CiviCRM – A perfect fit for a Chamber of Commerce
An interview with the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce of Texas
The Italy America Chamber of Commerce (IACC) of Texas provides business related services to Italian companies interested in doing business in the US and to the Italian-American business community in Texas. The chamber hosts Italian delegations in various business sectors and arranges meetings to assist them in finding partners or investment opportunities. They also provide translation and interpretation services for the Italian Consulate, organize networking and business events and advertise employment information to the community. In addition to their Houston office, they have branches in Austin and New Orleans, Louisiana. Cividesk recently interviewed Alessia Paolicchi, Executive Director, about the chamber’s experiences transitioning to CiviCRM and the benefits it has provided.
What systems or programs were you using before CiviCRM?
We had a “homemade” system of Word and Excel spreadsheets, but it didn’t work well. As the chamber grew, we needed a system that would grow with us. I looked at another system, but it didn’t seem like a good option for our organization. CiviCRM worked well for our chamber of commerce since we needed to organize our membership, manage events and trade missions and keep track of different services that we provide to the business community.
Why did you choose Cividesk?
Cividesk contacted us to introduce CiviCRM, but it took us a while to make the time to investigate if it was right tool for us and to make our decision. I appreciated how patient Cividesk was during this process. I liked that CiviCRM fit the needs of our chamber of commerce and allowed us to manage our membership and keep track of renewals. Our memberships are rolling, which allows someone to join at any time of the year and have a membership for one year from that date. It can be difficult to keep track of renewals for this type of membership, but CiviCRM does all of that automatically. Cividesk staff had prior experience using CiviCRM to manage a chamber and currently provides CiviCRM services to many chambers of commerce.
How was the implementation and training provided by Cividesk?
Cividesk implemented CiviCRM in our organization, handled the import of our existing data into CiviCRM and also helped put into place different custom field sets and online pages that were customized for our chamber. We had to make choices to prepare for the customization of the software and the Cividesk staff mentored us through this process and made it easier for us to make those decisions. Unfortunately, the data file that we first provided them wasn’t the best quality. We had to clean up our data to get it ready for a successful import so it could be recorded in the right place in CiviCRM. Cividesk trained us in Contact, Membership and Event management, but we find that we don’t use all the functionalities of CiviCRM, probably because we get busy and don’t spend the time to learn them. It’s nice to know that Cividesk is there to answer our questions, for example when I realized that the membership renewal letters were not going out, I called Cividesk and they immediately fixed the problem.
Which functionalities do you use the most?
We use many of the Contact management features, such as groups and smart groups, which allow us to organize the various business sectors with whom we work. We also have a custom field that helps us track whether or not we have sent out a discount card to members for specials on restaurants and hotels in Italy.
We really like the membership component and have the automatic email reminders scheduled to go out when a membership is going to expire, which has improved our membership renewal rate. We create events pages in CiviCRM and link them to our website or send a link through email. We use the synchronization between CiviCRM and MailChimp since we were using this mailing system before and the automatic daily update of our MailChimp mailing lists helps us to save a lot of time. I like how we can print name badges which include our logo and print out a participant list from the database before each of our events. I also have many different customized reports on my dashboard which I’ve created in CiviCRM using the templates: membership reports, a summary contribution report and also a report on our translation and interpretation services. These reports help me stay up to date with what is happening with the chamber and better plan for the future.
With CiviCRM we keep track of our translation services that we provide to the Italian consulate. Cividesk created a customized set of fields to gather all the information we need about each translation project. We also use CiviCampaign to manage our trade missions; it helps us monitor the services provided and the payment collected for these activities. We have many user-defined activity types that relate to these trade missions and services, and CiviCampaign records these activities and links them to the particular trade mission.
What are the benefits of CiviCRM for your organization?
We save “time and trouble” and have better control of our activities and events. Before CiviCRM we just had an idea of what was happening, but didn’t have contact names or hard data to back it up. We were keeping track of things in our heads. CiviCRM helps with the organization of the Business to Business meetings that we set up for visiting delegations, since now we have lists of the different companies organized per sector and we can easily contact them to schedule meetings. I like that we have the ability to record payment in Euros, since we also receive payment in Euros for our business services.
If you had some advice to give other organizations who are considering CiviCRM, what would you tell them?
Managing the membership at the chamber before CiviCRM was challenging, trying to keep track of renewals and communication with members, but CiviCRM has solved many of these issues. “The system thinks the same way we think.” Cividesk staff understands how chambers of commerce function and therefore CiviCRM if the right fit for our organization. I have recommended CiviCRM to other Italian American Chambers in the US based on our positive experiences using the database.