Managing a Multifaceted Membership Structure with CiviCRM

The Women’s Fund of Santa Barbara (WFSB) is a collective donor group that enables women to combine their charitable donations into significant grants focused on the critical needs of women, children and families in Santa Barbara. The organization is run exclusively by a team of volunteers.

Cividesk spoke with Mary Garton, Susan Robeck and Julie Capritto about making the transition to CiviCRM and how this solution has changed the way they manage their organization.

Before using CiviCRM, the Women’s Fund had a customized CMS system and also used Excel spreadsheets to store data. But there were limitations to the system: they couldn’t manage contributions, events or memberships, and they didn’t have a way of accepting online payments. The team of volunteers decided it was time to make a change to a new system that could better meet their needs in the areas of tracking memberships, contributions and managing events.
They researched different systems but none of them could handle their multifaceted membership structure. This complexity led them to consider a custom system combined with a WordPress website. However, after discussions with a WordPress provider, they realized they couldn’t get the results they wanted going this route. After more research and speaking with community members who had similar needs, they found CiviCRM and began a comparison of several service providers, including Cividesk. Ultimately, it came down to the choice of signing up for the monthly CiviCRM hosting and support services of Cividesk or going with a local company who could design a custom database. They decided to go with a monthly service provider supporting CiviCRM rather than pay a lump sum to a consultant for a custom system.

The implementation of CiviCRM was a bit challenging since the Women’s Fund membership structure is based on donation amounts in order to designate correct voting privileges to members, whether the donation is made by an individual or by a group. Each membership group has a captain who is in charge of contacting those in their group to encourage membership donations.

Julie Capritto volunteers her time to handle membership and contributions for the organization and worked to prepare their data for import. This preparation included many discussions with the team about which data was truly important to the organization and how much data legacy should be maintained. Her goal was to keep the data simple and clean, but incorporate the key information that the organization needed. She spent time constructing an Excel document based on advice from Cividesk to ensure that they would get off to a good start with CiviCRM.

On their side, Cividesk spent quite a bit of time discussing the membership structure with the Women’s Fund to fully understand how it could be properly recorded and tracked in CiviCRM. Because the Women’s Fund doesn’t track membership dues, but rather donation amounts, Cividesk developed a custom program to accurately store the membership data and record the corresponding contributions. As part of the set-up process, Cividesk provided initial trainings and weekly mentoring sessions for several months to answer any questions. “That was fabulous”, stated Mary. “I don’t know what we would have done without that. That was above and beyond what was outlined in the initial contract”.

Julie describes CiviCRM as a huge improvement from their old system. “It’s just much faster and easier to use”. The Women’s Fund has over 650 members (individuals, group members or both) and conducts a contribution growth campaign each year to encourage existing members to increase their renewal contributions. They now can easily access data on how many members have taken the campaign and from which groups thanks to CiviCRM.
Accepting online credit card payments is another huge benefit for the organization. Since the integration of a payment processor with CiviCRM, they have seen a significant increase in the number of credit card payments as compared to checks and EFT. “Many people just prefer paying online with a credit card”, explained Julie “and we wanted to improve the membership sign-up experience”. The Women’s Fund is preparing to send out membership renewal reminders through CiviCRM and knows this will help facilitate that task. They also use many of the existing reporting features and will have Cividesk develop some custom reports. Julie emphasized that “using CiviCRM has allowed the organization to focus on their real objective of getting new members rather than spending hours on administrative tasks”.

Susan and Mary are in charge of communications and events for the organization. They find using CiviMail easy and convenient and have sent out many announcements since they started using it in January. They regularly use the CiviEvent module to create online event registration pages. They like the ability to track participants and to have thank you notes sent automatically to attendees. They were “thrilled” to use CiviCampaign to create petitions to gather feedback from group captains regarding recent changes in the meeting structure. They had a very good response to this online petition and will continue using this module in the future.

Another major benefit of CiviCRM for us, shared Susan, is the ability to be anywhere as administrators and have access to the database, “it’s really great, we can be on the phone together working and looking at data in CiviCRM”. The organization has also worked to create good policies around who can make changes to the data, since data cleanliness and integrity are extremely important to them. The volunteers at the Women’s Fund share the common goal of maximizing the benefits of CiviCRM and their vigilance in learning and using different modules is commendable and a great testimony to how this tool can improve the daily functions of a non-profit organization.

There are many benefits, but there are also challenges to using a new system. “We are still learning and want to be doing more in CiviCRM”, explained Mary. “It takes time to learn how to do things and learn new terminology. The staff are regular attendees of CiviTips, short continuing education sessions that Cividesk offers to their clients that focus on a different CiviCRM topic. Right now it seems like it takes a long time for certain tasks, but we know it will get faster as we go along.” That said, no one from the organization has regretted diving in and rolling up their sleeves to learn CiviCRM. As Julie noted, “with any solution there are always little quirks, but we’ve been extremely happy with CiviCRM and Cividesk’s services.