I work for a very small UK-based homeless charity. We work alongside a similar organisation, and are looking to share information on a cloud based database. I work from home on a Mac, and the other charity work from an office on PCs.

What we want from a database is -

  • to be able to each of us access it at any given time from our own machines (mixed OS and location)
  • to record basic client information such as name, age, gender etc and also reasons for homelessness, case outcomes, blacklisted clients etc
  • to access simple reports for the purposes of these applications

Currently this information is held on an Microsoft Excel spreadsheet.

I also apply for various grants and funding, hence the requirement for reports.

Do you think that Civicrm would meet our requirements?


  • Welcome to CiviCRM StackExchange & thanks for posting here! I've submitted an edit to this question to better fit StackExchange's Q&A format (more question/answer, less opinion), hopefully this will help you get better answers. Apr 14, 2015 at 22:59

5 Answers 5


Yes. Specifically:

  • CiviCRM is a web-app and therefore works equally well on OS X and Windows.
  • CiviCRM has a case-management feature which incidentally was originally designed for homelessness services.
  • There is a grant tracking feature but this is intended for organizations giving grants not receiving them. However CiviCase may be adequate for your grant tracking needs.
  • Information like "reason for homelessness" can be stored in custom fields - you can create as many of these as you need.
  • You can import records to CiviCRM from spreadsheets (specifically from the .csv format, which Excel can save as)

You might consider avoiding the the server setup and maintenance tasks by using a specialized CiviCRM hosting provider:



CiviCRM will cover your needs and more.

As a web-based application it is available to any authorised user with a browser and a connection.

I would encourage you to read through the the section of the online user guide at http://book.civicrm.org/user/current/getting-prepared/is-civicrm-for-you/ which you may find helpful.

My only concern here is that CiviCRM - much as I love working with it - may be too powerful/feature-rich/complex for your "very small charity", and that you might end up spending more time and or money than you need to right now.

My advice would be to talk to one of the professional implementers (people like me) - here's a relevant list to get a better assessment of what you need to be able to achieve, and whether the cost benefit of CiviCRM is a good fit for your organisation.


I'm sorry, but I have to be a bit of a downer here. I also work / collaborate with a small NGO called Engineers Without Borders Galicia. I have a college degree in computer engineering so I'm quite tech-savvy.

I'm currently migrating our system also from an excel spreadsheet to CiviCRM, so I'm doing what you plan to do. And here is my experience :

  • CiviCRM is, at best , in beta status. I'm sorry to say it, but it's got quite a few bugs. And the support is not exactly big.
  • Documentation needs A LOT of improvement. And I really mean A LOT. It's not easy for a CiviCRM newbie and I have found that in many cases it was outdated or it was directly wrong.
  • You are going to need a server to put CiviCRM. Bare in mind that it's a fixed cost in money every month. Yeah, it's gonna provide you a much powerful tool than an excel spreadsheet, but it comes at a cost.
  • If you have to configure everything in the server (installing apache, mysql, php and then configure all of them) that it's certainly not an easy task. You better know what you are doing or hire someone that knows what he/she is doing.

And finally my conclusion.... GIVE IT A CHANCE. Even with all the criticism I have with CiviCRM I'm not giving up on this project. My organization (and me personally) is a firm believer in free software. If some things are wrong (and they are) free software gives us a chance to improve them. And I'm willing to help.

Please take this criticism as a constructive way of improving.

Iván Lago

  • 1
    Hi Iván - sounds like you are having some pain in getting CiviCRM set up. It's a complex application and so there are bugs. I guess that's true of all software to a degree. In terms of the currency and comprehensiveness of the documentation, as it looks like you are using version 4.6 (which has only been released a very short while), the documentation is yet to catch up with that version. I'm a contributor to the documentation effort, and I haven't even spent more than an hour looking at 4.6 yet. And for the server, there are great low cost off the shelf solutions available.
    – Graham
    Apr 15, 2015 at 10:50
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    I would definitely not recommend for anyone to setup and manage their own web server unless they have very good reasons to do so, and the resources. There are plenty of reasonably priced hosting providers who support CiviCRM: civicrm.org/providers/hosting
    – Hershel
    Apr 15, 2015 at 12:13
  • 1
    We have our own server that also acts as NFS file server. We have the people to manage it , including some peple with a PhD in computer engineering. And most importantly, it's going to have some bank and personal information and there is no way I'm putting that info in anyone's servers. No way. But I do agree with you: it's advisable in most cases to outsource the hosting. Apr 15, 2015 at 12:26
  • 1
    This is valuable feedback (and I look forward to seeing it become even more valuable action) but I wonder if this belongs in a separate post on the forums or wiki, as it does not directly answer any of Liz's questions, nor does it necessarily apply to her situation.
    – Coleman
    Apr 15, 2015 at 14:33
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    @ivan - I'd have to challenge the point "CiviCRM is, at best , in beta status. I'm sorry to say it, but it's got quite a few bugs. And the support is not exactly big." It is very very mature but each release can have bugs. If you look at the issue tracker, you can see they are addressed. As for support, I think there is plenty available, but you either need to pay for it or earn in by contributing back - many people make the mistake that open-source=free. It does not. May 28, 2015 at 15:40

CiviCRM has precisely everything that you wrote. You can export your data from Excel in CSV format and import into CiviCRM.

Then all the features you need are built in.

  • That's great thanks. Is it ok to use CiviCRM on a Mac and can it be accessed on the Cloud?
    – LIZ
    Apr 14, 2015 at 16:14
  • 2
    CiviCRM is web-based, so it must be installed on a web server. Once it's set up at your choice of URL, everyone can access it from any device that has a web browser: Mac, Windows, iPad, etc. Get a web hosting plan and install CiviCRM at the URL of your choice. Or hire someone to do it for you!
    – LunkRat
    Apr 14, 2015 at 16:23
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    Factor in the costs of ongoing hosting and timely upgrades. Your organisation's handling of personal data for at-risk clients gives you legal obligations here (which also apply to your in-house Excel spreadsheet). I recommend investigating professional CiviCRM hosting options OR a consultant over self-hosting. Apr 14, 2015 at 23:04

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