Vietnamese Friendship Association

CiviCRM – A user friendly solution

An interview with the Vietnamese Friendship Association

The Vietnamese Friendship Association (VFA) of Seattle is a non-profit organization that promotes equality in education, fosters civic engagement, and advocates for Vietnamese and other refugee and immigrant communities.  The organization focuses on supporting students and families, engaging leaders and working with diverse communities to support systems changes. Cividesk recently spoke with James Hong, Executive director and Kristina Ong, Fund Development Manager about how CiviCRM has helped them accomplish their mission.

Before implementing CiviCRM, VFA chose to use Salesforce as their CRM. However, VFA staff found Salesforce to be “cumbersome”; “it was just not intuitive”, explained James.  After a year, they decided to make a switch to a different CRM that was easier to use. VFA had researched several choices before making their initial choice of Salesforce, and CiviCRM had been one of those options.  The staff found CiviCRM very simple to use “out of the box” and liked that it was open source. Kristina’s introduction to using CiviCRM began with data entry of donor contributions in the database.  James learned how to use CiviCRM by spending time exploring the different modules on his own. “It is very user friendly”, he explained, “after struggling with using Salesforce for a year, I found CiviCRM straightforward and designed for non-profits”. 

Initially VFA worked with a company that hosted CiviCRM and their website. At that time, they didn’t feel they needed customer support, but as their fundraising became more sophisticated, their needs grew and they decided they did require some technical assistance, as well as someone to rely on when they had usage questions. They researched CiviCRM service providers through the CiviCRM.org website and found Cividesk. It was the best fit for them because of the monthly subscription that includes unlimited customer support hours and also because they were able to easily integrate CiviCRM in their WordPress website.

Cividesk set up the integration of their CiviCRM instance with a new payment processor, iATS Payments, by installing the extension that allowed iATS to be used as a payment processor in CiviCRM.  They also showed VFA how to bulk import contacts and donation data and worked with them to create their online donation page. Kristina participated in several of the online classes that Cividesk offers to learn more about CiviCRM’s capabilities with events and contributions. “It was nice to have a step by step walk through the different functionalities of CiviCRM”, said Kristina.

VFA works closely with Cividesk staff on a regular basis.  “Cividesk has been very supportive of us during this time when we have been working to strengthen our development and fundraising”, explained Kristina. As part of this process, they are now offering recurring payments for contributions, and they have developed a campaign to promote this new feature to their supporters. “The support has been invaluable. I know I can call and ask questions and talk to someone right away who can help”, added Kristina.

VFA also uses CiviCRM to manage their events. James noted that CiviEvent has saved them money since before CiviCRM they used programs like Eventbrite and Brown Paper ticket, which kept a portion of the ticket price.  This has made a difference in proceeds from their annual benefit dinner, where they average about 350 attendees. VFA created the registration form for this event in CiviCRM and processed the registration payment using their new payment processor.  They liked all the options available when creating the form.  Participants loved the ease of registering and found it quite “streamlined”. Kristina pointed out that many registrants were curious about which program they used to make the form. 

In year’s past, the organization had used a separate page for registration and the payment had to be processed on the payment processor website, which caused some confusion to registrants. Because of this, many guests choose the option of paying later and Kristina had to track at the event all the participants that have not paid in advance. With their new payment processor that allows for transactions on their website, they had only a few “pending from pay later” registrants (usually those who weren’t comfortable paying online with a credit card). “It was a lot easier to manage the registrations this year thanks to this change”, said Kristina.

In addition to CiviEvent, Kristina used several event reports to track participants for the dinner.  They also sent out email reminders about registering for the event to their contacts and then created smart groups of contacts who had already registered.  This way, registrants wouldn’t receive additional reminder emails if they were already signed up to attend. Using smart groups allowed them to target communications after the benefit dinner to promote another fundraising effort in the Seattle area called “Give Big”. They created a smart group of those who didn’t attend the dinner or make a donation to the event and sent out an email update to those contacts about the “Give Big” campaign.  Thanks to CiviCRM, they avoided asking the same contacts for back to back donations. 

Over the past five years, VFA has seen tremendous growth in terms of donations and has built their donor database using CiviCRM.  They have better engagement with their donors since they can accurately track contributions in CiviCRM and tailor communication based on a contact’s donation history.  They use CiviReport to track who is donating, how much, and when. They also better manage the promotion and follow-up after their events.  Many of the everyday tasks are “getting done quicker” thanks to CiviCRM and the benefits for VFA have been tangible. 

James would like to see CiviCRM better promoted and implemented among non-profits in the Pacific Northwest.  He has found it to be a tool that is intuitive, affordable and functions extremely well for managing their organization and hopes that others can benefit from this open source CRM.

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