International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR-Net)

Using CiviCRM to Engage Global Members and
Promote Human Rights

An interview with the International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR-Net)

The International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR-Net) is a member-based network that connects NGO’s, social movements and advocates in more than 70 countries to create a global movement to make human rights and social justice a reality for all. Cividesk recently spoke with Thea Gelbspan, Membership and Solidarity Coordinator at ESCR-Net about how CiviCRM has improved the network’s communication with members and resulted in a strengthening of their organization at the global level.

Before the transition to CiviCRM, ESCR-Net did not have a comprehensive system of contact management for their data.They were using outdated Excel spreadsheets that contained some of their contacts, whereas other contacts were stored in staff’s email address books, in yahoo groups or on various computers.“Our data was decentralized including the most valuable information”, explained Thea, “making it necessary to contact a specific staff member to find the data needed to effectively coordinate a project”.The need of a centralized data system became essential in order to streamline communication outreach with members.

ESCR-Net was required to update their website when their original website platform was sunsetted and they chose to migrate to Drupal.The developer working on the project suggested using CiviCRM since he felt it would be a good fit for the network and would integrate well with the new Drupal website.However, staff was not prepared for the time commitment required to get CiviCRM up and running.Like many organizations, they were busy working on other urgent projects and soon realized they needed some professional advice to better understand what a CRM can do, how non-profits use them and how to make CiviCRM work for their particular purposes.During the implementation of CiviCRM, they found they were not finding the time to clean their data for import.Thea explained, “our data was disorganized, and we didn’t realize how much time it would take to get it to a point where it could be successfully imported into CiviCRM”.Her recommendation to other organizations would be to adequately budget staff (or intern) time to effectively prepare the data and to make sure to choose a less intensive period in your organization’s schedule to start the implementation.In retrospect, she thinks it was extremely difficult, for example, to launch a website, coordinate a major international meeting and get CiviCRM up and running, all at the same time.  

Although the organization got off to a slow start using CiviCRM, with the guidance and training that Cividesk provided, they began to embrace the new database.“Cividesk understood what we were trying to do and their services are very reasonably priced. We felt good about our conversations with their staff and how they fielded our questions”, explained Thea. Cividesk provided training sessions to staff and spent time discussing how CiviCRM could work for their organization, along with explaining best practices for using the database. The staff is now at a point where they use CiviCRM on a daily basis and have experienced tangible benefits from this transition, examples being an increase in the voter turnout and overall participation by members in the organization.

ESCR-Net has organizational members in many different countries and a board whose members are elected through a process of virtual elections. Only one person from each member organization has voting rights and the voting options are complex, which made this election a daunting task for staff. This year, for the first time, ESCR-Net used CiviCRM to identify and contact the voting members.  Not only did it ease the administrative burden of preparing the election ballots, but they had a far greater response rate than the last time elections were held. Thea credits several features in CiviCRM, notably the central depository of primary email addresses, ability to differentiate contacts by language and the use of tokens to personalize email messages, as being instrumental in increasing the responsiveness of their voters.

ESCR-Net has benefited by using groups and tags in CiviCRM to organize their contacts that include media, donors, and governments from around the world. Thea described the creation of smart groups for their thematic group contacts as a “revelation”. They now easily generate targeted lists of contacts and reach out to those individuals about specific ways to get more involved in ESCR-Net. “In order to keep a network strong, members need to be actively engaged, working together and sharing information, added Thea. “A big part of my job is reaching out to existing members and making sure they are involved and the communication capabilities in CiviCRM have helped to invigorate the participation of our members.”

Another important and noteworthy benefit of CiviCRM for ESCR-Net relates directly to their goal of defending human rights. The now-outgoing chair of the ESCR-Net Board, Hossam Bahgat, is a well-known Egyptian journalist and founder of a reputable human rights organization. Following Bahgat’s arrest, in reprisal for writing an article criticizing the regime in Egypt, ESCR-Net used CiviCRM to create an appeal message in several different languages in order to engage their members in issuing collective and individual letters requesting his release. The message was sent out quickly and efficiently to members using CiviMail. Bahgat was released just days after his arrest, and Thea feels that the swift outcry coordinated by ESCR-Net thanks to CiviCRM “was clearly a contributing factor in his release”.

Thea is “thrilled” that the work of implementation is behind them, and they are now using CiviCRM on a daily basis and benefitting in so many ways from the accessibility of data. She feels the key ingredients for a mission-based organization to successfully engage with CiviCRM are a good understanding of that which CiviCRM is and can do and adequate planning for the time needed to, first prepare data for import, and then to learn how to use and ultimately benefit from this powerful tool.  

Category: