CiviCRM v Hosted CRMs: Why hosted CRMs are better suited for campaigns

By Henri Makembe on 07.23.10

A few weeks ago, Riche Zamor, Principal of SocialContxt, penned two guest posts (hereand here) offering CiviCRM as an alternative to hosted CRMs. In his posts Riche sets realistic expectations for organizations and campaigns seriously considering using CiviCRM. For the most part, I agree with Riche. My only point of contention is that campaigns, especially local and small campaigns, should really go with the hosted CRMs. I reached that conclusion for the following reasons:

Set-up time

Downloading, installing and configuring CiviCRM to meet the needs of a campaign can be rather time consuming. Moreover, setting up CivirCRM the wrong way can result into restarting the installation and configuration process entirely. This is a waste of time and can be a very frustrating experience. In the middle of grueling campaign season, very few campaigns have staff and resources to afford this. On the other  hand, many of the leading providers of hosted CRMs can be setup and ready for use within 24 hours (the time it takes for your DNS to propagate). Most, if not all, the serve side configuration can occur with very little input from the campaign (they may need to provide their URL).

Just-in-time patches

Secondly, no matter how great a piece of software is, it will break. Sometimes it doesn’t behave like promised; other times it doesn’t behave expected or intended and most times unforeseen use cases come up. Companies providing hosted CRMs have systems and method of communications in place to address such situation all hours of day. Most will work with a campaign to provide a temporary solution to a problem while they work to implement a more permanent solution, which they will deploy live as soon as it’s tested. While the CiviCRM may be very active and responsive developer community, this type of attention and service cannot be counted on.

Native Integration with third party campaign software

Thirdly, leading providers for hosted CRM for campaigns have native integration with must-have campaign software like NGP and VAN. Moreover, developers and project managers at each of these firm have develop mutually beneficial and cordial relationships which allow them to work through quirks change changes in their respective software much faster than an open source developer to would.

Customer service

Lastly, very few campaigns are tech savvy enough and comfortable with technology to forgo the handholding that many of the hosted CRMs firms provide. Being able to contact an individual to ask questions or to use as sounding board or a scapegoat is simply a safety net that most campaign managers are not ready to part with. Rightly or wrongly, that is current state of affairs when it comes to technology and campaigns.

Again, Riche is right to recommend CiviCRM as an alternative for hosted CRMs. However, I believe that only organizations with the capacity, technical know how, and time to plan and implement database solutions should truly consider it an option. Campaigns, especially local ones, lack all three pre-requisites, which is why I recommend they go with hosted CRM package. If you disagree, please  share your opinion in the comments.

Full Disclosure: I’m currently employed at Blue State Digital, provider of hosted CRM solution to campaigns, non-profits and corporations.