CiviCRM made sense because it fit within the Drupal module framework, is easily extendable, and the installation was straightforward and well-documented (if occasionally nerve-wracking for someone with limited database experience). Finally, Alex was also impressed by the robustness of the support community around CiviCRM - it was easy to find answers to random error messages or problems.