I am the director and only employee of a nonprofit with 2500 members. The president of our Board has set up a modest website hosted on GoDaddy, and now expects me to implement a membership database in CiviCRM, including online membership registrations with multiple levels, mass emailings, events including discounts for purchasing tickets for an entire series, etc. Our membership information is currently in a 20-year-old product called Alpha5 that is no longer supported, and the need to adopt a new database is becoming more urgent as the only computer that holds our current system is getting flaky. We have no money to hire consultants, and in fact I think the main benefit my Board president sees is that the CiviCRM product is free. I am a skilled computer user but I am not a developer. I am a half-time employee whose work day is more than filled with other tasks. My sense is that CiviCRM is more than I can manage, and that even if I got it started, it would be very difficult when I retire in a couple years to find a staff person at half-time low pay who would be able to continue using and supporting it as needs change. I would appreciate a reality check from you people who are working with CiviCRM. Would you recommend this product for a busy administrative person who is an expert Word and Excel user, with some Access experience, who has never built a website or used Drupal or Wordpress, written SQL, or programmed anything but Visual Basic?

4 Answers 4


Good question.

In broad terms I'd agree with the answer from William, with some reservations. To answer your question: "Can CiviCRM be implemented by a nondeveloper with limited time?" I would say yes, and to do so will take some learning and a good deal of trial and error, so if time is limited, don't expect to be able to get up and running in a few hours.

I'd say that your skill set is really helpful, but you would need to plan to build on that.

You have a number of challenges there: not least getting the data you need out of your old system and into a new one.

You current hosting with GoDaddy is unlikely to be friendly to CiviCRM, so you need to plan to move to a better specified hosting platform that will give you fewer (and ideally no) issues.

And of course you'll need to get CiviCRM suitably configured and customised to meet the specific needs of your organisation.

Realistically, unless you are willing and able to put in a good chunk of time above and beyond what you have available, to learn how to do all this and then do it for real, you are not going to get a result.

Your board president needs to get real - a project like this in any context demands substantial dedicated time and resources, and it sounds from what you've written that they have not considered this.

My advice would be to get some expertise in to do the following tasks:

  1. Assess whether CiviCRM is the right product given your organisation's needs.
  2. Assuming that it is, to sort out suitable hosting and get Civi installed.
  3. Work with you to configure and customise Civi so that it works for your organisation.
  4. Ensure that you, and ideally at least one other person within the organisation, know how to use CiviCRM, so that you can cascade that learning to others.

These are one-off tasks that it makes sense to outsource unless you've got a pile of time on your hands (which you don't). If your organisation doesn't have the resources to fund this work, then it needs to find those resources, otherwise I would say you have a recipe for disaster.

Hope this helps.


Focussing on the two question marks first ;-)

Can CiviCRM be implemented by a non-developer with limited time?

Very much depends on 'what' you need the system to do, and what your abilities are in general. We have had clients who thanks to having an IT adept person having basically picked up the system and run with it, but there have been others who have struggled with seemingly simple concepts.

I think it may help if you could spell out what you need the system to do. Is it effectively a global 'address book' for the organisation, or will you be managing complex arrangements and work flows, such as case managing housing needs? How many people will be using the back end of the system and what will they need to do - eg will they need a simplified interface (such as Drupal Views and Webforms can provide) or will they be okay seeing 'everything' that CiviCRM has to offer (which can be mitigated by the permission settings of course)

Would you recommend this product for a busy administrative person who is an expert Word and Excel user, with some Access experience, who has never built a website or used Drupal or Wordpress, written SQL, or programmed anything but Visual Basic?

Mostly yes though it depends if you are also trying to take on 'installation' which I am not clear about. Perhaps that is something el presidente is going to undertake since they have 'set up' the website. Otherwise agree with other answers, get a hosted solution so that aspect is managed by experts.

Clearly you need something to manage your data. So the time it will take you to wrap your head around CiviCRM is time that would otherwise be spent spinning up some other system and workflows, even if that was purely Excel. And, in theory at least, CiviCRM will be easier for those who follow in your wake, than a plethora of excel/google sheets, and there will be a community to support them.

An expert Excel user combined who also has some knowledge of Access is beyond what many adminstrators who use CiviCRM have, and civi has been built for users without those skills sets by and large - certainly for what you get 'out of the box'.

Finally, there is a great community, and lack of budget is hopefully not a show-stopper. If you spell out what your projects 'mission' is you may find either a sympathetic 'expert' who will give you a hand via mentoring, or an organisation with similar usage who may also be able and willing to share their knowledge, and perhaps give you a demo of how they use their system.


Thanks for your interest in CiviCRM!

CiviCRM is a fantastic system for managing membership. However, it requires a reasonable degree of technical ability to install and maintain. It is much more complex than setting up a simple website for an organisation.

I would suggest that, in your case, you would be better off looking for a partner to set up and maintain the CiviCRM system for you. They will deal with all the technicalities for you and set up the system to meet your needs. Most importantly they will ensure that the data that you store on the system is kept secure.

To find a local partner: look at the CiviCRM partners page

Alternatively you could look for a hosted version of CiviCRM and set this up for yourself. This doesn't require technical understanding but will require you to spend some time learning how CiviCRM works.

For more information: read the manual

While CiviCRM is free in the sense that there is no license fee to pay, you will still need to budget for implementation, hosting and maintenance - both in terms of time and money. It is important to be realistic about this commitment before choosing any CRM system (not just CiviCRM). If you don't currently have the funds to pay for this I would suggest that you look for funding to cover these costs.


This is an interesting question without a simple answer.

A number of providers provide "Civi as a Service" for a subscription fee. That may be your best option, and will take care of the setup aspects. Configuring CiviCRM to do what you need is fairly easy, including the features you've mentioned.

With all software systems there is overhead to learn how to use it. My suggestion is bite the bullet and dive in.

If you're a non-profit, could you consider recruiting a volunteer to manage your CRM for you?

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