In nonprofit technology circles there are only a handful of of options for keeping in contact with constituents. Those options include a spreadsheet in its most simple form to a much more sophisticated database and communications system from a private vendor. Amongst the private vendors there has been considerable consolidation with the Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) marketplace. The options usually discussed revolve around the following solutions:
- Hosted - Blackbaud (who owns etapestry and kintera), Convio (which integrates with Salesforce.com database and Democracy in Action's Salsa - These solutions are Software as a Service providers who host the application and the data which an organization accesses on the web. All the updates are handled on their side. These applications can be quite costly.
- Hosted(donated) - Salesforce.com - Salesforce.com is a similar solution to the SaaS solutions above, but it offers its service donated to the nonprofit sector. Salesforce.com has opened up its platform for third party developers so there is a good deal of modularity. For example, if you wanted a project management solution, you can simply download and it will automatically install. Salesforce.com also integrates will with google apps for the enterprise.
- Open Source - CiviCRM - CiviCRM is the primary open source option discussed in nonprofit technology circles. The software has to be installed and updated by someone with technical expertise. The software is free and integrates with both joomla and drupal, content management systems for the web.
There are actually two other open source CRM solutions which almost always go unmentioned but are worthy of consideration for nonprofit organizations looking for fairly sophisticated CRM systems that are low cost to implement:
- SugarCRM - SugarCRM offers most of their product, though not all as an open source system. You can pay them for the full version of the software or contract with them for SaaS service. A nonprofit will need to translate some of the sales language into fundraising language, but salesforce.com demonstrated that its not such a big leap. There is a currently a module for integration with drupal.
- VTiger - As I understand it, vtiger is a fork of sugar and therefore related systems. I'm spending more time in this environment currently because I value the fact that you can get the full solution as an open source system. The system integrates Joomla out of the box.
As I get deeper into both systems, I'll be getting deeper and be able to provide more meaningful feedback. I just think its important for organizations to realize that there are some other good options available.
There's also the issue of Enterprise Resource Planning Software (ERP), many of which combine CRM technologies with accounting and business process/operations support. Only the largest nonprofit institutions such as universities and hospitals have invested in such technology because private sector solutions have a minimum buy-in of $100k. I will be including these open source ERP systems in my analysis in the coming weeks.