CiviCRM's email campaign features received a A for usability in NTEN's 2011 Nonprofit Data Eco-System report.
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The Network of Sacred Heart Schools is an association of Catholic independent schools and the U.S. Province of the Society of the Sacred Heart. The integration of CiviCRM deeply into their new website helps keep their contact data current with much less effort on their part, as well as updating their publically facing maps and information on-the-fly and streamlining event management for conferences they hold.
In our initial discussions about revamping the site, we indicated that the new site could be much more dynamic, so that maps could be generated from live data, users could update their own information, and events could be managed in a more cohesive and integrated way.
There were a number of challenges.
For example, while we started out with a simpler vision of having more in depth information and features for the U.S. schools (which are in the Network), as the project progressed, staff at the Network changed course and indicated that they would actually like to have all the features available to all of the international schools as well. We revised our custom module to expand functionality and make things more flexible for them.
Another challenge was the desire for administrators (and in the future, designated school contacts) to be able to edit many contacts at once, preferably without having to learn a new CiviCRM interface on top of the other new website changes.
We considered a few other options, such as whether they wanted to continue taking registrations for their conferences using embedded Google forms that fed into a spreadsheet, but we decided on CiviCRM early on because of its deep integration with Drupal and the ability to use the data in so many places without having to duplicate effort and the ease of updating the information.
Key site functionality was to integrate maps that update automatically based on school data stored in CiviCRM, as well as the ability to register participants for conferences and meetings and take custom data at registration. Ideally they wanted a designated school contact to be able to update public contact information for staff at their school as well.
We configured CiviCRM custom data fields as needed and made use of the wonderful Webform CiviCRM module to allow easy customization of forms and registrations while still tying into CiviCRM.
We wrote a custom module to handle the maps integration at a variety of levels: world, country, and school. It also incorporates the Jeditable jQuery plugin with the CiviCRM API (v3) to allow admins to edit school and public school staff contact information directly on the front end.
The site is hosted on a VPS to allow access to enough RAM and CPU for the site to function.
Most of what we needed to customize was fairly specific to our use-case, but the integration of the jEditable plugin with the API is a valuable proof-of-concept for particular cases where it makes sense to prevent specific users from having to go through the standard CiviCRM editing interface. We would be happy to share some details of how we did it if others are interested.