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Book Reviews

Book Review: Using CiviCRM 38

Hershel Robinson writes "A new book released by Packt Publishing called Using CiviCRM defines CiviCRM as 'a web-based, open source Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) system, designed specifically to meet the needs of advocacy, non-profit and non-governmental organizations.' What is not mentioned in this definition is that CiviCRM is a large and complex package with a wealth of features--the rest of this book deals with discovering and explaining how to use them." Read below for the rest of Hershel's review.
Using CiviCRM
author Joseph Murray and Brian Shaughnessy
pages 464
publisher Packt Publishing
rating 9/10
reviewer Hershel Robinson
ISBN 1849512264
summary All about CiviCRM and how to use it
Initiated by a small team around the year 2005, CiviCRM runs as a module for either Drupal or Joomla!. Knowledge of one of these CMS's is not strictly necessary to use CiviCRM, although if one wants to integrate "client-facing" aspects of CiviCRM into his public websites, that would involve the CMS.

As noted, CiviCRM itself, however, is a complicated and feature-rich package. In my opinion, the basic features are not difficult to use and in my experience, a somewhat tech-savvy laymen can make use of them without trouble. For users with less experience and knowledge with computers, however, even basic tasks may require training, and for most any lay-user, understanding the more advanced features will involve training and/or self-study.

While there is an online book, and an excellent wiki called CiviCRM Documentation available already, >Using CiviCRM makes learning CiviCRM easier. The two advantages I can see are that first, it is more in-depth in many areas than the other two resources, and secondly, many people will undoubtedly appreciate the ease of use of a traditional, printed book that they can open on their desk as they work online.

The authors, Joseph Murray and Brian Shaughnessy, bring to their book talent, years of experience working with CiviCRM and a dedication to explain and clarify virtually every aspect of CiviCRM. Both are well-regarded as knowledgeable professionals by the CiviCRM team and the community and are active supporters of the project.

Overall, the book is in-depth and covers all relevant subject areas for a person interested in learning about CiviCRM and using it. The layout and formatting are clean and the prose flows smoothly. As noted in the introduction and preface, both the official CiviCRM team had some involvement in this book, as well as other prominent members of the community.

Beginning with broad issues such as what a CRM is and why an NPO needs one, the book even gives fair space to other CRM tools, pointing out differences of each and outlining in what situations CiviCRM might be the best choice. This broad introduction includes such issues as third-party feedback regarding CiviCRM, total cost of ownership, documentation, community, and the unique hosting requirements of CiviCRM. The introductory section end with a review of the various stages in the life of any software package usage scenario. First is the planning stage, including hardware, software and personnel etc, and then the initial installation and basic configuration.

Next the book goes through each major functional section of CiviCRM, such as working with Contacts, importing data, mass email, fundraising, memberships, event management, case management, grant management and reporting.

These chapters are of course the main part of the book, and will most probably be the most used. The authors go to lengths to present each various feature of CiviCRM in depth, discussing only best practices (i.e. without shortcuts that can later cause problems), and with real-life examples. The book uses an approach of maintaining two unique case studies throughout the entire work, showing how these two organizations felt a need for various features and then how they actually implemented them.

The last chapter closes the book with a discussion of customization, the CiviCRM community, and looking towards the future, in particular with regard to future versions of CiviCRM.

The book appears to somewhat be geared towards a dual audience. The bulk of the book is perfect for a typical (if there is one) NPO staff member who is not an IT professional, yet needs to use a CRM. Such a person is taken step by step through all the various tasks he needs to perform, complete with examples and screenshots of the various pages involved. Many sections, however, are quite technical and seem only relevant to someone already somewhat knowledgeable in IT, including Linux, PHP, MySQL etc. These sections, such as installation and configuration, including setting up cron jobs, appear geared towards an IT support department or individual.

Even in the non-technical sections, technical points (such as how to use Drupal hooks or how to find certain data directly in the database) are occasionally thrown in. This may be a drawback of this book, as some readers may be confused or even scared by technical jargon and concepts with which they are not familiar.

Hopefully, most readers will not be bothered by such--there is no doubt that a beginner or even mid-level user of CiviCRM will gain a wealth of knowledge from this book. With 464 pages, it can well be used as a textbook, to read cover to cover and learn all about CiviCRM, and then be kept as a reference tool when dealing with the details of any particular area.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about CiviCRM, or anyone wanting to learn how to better utilize the tools it provides.

Hershel Robinson is a long-term member of the CiviCRM community, runs a specialty hosting business for CiviCRM hosting called CiviHosting, and is also a freelance web developer specializing in Drupal and CiviCRM development.

You can purchase Using CiviCRM from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.


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Book Review: Using CiviCRM

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  • by CarsonChittom ( 2025388 ) on Friday May 13, 2011 @03:20PM (#36121308) Homepage

    Seriously, is nobody publishing books other than Packt?

    • It's kinda like "herbal viagra" and penis enlargement spam, but targeting slashdotters - so books that are useless crap rather than pharmaceuticals that are...

      Pretty soon it'll be:
      p4ck7 b00kz 4 ubah c*o*m*p*u*t*e*r skillz!

    • Re:Packt (Score:4, Informative)

      by MarkvW ( 1037596 ) on Friday May 13, 2011 @03:48PM (#36121600)

      The better question: Is anybody submitting reviews for books not published by Packt?

    • The interesting thing is what Packt achieves with these reviews. I'm stating this as if they were buying the reviewers (which is a likely possibility) and this is exactly the problem. Whenever I'll see two books on the same topic - one from Packt and one from another publisher - I'll pick the other one. Because somewhere in the back of my head I'll always think "Yeah, that's Packt. They need to buy all those reviews; therefore their books must be crap."
      • Oh it's more than a possibility. They have a guy on Amazon who does nothing but review Packt books and conveniently every single review is 5 stars.

  • Ok too much (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    This is not news for nerds, this is a paid ad for PACKT publishing.

    Really, who gives a fuck about a book on some goofy RESTful web api?

    I, for one, am boycotting this Packt outfit (which is easy to do, their books are terrible, transparent attempts to monetize info easily obtained for free). A handful of google searches, and liberal use of CTRL+c and CTRL+v do not make you a real tech publisher.

    Slashdot really should show some fucking integrity at some point.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Slashdot really should show some fucking integrity at some point.

      It's been like 14 years, so I wouldn't hold my breath on that one.

    • by Ruke ( 857276 )
      Slashdot is a business. This is how they make money. From Slashdot's point of view, all of the other stories are posted to bring in enough traffic that they can guarantee readers for their Packt advertisements. A "more honest" slashdot would skip the middle man, and just be advertisements.
      • What ever happened to that rumbling about making it a law that these scumbags had to identify paid advertisements as such?

  • Hershel Robinson is a long-term member of the CiviCRM community, runs a specialty hosting business for CiviCRM hosting called CiviHosting, and is also a freelance web developer specializing in Drupal and CiviCRM development.

    Sounds like the perfect candidate to write an honest, hard-hitting book review :)

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The CiviCRM is too small. I went with the AccorDRM.

    • The CiviCRM is too small. I went with the AccorDRM.

      Hmm... Bigger's not always better, let's see...

      # ll /usr/bin/civicRM /usr/bin/accorDRM
      -rw-r--r-- 1 root root 1372737 2011-01-27 16:45 /usr/bin/civicRM
      -rw-r--r-- 1 root root 8675309 2011-03-22 12:00 /usr/bin/accorDRM

      # civiCRM

      CiviCRM -- A free utility to remove you from your Civic(tm).

      Usage: civicRM [options] make [model] [year]
      Warning: can not find libeject-seat.so, may cause unexpected results.

      # accorDRM

      AccorDRM v1.6.66: Digital Restriction Management Suite for
      authorization of user space

  • by conner_bw ( 120497 ) * on Friday May 13, 2011 @03:31PM (#36121448) Journal

    The goal of this letter is to bring about the demise of Packt's foolish musings just as Charter 77 brought about the demise of communism in Czechoslovakia. What follows is a set of observations I have made about ill-natured nabobs of collectivism. The mindless zombies who believe Packt's mendacious story that it should palliate and excuse the atrocities of its foot soldiers because "it's the right thing to do" are also the people most likely to bad-mouth worthy causes. Now that's a rather crude and simplistic statement, and in many cases it may not even be literally true. But there is a sense in which it is generally true, a sense in which it unmistakably expresses how you don't have to say anything specifically about Packt for it to start attacking you. All you have to do is dare to imply that we should provide some balance to its one-sided monographs.

    The following theorem may therefore be established as an eternally valid truth: Packt says that the worst types of mean-spirited criminal masterminds there are should be given absolute authority to carry out "preventive operations" (that means "targeted killings") against its rivals. That's a stupid thing to say. It's like saying that it can change its neo-malicious ways. If you want a better opportunity to get a job, raise a family in a safe neighborhood, have a better chance at a good education, and lower the taxes on the money you earn, then I ask that you help me contribute to the intellectual and spiritual health of the body politic. The fact that Packt and its devotees are the most snarky urban guerrillas you can imagineâ"and even then, only in your worst nightmaresâ"is particularly striking because I deeply believe that it's within our grasp to disabuse Packt of the notion that diseases can be defeated not through standard medical research but through the creation of a new language, one that does not stigmatize certain groups and behaviors. Be grateful for this first and last tidbit of comforting news. The rest of this letter will center around the way that if Packt thinks that we can trust it not to palm off our present situation as the compelling ground for worldwide stoicism then maybe it should lay off the wacky tobacky.

    In spite of all Packt has done, I must admit I really like the organization. No, just kidding. The truth is that Packt is a serial exaggerator. If I were to be less kind, I'd say it's a liar. Either way, Packt's secret passion is to exert more and more control over other individuals. For shame!

    Packt keeps saying that every word that leaves its mouth is teeming with useful information. This is exemplary of the nonsensical rhetoric and scaremongering that typifies the language of sappy smart alecks and other self-satisfied recidivists. Quite frankly, Packt would have us believe that it's morally obligated to enable the worst sorts of uppity cozeners there are to punch above their weight. To be honest, it has never actually said that explicitly, but if you follow its logicâ"what little there isâ"you'll see that this is its real point. Packt's bait-and-switch tactics are propaganda to the point of comedy and are so easily refuted as to render them useless even as such. This implies that Packt wants to feed information from sources inside the government to organizations with particularly fatuitous agendas. Why it wants that, I don't know, but that's what it wants.

    Let's all keep our fingers crossed that Packt doesn't turn peaceful gatherings into embarrassing scandals. Don't be intimidated by Packt's threat to make my worst nightmares come true. Think about that for a minute. Let it sink in. It should soon become clear that Packt's advocates tend to fall into the mistaken belief that public opinion is a reliable indicator of what's true and what isn't, mainly because they live inside a Packt-generated illusion world and talk only with each other. Let me sum up. Anyone who values liberty should be seriously concerned about Packt's benighted litanies.

    • by bmo ( 77928 )


      Dijon vu. I have tasted this mustard before.

      I didn't think the flame generator still existed. You got a URL for that?


  • Another Packt 'review' .. seriously???

    Call me when Slashdot posts a worthwhile review, that is is not paid for by Packt.

  • Some of you may not know this, but CiviCRM is used extensively by non-profit organizations. Maybe some other non-profit organizations looking for a similar solution might be interested in this product, because it's free and works quite well. Maybe they might be interested in reading a review about this product. But all I see here are people irritated that /. is letting people know about a for-profit book on a free service that many people might find useful. Pretty sad.
    • by Desler ( 1608317 )

      No one is against the product itself just the crappy Packt books that are constantly being shilled for on this site.

    • It's not the message, it's the messenger. Packt is here at least once a week now (at least they've found someone else besides Rick Wagner to bribe for the reviews), and the reviews are almost always telling us how wonderful the book is.

      No, it's not that we have a problem with CiviCRM; nor that we have a problem with a review being posted to Slashdot about the same.

      No, the problem here is that we rarely see reviews that aren't for new hot-off-the-presses Packt books. The problem is that almost every si

  • by Chris Mattern ( 191822 ) on Friday May 13, 2011 @03:58PM (#36121674)

    Because I'm getting tired of all these Packt shills.

  • Why the hell are these still showing up here? I'm fairly confident nobody is upvoting them in firehose, they get minimal comments (half of which are complaining about Packt and shills, and valid complaints they are)... so what gives?
  • I'm adding Book Reviews to the list of article categories that don't show up for me. Idle just got some company.
  • Spam spam spam spam, wonderful spaaam!

When you are working hard, get up and retch every so often.