The CiviCRM Cookbook by Tony Horrocks
CiviCRM is a powerful Constituent Relationship Management system. Whilst other CRMs, usually dubbed “Client Relationship Management” systems, are geared to the needs of commercial organisations, CiviCRM has been created with charities, non-profits and public sector organisations in mind. As a result, CiviCRM is much more approachable and a good choice for organisations that deal with members, donations, stakeholders and campaigns, rather than with customers, clients, leads and sales.
CiviCRM is Open Source software and – unlike other CRMs – it needs to be installed on top of one of the big three Open Source Content Management Systems (CMS) – Drupal, Joomla! or WordPress. This can allow back office functionality to be integrated with an organisation’s public facing website, to enable website users to sign up to newsletters, edit their own contact data, book for events or leave donations – data that is then recorded in CiviCRM.
Once installed, CiviCRM can be infinitely customisable and flexible, given the right technical know-how. Tony Horrock’s new book “CiviCRM Cookbook” seeks to present some of that know-how in a concise and approachable way.
Aside from the very useful documentation and community resources provided on the CiviCRM website, few books or manuals have appeared so far to offer practical guidance to new users of CiviCRM. “Using CiviCRM” by Joseph Murray and Brian Shaughnessy, also published by Packt, offers a comprehensive and length guide that takes the reader through from first steps of deciding on CRM requirements and data structures, through installation and set up of CiviCRM, and on to customisation and more complex tasks. This book can be useful for those deciding whether CiviCRM is right for them, and provides a solid and linear approach to establishing Civi as your CRM of choice.
The “CiviCRM Cookbook”, on the other hand, assumes the user has already installed Civi, and is ready to get cooking! Indeed, Horrocks’ book is presented much like a cookery book, giving a range a enticing, bite-sized recipes for achieving some practical objectives in CiviCRM. While “Using CiviCRM” limited its case studies to one fictitious, and often unhelpful, example of usage – in a food bank cooperative – the CiviCRM Cookbook gives a wide array of examples of potential real world usage of CiviCRM – in sports clubs, arts organisations, political parties – and as a result it feels more approachable to a wider readership.
As a British reader, I also found the examples given in this book more familiar than some of the examples of CiviCRM usage in the US given in the earlier book. And as a CiviCRM integrator, I found myself repeatedly thinking “Yes – that would be a great resource to implement for X client”. The Cookbook gives food for thought for what is achievable in CiviCRM in a practical and approachable way.
The recipes in the book are divided into sections, so the reader can dip in and start using recipes quickly. Chapter 2 “Organising data efficiently” gives some great tips on automating the process of cleaning data as you import it into CiviCRM. Chapter 3 gives some powerful and practical examples of work with Profiles – a hugely important but often confusing aspect of CiviCRM.
Other chapters on controlling permissions for users accessing CiviCRM, managing communications and reporting all offer quick wins for taking Civi to the next level. The last chapter looks at taking Civi into a development environment and gets down and dirty with the API, and is the CiviCRM equivalent of cooking soufflé or baked Alaska – it’s not for the faint of heart!
One limitation of the book is its focus on Drupal as its chosen Content Management System to underpin CiviCRM. This is not so much a criticism of the book, but a reflection of the state of integration between CiviCRM and these CMS platforms at this point in time. CiviCRM was implemented on Drupal CMS first, and so integrations with this platform and its sophisticated user access levels and ‘Views’ are much more fully developed than those with Joomla! and WordPress at the time of writing. However, it would be useful to see this book extended in future to document recipes that harness integration with these other CMS platforms as they are developed by the community.
That said, around two thirds of the recipes given in the book relate directly to the core CiviCRM software, and are therefore platform agnostic – you’ll be able to use most of these recipes if you’re working on Joomla! or WordPress platforms, which I’m sure most people will be in time, given the relative complexity of adopting Drupal as a CMS.
If you choose to use CiviCRM, you will find a recipe in the CiviCRM Cookbook to inspire and impress.