CRM Customer Relationship Management

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Even a small maker space might have 50 members; larger spaces could have 1,000. Keeping track of your members is vital. You might start with a spreadsheet of names and email addresses, but you will find that this quickly falls short. There are a number of free CRM systems you can install on your own server, and there are cloud based services that do not cost much for the value they deliver.

Functions of a CRM systems

You should consider which of these functions your organization will need:

  • Quickly lookup a member by name (for instance in your reception area)
  • Send email blast to all members
  • Categorize members so you can email blast only a subset (e.g. Just those who are part of the woodshop team)
  • Charge credit cards automatically each month so the membership revenue comes in easily
  • Track member training (e.g. Has John taken the laser cutter training class?)
  • Maintain a private calendar for your staff to view
  • Maintain a public calendar of events
  • Provide an easily updated web site
  • Track volunteer hours
  • Process one-time payments for classes, events, etc
  • Export data for use in your accounting system (like Quicken or Quickbooks)
  • Export your membership data (so you can use it offline if you want)
  • Provide an API to the database so your door/machine access system can validate a member (If there is no API, then you will need to Export your data every week or so to load into your access system)

These CRM functions do a lot of work for you. Some systems offer additional functionality (sometimes via and add-on) that goes beyond typical CRM systems. You may find that a system will manage instructors and class rosters. A system might offer a machine maintenance tracking module. Perhaps a public room scheduling facility.

Service or Manage Your Own

Make Your Own

One option is to create your own CRM system. Wow, that could be a lot of work. Do you want to spend precious time enhancing and fixing bugs in your CRM? Maybe that's what you like to make, so go for it! This is typically just the cost of your server, and your programming staff. The good news is that this gives you complete control over every aspect of your system.

Modify An Existing System

Another option is to use some open source software (like CiviCRM) and run it on your own servers. You don't have to enhance and fix bugs, but you do have to administer the system yourself. Many web hosting companies will install CiviCRM for you, the way they might install WordPress or MediaWiki or TikiWiki, etc. You, however, are responsible for setting up the system, probably for installing new releases, making backups, etc. This is typically just an install at your existing hosting company with no additional costs. In these cases you can often modify parts of the system to suit your makerspace, but you take on responsibility for those modifications including porting them to run on future versions of the underlying system. You can even modify large parts of the system - almost to the point where you're back to making a complete system yourself.

Hosted Service

A third option is to pay for a hosted service. These services charge you by the month. For this they manage all the software backend. Most of them offer some kind of support. You just have to use the software to track your customers, manage events, etc. With these services you need to compare features to make sure they do what you need. Each company calculates monthly charges differently. Some charge you by the total number of contacts in your system. Some charge by the number of "active members" but not for inactive ones, or prospects, or donors. Some charge you for each administrator of the system. Some for each "seat" (a user who can search, add, update contacts). Some have combinations of all these in their monthly fee. You may also have to pay a one time set up charge to get the software configured and ready to go. The set up charge would include things like your specific membership types, email accounts, users, etc. Set up charges might include a one time data import, or that might be an extra charge. On top of all this, most of the hosted services provide support. Your users could contact someone at the hosted service company for help instead of calling you!! Monthly charges for these services could be between $50 and $200 a month.

When you go with a hosted service you can typically customize the system in some ways. Some systems let you write add-ons with your own functionality to run on top of their core system. You, of course, are responsible for maintenance and support of your add-ons.

Keep in mind that with any hosted service there will be limitations to what you can change. You will still be dependent on their underlying data model and you can't write add-ons that violate their model. They may have some process flow around classroom management that works but just isn't the way you want to do things. You should be prepared to adapt your ways of working to fit the hosted service. If you are unwilling to do this, you will be in for a lot of pain and suffering. The hosted service company might say, "oh sure, we'll let you do that if you want". But if what you do is too far off from their core model you may find that things don't work efficiently, that updates they make may have some unanticipated effect in the functionality you're "pushing" to do what you want. It's like they say about the Apple ecosystem, "If you don't want to manage your contacts the way Apple thinks you should, then you shouldn't buy Apple. Don't resist, just be assimilated; it's less painful."

Make vs Buy

It may sound like a lot of money to pay for a hosted service, but you have to think of all the time you save by not having to work on that CRM system yourself. Your organization can focus on your core value: running a makerspace. Paying for a service might even let you personally have a little time to do some making.

If you do decided to host your own system (or even develop your own) you will need to contend with backups, bug fixing, disaster recovery and other typical IT functions. Imagine that your CRM system gets corrupted a day before it would normally issue credit card charges to your members for their monthly dues. Until someone (you?) gets that system back up and running, your makerspace is losing money. If you're a volunteer with a regular job, you might need to take a couple of vacation days immediately to deal with the problem. Me? I prefer to pay for a hosted service.

Some CRM Systems

  • Amilia
    • More details of our evaluation of Amilia
    • Cloud based, phone and email support included.
    • Full site: CRM, reservations, staff, billing, POS, etc. The model is a city parks and recreation department.
    • Robust class scheduling and management
    • Cost is $99 a month plus 1% of the revenue you bring through the system (credit card fees are extra, of course)
    • Provides a "store" and everything is "sold", even free classes. It's not a bad user experience.
  • EZFacility
    • Cloud based, phone and email support included.
    • Full site management functions: CRM, reservations, time clock, billing, POS, etc. The model is a membership based gym.
    • Cost based on number of members (unlimited "contacts") and number of things ("resources") you want to schedule
    • Has bulk email function, but far more limited features than Mailchimp - really only good for newsletters. You'll need to also have a Mailchimp account.
    • Terminology is all about a gym so you have to translate between what they say and what a makerspace does
    • Member self service portal is nice, but design can be confusing for members at first - you'll need to have a member cheat sheet to get new members up to speed on it. It has limited customization of the portal.
    • Comes with a smart phone app for members to use. Nice feature to have.
  • CiviCRM
    • Open Source, so you could run it on your own server for free if you want.
    • Many cloud hosted services. Current cost is about $100/month for almost unlimited members at CiviDesk, but $3k start up fee.
    • Offers billing, calendar, events, email campaigns, etc.
    • Has a full API.
    • Screens can be customized
    • CiviCRM, Maker Nexus test system
  • SalesForce
    • Free for 10 users if 501(c)3. Additional users $500/year.
    • Considered a full blown, high end system
    • Highly configurable. May require some programming on your part to configure it to work as you want. SF team recommended we use a consultant to set it up. We asked if we could do it without help and the SF team recommended that we get a SF support contract for $4,900 a year.
    • Does not have a class scheduling system. SF says we could easily buy one from one of their 3rd party partners - at some price.
    • Has a full API.
    • In our final meeting with Salesforce their sales person told us, gently, that we were really too small for their software and that we should look for an easier to implement solution. Good advice!
  • Club Express
    • Inexpensive at $24/month for 50 active contacts; $160/month for 500 active contacts. Unlimited non-active contacts.
    • Have as many users of the system as you want.
    • Offers billing, web site, calendar, events, etc.
    • Has some add-ons available for an extra one time fee.
    • Has a partial API, but not enough for a door badge access system.
    • Limited configuration of the actual user interface.
  • Wild Apricot
    • Offers billing, web site, calendar, events, etc.
    • Slick interface and very easy to use. The free demo account shows the power.
    • 50 contacts/1 admin is free. 500 contacts/10 admins $63/month. Contacts count both active and non-active.
    • Does not offer API access
    • Limited configuration of the actual user interface
  • Odoo
    • Open source software that you can host on your own system. offers a fee based hosted service for you.
    • Has lots of features in add on modules, mostly free or very cheap.
    • Documentation is poor. Like Unix man pages the documentation goes into excruciating detail on every option of every module, including things you will never use, without telling you what's really important. You MUST buy the book "Odoo 15 Development Essentials" and read it if you want to figure Odoo out. Web searching for an issue brings up thousands of hits, most irrelevant and none are curated. You pretty much have to figure it out yourself.
    • Has a website hosting feature that is very poorly documented and has some weird behaviors to it. Does not provide a revision history feature; edits are all live.
    • We found that provided the infrastructure but not support for us. That may have changed, you should evaluate it yourself. If you sign up for, give their support team a call and ask some questions to gauge the response.

See also

  • MN CRM The CRM system we are using, with some User Stories.