NPDev Summit: Focus on CiviCRM

Soon after I joined Ginkgo Street Labs as the Director of Strategy & Engagement, I attended the Nonprofit Software Development Summit organized by Aspiration Tech in Oakland from November 17-19. It was great to reconnect with colleagues from the nonprofit tech community and meet new people who are on the forefront of nonprofit technology and CiviCRM.

Gunner, Josh, Misty, Ruth and Javier of the Aspiration Tech team made us feel at home and created a welcoming space for everyone to learn and share. Having attended several Penguin Days, another Aspiration Tech event, I was familiar with the unconference format, which encourages participants to come up with ideas they want to learn about and what they want to share with others.

Salesforce vs. CiviCRM
We started by being paired up with two people who we did not know and asked to share how we ended up at the conference and what we hoped to learn at the conference. I had the pleasure of meeting with Lisa Jervis of Information Ecology and Laura Schatzkin of Bay Nature.

During our conversation, we discussed how nonprofits are often faced with the challenge of deciding between Salesforce and CiviCRM. Lisa explained, “My professional opinion is that unless an organization is already using Salesforce well, they are better off with CiviCRM. Civi's data model is already aligned with the activities of most nonprofits, whereas Salesforce is built for completely different activities. I think Civi is more user-friendly, and training, support, and maintenance are more financially accessible. I once heard someone say that to make Salesforce understandable in the nonprofit context, you either have to hack it or you have to hack your brain. Most organizations can't afford the customization they really need. Let's not hack our brains!”

Severe Drought in Bay Area
Our conversation went beyond nonprofit technology. Laura shared with Lisa and me that through her work at Bay Nature she was amazed at how oblivious people are to the severe drought facing the Bay area. According to the Bay Nature website, “California is in the midst of its most severe drought in recorded history. Scientists are seizing the opportunity to better understand how a drought of this scale impacts ecological communities, while others are searching this drought for the fingerprints of climate change.” 

Latest Developments in the CiviCRM Community
On the second day, I attended sessions on CiviCRM with Dave Greenberg a founding member of the CiviCRM Core Team. He explained, “As we approach our 10th year, I continue to believe that providing open source software solutions for the challenges faced by nonprofits and NGOs around the world is critically important. We want to make sure that organizations can own their own data AND can collaborate on the continual improvements to their tools, rather than incurring the costs of continually re-inventing the wheel with custom and proprietary software. We recently spent some time as a community clarifying our vision for CiviCRM. He added, "A key measure of our success will always be the social good that CiviCRM generates, and the stories that we hear from organizations that are doing amazing and innovative things with CiviCRM."

Tim Otten, who is also on the CiviCRM Core Team, shared upcoming developments for CiviCRM. He explained, “Civi v4.6 has added support for recurring events, revamp CiviMail UI, and add A/B testing for CiviMail. It is tentatively scheduled for an alpha in mid-December. Civi v5.0 will introduce new APIs and architecture inspired by webform_civicrm and Symfony; begin transitioning individual pages from the old architecture (DB_DataObject + QuickForm) to the new. The timeline for this is yet to be determined.”

Speed Geeking CiviVolunteer
In addition to attending the CiviCRM sessions, I partnered with Tim to host a “speed geek” for CiviCRM and the CiviVolunteer demo. We had 14 groups of individuals stop by to learn about CiviCRM. Frank Gómez and Michael Daryabeygi, Principals and Developers at Ginkgo Street Labs, are spearheading the efforts for improving CiviVolunteer. Michael explained, “CiviCRM has always been a tool for organizations to mobilize and engage their donors and constituents. Volunteer programs are a great way to build lasting relationships because volunteers get to feel they are a part of your organization's mission. We wanted to give organizations the ability to manage the logistics of recruiting, training, scheduling, and following up with volunteers. With CiviVolunteer, you can now tackle the daunting task of creating a schedule, ensuring that it is covered, and that you have the right people in the right place and time. There is still much more to be done but great software comes from iterative feedback from real-world experiences. We are actively building new features, but we need more feedback from users to determine the direction CiviVolunteer will eventually take.” Check out the CiviVolunteer demo.

Helping Community Organizers Leverage CiviCRM
I had the pleasure of getting to know Tomás Aguilar, PowerBase Trainer and Support Specialist at Progressive Technology Project based in Austin. He shared, “This was my first time attending the NPDev Summit, and I was very impressed with both the conference and the attendees. I learned a lot about relevant uses of technology, new tech tools as well as new ways to protect your data. I also shared how grassroots organizations are using PowerBase/CiviCRM to make their organizing, advocacy and fundraising much stronger. We at Progressive Technology Project have customized CiviCRM to support community organizing activities such as tracking canvassing efforts, creating events, sending mass communications and tracking fundraising efforts. We offer ongoing webinars and in-person trainings to support PowerBase and CiviCRM users.”

It was great to meet Civi colleagues from Palante Tech, Glocal, Open Flows Network, and Cividesk. I also met staff from Electronic Frontier Foundation, who are at the forefront of net neutrality issues. They announced at the summit that they will be working to set up a new certificate authority (CA) that will provide website owners with free SSL/TLS certificates.

The NPDev Summit was a great way for me to learn more about nonprofit tech and CiviCRM issues. During the summit, we had volunteer notetakers for all the sessions, so even if you didn’t attend, you can take a look at all the session notes. Also check out Dirk Slater's blog post about what he learned at the NPDev Summit.