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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.

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Book Review: Using CiviCRM

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