Ya know, I took a few months (or so) off of writing and I got so in the habit of not writing that I forgot how much I love writing and then I sent off a lil ditty about phone numbers this week and it all came rushing back! So here I am, parking it on a Thursday night, writing about databases and social justice. It’s like seeing an old friend and picking up exactly where you left off.

As I’ve written about pretty extensively over the years (like here and here…) I’ve been deeply involved in the Salesforce.org open source ecosystem, which now has a name and a brand: Open Source Commons. Commons is a neat watering hole, where Salesforce practitioners, nonprofit + higher ed technologists, and system aficionados come together to ask “why can’t we standardize/document/build… “x”?” and figure out how to share it with everyone?! Commons was really my first exposure to Open Source as an ideology and pragmatic framework. It’s been beautiful to see short term projects turn into sustainable, longterm projects, turn into infrastructure and methodology, and now even a governance model. Generosity, mentorship, and creativity abound. But one thing that was missing in my experience was a sense of continuity to the political practice of open source amidst and beyond Salesforce itself. In between product roadmaps and dreaming and scheming, I think I’ve lost site of those revolutionary principles, and recently I’ve had a chance to re-examine them!

So, what’s open source? or… So What, open source?

Based on my research, open source principles boil down to 5 main ideas (borrowed from here)

  1. Software whose source code is freely visible
  2. Software that can be run by anyone
  3. Software that can be modified by anyone
  4. Software that can be redistributed with changes
  5. Software developed in an open, decentralized fashion

Honestly, a few years ago… most of these words wouldn’t mean much to me! But now, I can connect to substance behind the ideas and I’ve even experienced the technology that makes open source possible. I have learned how writers and coders can recommend changes (“branch” an idea) and then unify those ideas back into the main version (“merge” an idea). It’s like if your Google Docs comments had a life of their own, and then eventually replaced the original paragraph. This stuff really blows my mind when I sit down and think about it. It’s SO COOL to imagine lots of people, all over the world, contributing ideas and having a framework for collaborating and improving technology. I’m not a coder (so I do a lot of battling impostor syndrome) but I’ve slowly and surely found my voice and a part to play.

In my research for this post, I also learned about the 3 roles in an open source project/community:

  1. Maintainer
  2. Contributor
  3. User (Community)

This framework really sparked my interest and curiosity because it’s so clear how we need all of these roles for feedback, impact, innovation, quality control, institutional memory, mentorship, storytelling, leadership, and so much more. It’s helpful to recognize when I take on those personas and when a project suffers because the three are out of whack. Do you see any parallels to volunteer models in social justice campaigning? Ahhh, I digress. (But seriously, leave a comment if you do!)

There’s something really empowering about everything being out there in the open (even if it’s not particularly accessible to us non-coders) – a commitment to excellence, collaboration, and transparency. In one source I read, there’s a belief among open-sourcers that there’s always more knowledge outside of the circle than inside. What a gift of humility and welcoming-ness! Since most open source projects iterate over time (instead of being born as a fully-formed functional Thing), there are many opportunities for course correction, which is kind of another way of being humble. Like, yeah, we aren’t going to get it right the first time around. Help us make it better!

Last but not least, one thing that really appeals to me about open source is a pretty strong anti-corporate, pro-privacy, DIY, anarchist-leaning vibe. What’s not to like?!


Recently, I’ve been branching out of my Salesforce comfort zone. My synagogue implemented a new database called Breeze; while I didn’t play an active role in making the switch, I’ve been learning the ropes as I need to pull reports or look up information from time to time. Breeze is super closed-source, btw. Still, a really interesting platform!

I also took on the challenge of supporting a beloved local organization that uses a platform called Powerbase, which sits on top of CiviCRM. This has given me a chance to take a deep dive into this technology, with the support of the lovely activists and practitioners at the Progressive Technology Project. Did I mention how awesome they are? I mean LOOK AT THIS MISSION STATEMENT Y’ALL !!!!

Going into this project, I didn’t really know that there was already an entirely open source CRM that is available (basically for free) to nonprofits and grassroots orgs. Like, I had heard of CiviCRM but I didn’t really know *what it was.* I knew some grassroots groups who used it and kvetched about it, but who doesn’t kvetch about their CRM!? (not me, y’all!)

The honest truth is… I am having a whale of a time. (I hope I’m not driving the PTP folks nuts with asking questions about data models and enabling extensions and and and …). I’m having this experience of realizing that foundational assumptions that I have about relational databases are simply choices that some people made… and other choices could work, too! It’s so liberating to think outside of the box and to be a newcomer again. I love the conclusion that “it doesn’t have to be this way!

It also feels awesome to work with technology that was designed specifically for nonprofits in contrast to other systems, which can be effectively manipulated to meet the needs of nonprofits, but were not originally designed for that functional purpose.

And it it’s soooooo cool to see a thriving open source ecosystem with lots of packages, innovation, and constant conversation! I’m just completely tickled. This was available before my very fingertips but I hadn’t quite had the occasion to look up long enough to see what’s out there. I hope I’ll be able to keep pushing myself to learn and question. It’s such a satisfying feeling – I really want to hold on to it!

Without further ado, I want to share a meme that is not PG-13, so consider yourself warned. For some reason, my mind jumped from Civi to Civic and then I went down a rabbit hole looking for Honda Civic memes. I usually don’t share off-color jokes here, but I just couldn’t resist. Ok, I keep typing words but really this meme needs no further introduction…

I PROMISE YOU, I did not make this meme in the “third person.” It came fully formed with my name in it!!!! Bahahahahahah!

open wide … source

This blog will continue to center spreadsheets and social justice, as always, AND I’m hoping to incorporate some stories about what I’m learning in the land beyond Salesforce. SFDO peeps, I hope you’ll stick around for the journey! Spreadsheet peeps, I hope these database posts aren’t too dreadful. Back to SFDO peeps, I’m excited to bring even more open source goodness into our culture, at least in my own special way. TDAA fam overall, I’m glad to be back. Thanks for making this such a cozy corner of the internet!

7 thoughts on “i’m learning CiviCRM!

  1. Funny meme, hope you are well!

    On Thu, Sep 3, 2020, 10:22 PM The Data are Alright wrote:

    > Samantha Shain posted: ” Ya know, I took a few months (or so) off of > writing and I got so in the habit of not writing that I forgot how much I > love writing and then I sent off a lil ditty about phone numbers this week > and it all came rushing back! So here I am, parking it on a ” >

  2. Love the meme! I resonated with your comment about working with software that was designed for non-profits as opposed to being modified to work for them. The management team where I work eventually wants fundraising to be on the same major platform used by program in order to save money and to consolidate the databases. I worry that extra time we are going to spend to manipulate the platform is going to eat up any savings we incur in licensing fees.

  3. I arrived for the content, and stayed for the memes! Excellent work as always, Ms. Sassafras!

  4. Love this! I used to manage a CiviCRM app in my past life and love the community they’ve got going on over there. 🙂

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