3 different modes for getting started with CiviCRM

3 different modes for getting started with civicrm

Your organization has realized that it could benefit from utilizing a CRM. You’ve outgrown a homegrown tool, spreadsheets or siloed solutions. You’ve happened upon CiviCRM, explored a CiviCRM demo and kicked the tires. You’ve compared your goals with what CiviCRM has to offer and have clear reasons why you want to undertake this substantial investment.

Now how do you get from wanting CiviCRM to using it effectively?

CiviCRM isn’t like other proprietary CRM’s where you put down your credit card and sign up to start using. It’s an open source CRM that allows flexibility and control over how it is deployed. And that’s part of its strength. 

You have options. You need to think through what implementation scenario will work best for your organization. Here’s some high-level questions that can guide your decision:

  • Technical skills: Do you have in-house technical capabilities to manage the system administration and maintenance of CiviCRM? Is there staff with previous experience with implementing a CRM or CiviCRM in particular?
  • Migration: Does your migration process involve many entities, custom data fields and mapping from one or more systems or is it more basic from spreadsheets?
  • Customizations: Is your implementation using mostly out of the box functionality or will it require custom approaches including development or complex configuration planning and execution?
  • Time and motivation: Do you have time and motivation to lead an implementation? 
  • Deadline: Do you need it launched soon or can it wait longer?

With answers to these questions, you should land in one of these arrangements with a CiviCRM partner which we’ll go into more depth later. 

  1. Led in-house
  2. Led by a CiviCRM partner
  3. CiviCRM SaaS solution

In-house CiviCRM Implementation

Here you download, install and configure CiviCRM on your own. You will be 100% responsible for all aspects of the system. If you hit a problem, you feel comfortable debugging and shepherding issues to a resolution. You will need to make several important decisions that will have lasting effects down the road.

What this means is you have the time, energy and interest. You’re curious and are process driven. You like to be technical. In other words your point person will be tech-savvy and feel comfortable and have the willingness to learn. If this sounds exciting to you, then it’s probably for you. 

Have you done your due diligence and prioritized your “must-have” features? You should make sure that they:

  • Clearly defined in scope
  • A minority part of the implementation
  • They can be worked on in relative isolation: You should be confident that the assumptions and configurations you’ve made will align with how a CiviCRM partner may undertake future developments.

It goes without saying: no one knows everything. In this case you should always have an escalation point for when you get stuck. 

A common mistake is organizations wanting to do it entirely on their own. The result? The nonprofit can miss out on getting the most out of their CRM because they can’t make decisions based on experience. A CiviCRM partner has this experience and know-how and therefore can be a great ally in your CiviCRM management. 

For straightforward implementations it will be less of need but as you evolve with the software, you’ll likely want to extend it to do more and at this point you should find a CiviCRM partner to assist in how you tackle those additional phases.

CiviCRM Partner-led Implementation

This option outsources most of the work to a CiviCRM expert to install, configure and customize CiviCRM based on your needs and objectives. Particularly for implementations that are complex you should bring in experts that have been in similar situations before. 

What do we mean by complex? Here’s some examples:

  • Out of the box functionality is not enough and significant changes are needed to configure it through CiviCRM extensions or custom development.
  • Wide scope of data migration from another CRM
  • Finely grained permissions and access control
  • Member portal functionality
  • Remote CiviCRM

Spending more upfront engaging support is less expensive than a poorly planned project that will eventually need refactoring. 

Low on time? Think again if you want a CiviCRM partner to read your mind on what you want. That’s only a recipe for disappointment. Your involvement is still needed in the discovery and requirements gathering and feedback stages. Essentially, very early on and at the tail end of the project for testing. You will be “hands off” during the build. 

Afterwards there will be a transition phase to train and put you at the helm of managing the in-browser administration of the system.

A variant for long-term support: CiviCRM SaaS Implementation

Very similar to the partner-led implementation, in this mode the system will be managed by a SaaS provider like Civi-Go. You will have access to make in-browser changes but the technical aspects of hosting, system administration, installing CiviCRM extensions will be the responsibility of the CiviCRM SaaS provider.

The benefit is you can focus on your core mission and reduce in-house costs. The risk is low; you have a defined scope of what you can do and the rest is professionally managed. Essentially, powering your organization with CiviCRM SaaS is the hassle-free way to harness the power of CiviCRM, without the overhead. And when you need a helping hand, you’ll have a dedicated, expert-level CiviCRM support team to help you achieve your goals.

Summary Criteria

Below is general breakdown of the questions from the beginning with factors . Review them again and see which mode, “In-house” or “CiviCRM Partner / SaaS” best fits you. Still not sure? We welcome you to a discovery call to understand your requirements, people, processes and goals so you can be set on a path toward success.

Your Criteria and NeedsIn-houseCiviCRM Partner
Technical skillsHighLow to medium
CustomizationsOut of the boxCustom development and complex configuration
Time and motivationMore timeLess time
DeadlineFlexibleClear timeline

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