Organizing and Promoting Local Nature Conservation Efforts with CiviCRM
Putah Creek Council
Libby - Putah Creek Council is a 23-year-old non-profit which engages our local community to protect and enhance Putah Creek. We didn’t have staff for the first 10 years, as all funds raised were used to support a legal battle to secure mandated in-stream flows, and only one staff person after that. Our local communities generously supported the lawsuit and they continued to physically pitch in to improve the creek’s habitat via trash removal, weed control, insect studies, and habitat planting after the suit was settled in our favor.
We ended up with a lot of information about who supports us in various ways, but no unified way of tracking, engaging, or understanding our relationships with our constituents. The first paid Putah Creek Council Director served from 2001-2008, and when I took the reigns in 2009 I found the data in silos: one database to manage donors, Constant Contact to send mass emails, and various excel lists of volunteers. With only one staff person and a large community of volunteers and donors, having the ability to quickly understand a constituent’s relationship with Putah Creek Council was important for the continuity of the organization. It was also important for growing our donor community, as we needed a way to track and eventually convert our volunteers into donors.
Civi was the clear choice for Putah Creek Council because it was very close to what we needed without requiring customization, and worked with Drupal--a platform I had used before.
Giant Rabbit - Initial requirements involved utilizing CiviMail to send mass mailings and to allow users to sign up for the newsletter online. We created a simple mailing template to allow Putah Creek staff to add their content and send the mailing. Putah Creek also utilized CiviContribute and CiviMember to process online contributions and membership to the organization. Eventually, Putah Creek began using CiviEvent to handle online event registration for their various volunteer gatherings, plantings and creek cleanups.
Libby - Again, working with Civi and flexible developers was key. The key aspects of Civi for us were 1) CiviEvent, and 2) CiviContribute. That was not how we approached the initial set up because of our budget constraints, but I chose Civi because I knew it would allow me to get where I wanted to go once we had enough funding (it took about 18 months). We split the project into phases that were do-able given the staff and funding.
Giant Rabbit - This project began with a stock installation of CiviCRM and a data cleanup and migration, combined with an initial training. The goal was to enable Putah Creek Council to use the standard CiviCRM workflow to its fullest, rather than investing in customization of the CiviCRM interface to match existing workflows.
Libby - My dream was that Civi would save time, make us better at our work, and help us grow. It’s certainly done all of that, but has also been more work than I had realized going into it. I think working with a company like Giant Rabbit was what made it work for us--we are a very small organization accomplishing really big things--but we don’t have much funding to invest in technology. We needed to be able to do most of the low-skill labor ourselves.
When I first approached my Board about funding a Civi-backed site, they were lukewarm at best. It’s a hard case to make that a high-powered website will result in better water quality, more wildlife habitat, and a broader base of donors, but it’s certainly working out that way. We began our Civi site in 2010, right in the middle of a huge recession, and all our state contracts (90% of our funding) had been indefinitely suspended. At the same meeting where we discussed how long to furlough me, I made the case to spend even more money we didn’t have to invest in a website for programs that had been suspended. They agreed, and all would now agree that the investment paid off.
Our Civi site has enabled us to support other groups’ fundraising events on our behalf, sign up members online, and engage many times more volunteers in more events--all of this has already paid for the initial site set up.
Giant Rabbit - From an implementor’s perspective, the biggest challenge was the necessary leanness of the budget--Putah Creek is a small organization; in order for their fundraising platform to have a positive impact on their cash flow, we needed to get the platform up and in service as efficiently as possible. Putah Creek’s willingness to learn the platform and be largely self-directed in using it helped make it possible to complete the project.
Libby - I agree that our smallness was the biggest challenge. We didn’t have the money to pay Giant Rabbit to populate the site, and we also had only one staff person to get everything done. In the end, I was unable to complete the project solo because I was always in the field tree planting! We added another staff person in mid-2011, and she and I collectively tied up loose ends.
For a nature nerd, I am fairly technically capable, which made it work. Our new staff person, Sara, is less technically inclined, so getting her to embrace this part of her job was a challenge. Now that we have been using it together for a year we both love what it does for us and would never go back to life without Civi!
Libby - I did about 85% of the work, and when we hired another person after we implemented Civi, Sara helped put our website into full service mode. Once she and I worked in the database for a few months, we were better-able to understand what worked perfectly for us, and what we needed to change. We are not computer professionals, but we were able to learn what we needed to know with some initial training and with phone support from Giant Rabbit.
Giant Rabbit - On the Giant Rabbit side, Anthony Nemirovsky was the CiviCRM administrator, with support from Anna Bullard on the Drupal templating / integration end of things. Anthony is Giant Rabbit’s most senior CiviCRM administrator, with experience across our smallest and our largest projects; Anna is a designer, Drupal administrator, and CiviCRM administrator who works as both a developer and a trainer across Giant Rabbit’s slate of CiviCRM projects.
Why did this project use CiviCRM?
Libby - I did a fairly exhaustive evaluation in part because I wanted my Board to know I had done due diligence, but also because I wanted to be sure the solution made the best sense for PCC. I evaluated eTapestry, DonorTools, CloserWare (Volunteer Matters), YourMembership.com, PhilanthrAppeal, Convio, and BlackBaud.
Civi was the clear choice because it did everything we wanted to do, and I knew from prior experience with Drupal that when new modules come out, I could easily expand our capacity if it was necessary. Plus, Civi is implemented by independent developers, which makes the process of implementing the CRM customizable. This was key because I only had sporadic time available to work on the project (I was in the field planting trees a lot) and Giant Rabbit was understanding about the fact that we couldn’t dedicate our entire staff of one to getting the project done in a quick fashion. The open-source mind-set works well for us: it’s a culture of contribution, self-reliance, and community.
Also, for us, because of what we wanted and our willingness to do much of the low-skilled labor ourselves, Civi was most economical for our needs.
Giant Rabbit - We recommend CiviCRM for organizations the size of Putah Creek Council because we feel the out-of-the-box features it offers are robust enough to make the platform work with a minimal investment. Once the organization is using CiviCRM, the natural growth of the platform through community contributions allows for improved features over time, and the openness of the data and the code base allows for later expansion or customization if it becomes necessary. In short, it is a good short-term, low-cost solution, while also serving as a solid foundation for later expansion.