CiviCRM: Software Built and Sustained by Community


CiviCRM was founded nearly a decade ago with the goal of building free and open source constituent relationship management software that offers nonprofits the tools they need to build and sustain relationships with their constituents. From the beginning we believed that this was best achieved using an open source model based on community and collaboration.

Today, nonprofits use CiviCRM for everything from fundraising and coordination of volunteers, to e-communications, event management, membership programs, and advocacy campaigns. CiviCRM has been translated by a globally distributed group of volunteers into over 20 languages, and the huge and growing CiviCRM community — now over 15,000 members strong — helps generate the software’s development roadmap from the ground up. Despite having no marketing department, and a full-time “core team” of only six, CiviCRM is now used by more than 10,000 organizations around the world.


Donald Lobo, one of the project’s founders, received the Pizzigati Prize for Software in the Public Interest at the 14NTC. In accepting the prize he said, “We see CiviCRM, the project and the software, as an important part of the movement for social change. We aim to help organizers do their job more effectively and passionately, with tools they can love and share,” and ultimately this helps to build a better and more just world.

Why open source?

As Donald said at the 14NTC: “The core principles of open source and the nonprofit ecosystem are closely related to the concepts of equality, justice, and mass organization (which are central to the nonprofit ecosystem). Community building at the grassroots level is analogous to community building in open source projects. Collaboration between various nonprofits to achieve larger goals is in the same spirit as collaboration between various teams to make a stronger project.”

From the inception of the project, we felt that open source development was the right fit for nonprofit software – both ideologically and economically. Since then, that idea has become a demonstrated reality. In his keynote address at CiviCon London this past fall, Thomas Muirhead, Head of Digital & CRM at Leukemia & Lymphoma Research (LLR) spoke passionately about why LLR chose to use an open source platform. “We can work with other charities to build functionality together,” said Muirhead. “This is one of the strongest arguments for open source generally – why are we all paying for the same software to be built when we could pay for it once together!”

Meet the community

Participants in the CiviCRM community come from organizations that range from major NGOs like Amnesty International, UNESCO, and the Wikimedia Foundation, to the smallest of nonprofits. Some of the more recognizable names include: the Electronic Frontier Foundation, New York State Senate, New York Public Advocates Office, Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, United Methodist Church, Urban League, and many more. On the other end of the spectrum, local arts and education organizations like Bay Area Children’s Theater, Youth Orchestra of Bucks County, Madison Planetarium, Education Outside, and outLoud Radio are both users and active members of the CiviCRM community. In line with our overall mission, we are committed to keeping the software useful and usable for organizations of all sizes.

Our vibrant community is perhaps even more diverse in the backgrounds of our members. Despite difference in beliefs, economic background, gender, sexual orientation, and technical skills – we’ve managed to build an atmosphere of respect, cooperation, generosity, and kindness which permeates both online and in-person gatherings.

To get a better understanding of how this all works, below are excerpts from our community about why they devote their precious time and energy to growing and improving the platform.

Frank Gomez of Ginkgo Labs, blogged after attending a week-long community volunteer “sprint”:

“Represented at the sprint were the United Kingdom, Canada, India, Australia, Belgium, Germany, the United States, and Spain. English, Spanish, French, and Hindi flowed freely through the corridors. Ages ranged from 20-something to 60-something. Among us were end-users, documenters, implementors, developers, and various sorts of ‘tweeners. Core team, consultant, and nonprofit staffer sat elbow-to-elbow around the same tangle of Ethernet cables. 

Rather than factionalize [the] group, this diversity propelled us forward. Working together gave us a more complete picture of the problems we’re all trying to solve. In the end, I’d say the best thing we built at the London code sprint was community.”

Joanne Chester of the Australian Breastfeeding Association, also attended the recent sprint – using her vacation time to travel all the way to the United Kingdom. Following this experience, she said:

“[I’ve taken on] revamping the developer section of the documentation wiki. Others will need to review the technical content but I can provide a ‘new to developing in Civi’ perspective on its structure.

CiviCRM is a great product, and the active involvement of individuals in the community helps make it a product that is great to use. More people involved leads to a stronger community which ultimately leads to a better CiviCRM.” Joanne will also be joining CiviCRM in California next month for the next sprint.


Carlos Capote of Amnesty International Spain wrote in the blog post, What Being a Member of the CiviCRM Community Means to Me:

“Now that we are CiviCRM users, I love being part of this very active and engaged community. I’m still a new member of the community, but I’ve already seen how some of my problems were solved by other community members even before I realized that I had them! 

Now, the challenge is to give something back to the community by trying to solve my problems in a good way, a way that benefits the whole community. I believe that you start taking advantage of CiviCRM when you start thinking that your needs are not only yours. At the CiviCRM Community, that’s the general attitude. If one has a problem, one looks for a general solution that can also be useful to others. Everybody benefits from everybody’s contributions, inspiring philosophy, isn’t it?”

As Donald noted at the NTC, “we wanted to build a community and a self-sustaining ecosystem, and we’re well on our way of getting there.”

If you’re interesting in experiencing the community first-hand and learning more about the project, consider joining us at the CiviCRM Discovery Sessions and CiviCon 2014 on April 23-25th in Berkeley, CA. You can find out about local CiviCRM community meetups by subscribing to our newsletter or visiting our upcoming events page.

About the author: 

Dave Greenberg has 30+ years of experience in the application software, electronic commerce, and banking industries. Prior to joining, Dave was a senior consultant to where he lead the product design effort for their online donation and email broadcast services, as well as the customer billing systems. Dave has a masters degree in social work, and began his career as a psychiatric counselor in the San Francisco Community Mental Health system. In his personal life, he is particularly passionate about economic, gender, and marriage equality – and loves supporting all the amazing work done by members of the CiviCRM community.

David Greenberg
Co-founder and Project Manager
Dave has 25 years of experience in the application software, electronic commerce and banking industries. Prior to joining Social Source Foundation, Mr. Greenberg was a senior consultant to where he lead the product design effort for their online donation and email broadcast services, as well as the customerbilling systems.