One project I have worked on for most of 2014 is a new CiviCRM and Drupal website re-design and launch for a national charity. Now that we are getting so close to launch it gives me the opportunity to talk a little more about it; there was so much commercial sensitivity about it as you always get with contracts, but things have been rapidly evolving in some areas and slow devolving in others.
If you are working in a charity or non-profit and you want to take a lot of your back-office work onto the back of your website then I really do recommend looking at CiviCRM. Most of the features that I have been introduced to are great albeit there are some steep learning curves and when your developer starts customising things you could end up going off the beaten track.
My introduction to CiviCRM has been somewhat of a learning curve!
What is CRM?
I knew you were going to ask what I am blithering on about.
CiviCRM at it’s most basic description is Customer Relationship Management software. When you actually think about it, everyone is actually a customer of everyone else; but this will allow us to manage much more online and get rid of those god awful filing cabinets full of paper.
Imagine this; your company has 500 customers and you have all their details on a spreadsheet in your office. You have changed a few addresses, made new contacts and generally kept your spreadsheet up to date. You haven’t kept the copy of the spreadsheet up to date that you gave your customer service girl though and when she gets a phone call she can not do anything when all the information comes up out of date.
So installing a CRM as part of your website will allow you to manage all this on the luxury of your web server and hopefully one that is backed up regularly by your web host. Now add into that the chances of adding to your customer base by letting people sign up for a mailing list… or setting up an event for people to sign-up to and attend. Many small companies and charities still do not even manage that!
You don’t actually have to set it up as a part of a website. You can install it completely separately in the same way as you would create a Microsoft Access database, just on a web-based or local server.
Now To Me
We all know I like talking about me too much, so let’s get on with it. It has been 12 months of one of the steepest learning curves that you can get. As I have gone through the process of learning about the database and how the back-end of CiviCRM interacts with the front end of Drupal (have I lost you yet)….
… I resorted to having to learn more coding.
I tried really hard not to have to learn much but I have refreshed my knowledge of HTML and CSS and now I am plugging my way through:
There are so many things I want to try but I can not have a really good play until after we launch; otherwise I will make a copy of the website and database and then have one that is out of date….
Many Things are Way Over My Head
Even though I have been largely working on this for 12 months I am still not entirely sure I am up-to-speed with most of it. Let’s look at an example of what I am talking about.
Picture the scene:
- A person,
- who manages the relationship with an organisation with a business address;
- which has a relationship with an establishment which it deals with.
To me that sounds really simple. CiviCRM allows you to build a form from the information that is in the database so logic would say that if the software can see that the person has the permission to change the information of the organisation and should be able to change the information linked to it.
Whichever way I try to manage the permissions, it allows everyone with access to the form to see every establishment… and some of them sound very similar!
I have tried every which way to look at this particular aspect in a number of different ways. I have even used the ability to masquerade as someone else so that I could see what they see and it still does not leave me any wiser!
I Will Blog About My Exploits
…usually. At the moment, most of the things that I am doing are in conjunction with the developers. I have not got a clue about what has been done within bespoke-coded modules that they have created – and we have paid for – so I can not learn from their experience until well after launch when I can take a copy across.
I still don’t actually when I will fully understand anything yet though…. which is damned scary when you are handling lots of data on a SSL secure server with CiviCRM on it!