Voluntary Action Westminster logo

Inspiring people, empowering communities

Voluntary Action Westminster

37 Chapel Street
NW1 5DP London
United Kingdom

Voluntary Action Westminster supports the work of voluntary organisations and community groups in the London borough of Westminster. They offer advice and training on how to set and run non profit organisations. They help local organisations network with each other and with local statutory and political organisations. They also run a number of community involvement projects which help residents find a voice and become more involved with their local communities. Accurate information on the state and work of the voluntary and community sector in Westminster is key informing the work of VAW. They also need to create reports on the impact of their work for funders. CiviCRM provides them powerful simple tools to allow them to collect and report on this information. CiviCRM also helps reduce the admin burden of the day to day running of the organisation. Tasks which were previously very admin intensive like managing their membership, running regular events, sending emails to contacts based on their interests, creating mailing labels for their monthly printed newsletter are handled by out of the box CiviCRM functionality.


Key to this project is the ability for staff to edit and add fields as their data collection needs changed, for example, when a funder requires that they monitor a different aspect of their work. The ability to present information on their website, including a searchable directory of local organisations and a list of upcoming events was also crucial, and CiviCRM makes this process simple


The initial promise was to re-create the functionality provided by their current system, cleanly import all their current data into the new model, and start to take advantage of some of the cool things that CiviCRM can do, like tracking open and click through rates in the emails they sent out. They wanted all staff to feel confident using the system and to have some key staff trained as super users to take on day to day admin tasks that previously had to be carried out by someone with coding and database skills.


The VAW staff team got 'open source' in theory, but it took a while for them to work out the best ways to interact with the CiviCRM community in reality. For example, early on they customised their installation in a way that took them off the upgrade path. This meant they didn't upgrade very often, and that upgrades were expensive. After a while they decided that the benefits of their custom extra functionality were outweighed by the benefits of a simple and low cost upgrade so they dropped their customisations. After attending a couple of meet ups and trainings, meeting core CiviCRM developers and getting to know the community a bit better, VAW decided to work in partnership with the core team to develop some functionality important to their work: the ability to search for contacts based on data held about related contacts (e.g. show me all the finance workers at organisations with an income of less that £50,000 per year). Getting this included in core meant VAW could stay on the upgrade path.

Developed by

Third Sector Design carried out the majority of the CiviCRM implementation working in partnership with Daniel Mapp, the information and communication officer at VAW. The Drupal website was designed in house and themed by PE Design.


Why did this project use CiviCRM?

Previously, VAW had been running a bespoke CRM, custom built by a previous staff member who was now consulting for the organisation. Although this CRM did meet a lot of their needs, it was proving difficult and expensive to develop new functionality. They were also concerned about their lack support options - what would happen if this consultant was run over by a bus, or decided to stop supporting the organisation? Their consultant advised them to go with a more widely used system and recommended CiviCRM (he would have probably recommended it the first time about, but it didn't exist at that time) as a system that could do everything that they were doing at the moment, and more. Switching to CiviCRM meant that they would be able to shop around for support, further development and training, etc. It also meant that VAW could jump on the 'CiviCRM upgrade path' and benefit from new functionality as new versions of CiviCRM came out. The organisation could immediatley see that CiviCRM was a good match for their needs. They were already doing mailings, events, membership and activity recording in their current CRM and CiviCRM had out of the box components for these. They also appreciated the way that CiviCRM allowed them to store individuals and contacts seperately and model the relationships between them, e.g. employees, volunteers, trustees, etc. Both Salesforce and SugarCRM were evaluated but neither matched their data model and requirements as closely as CiviCRM. They were also put off by the lack of options for hosting their data that Salesforce offered and were concerned that (although Salesforce does have a non-profit friendly licensing model) they would have to start paying expensive licence fees to make use of the best bits of Salesforce.