Do you have an application process which would benefit from automation?
Many of the nonprofit organisations we work with have such processes, especially membership organisations with several types of membership options, but also others who use them for awards, grants, fellowship, volunteer and scholarship applications or numerous other requests.
We’ve found over the years that CiviCRM is an extremely effective way for our clients to handle applications in bulk, saving both themselves and their supporters substantial time. With its ability to create webform surveys, powerful applicant management (letting you log each individual application as its own database entry) and expansive automation options, CiviCRM can make your application processes easier in 5 simple steps.
Step 1: Webforms
Step 1 of any effective application process is you need to gather information about your applicant! In CiviCRM, we do this using the powerful build in CiviCRM form builder "webform". These are effectively forms or questionnaires, which you can customise to ask any questions you’ll need in your application.
This can obviously include standard questions around contact details, but you can also ask completely customised questions relevant to your specific application. That might be asking for a specific document, collecting data on specific interests, or asking for some kind of written response. You can even add conditional fields to your forms which will only appear under certain conditions (such as a certain box ticked) to really allow you to tailor your information gathering process, and to make sure your applicants meet your criteria.
You can either allow users to submit applications without creating a self service portal user account, or if you would like them to be able to save a draft, ask them to create an account first.
Another useful feature that CiviCRMs form builder provides is the ability for applicants to provide payment. This is something you can ask for via a form later in the process if required, but in situations such as membership applications, this option can prove very useful!
Step 2: Application created
So you’ve gathered all your information from your webform. What makes CiviCRM such a great tool here is that all the data from your forms is recorded straight into your CRM without the need for you to log any of it manually! It will be recorded as an application record, its own process for you to be able to manage within the system.
The person making the application will be the contact assigned to a application record any other relevant parties such as the internal application manager (who can be auto-assigned!) or application review panel. This 360 degree view of your data makes it easier to discover any past interactions and pull through any other previously attained information. Applications are also a great way to collect any relevant documentation together and to monitor any activities around the application. You can even pre-populate a timeline with activities and tasks that will be required throughout the application!
Step 3: Automated comms
One of the massive advantages CiviCRM brings to any application process is how it can automate many of the communications you’ll need during your process. So instead of having to manually intervene with hundreds of different emails, your CRM can do it all for you!
All you’ll need to do is set up appropriate templates beforehand and set triggers for when they’ll be sent. This might be as simple and essential as a confirmation of receipt of an application or it could be a notification to a reviewer in a more complex process. All of this can be fully automated, saving you time writing out emails and keeping lists of who you need to send them too and when.
You don’t even need to sacrifice personalisation either. In some ways it’s easier to personalise at scale with a CRM using tokens (or merge tags as you might know them by). Essentially these let you insert data points (such as ‘first name’) into the body of your text, so CiviCRM can tailor the communication to the person receiving it... This means your applicants can receive highly personalised messages for substantially less effort.
Throughout the process, you can also send further communications based on other triggers such as the stage your process has reached or the time since a certain milestone, such as the application submission date. This is especially useful if you request additional information and wish to set a hard deadline!
Step 4: Streamline reviews
For many of our clients they also need to manage an external review process for their applications. This is especially true for award and grant applications who may need a review from a committee of members or other stakeholders. Traditionally, this might be thought of as an incredibly manual process, but it needn’t be. You can, in fact, automate much of the reviews.
One thing you can do, for instance, is to ask CiviCRM to pre-verify certain data. You can do this by the way you ask it to collect data (e.g. only from a dropdown list, or the data must be a number) or you can also set it to verify that data is entered in a certain way, including checking for duplicates of things such as email addresses. This sort of automated data review can save manual review checking later on.
Reviews can also be flexible, only appearing under certain conditions too. Perhaps if your applicant hasn’t completed a certain piece of information or if they pick a specific response which might require a manual intervention. Your system can then flag this and assign internal reviewers or you can send an automated email to the applicant requesting this further information.
All of this makes internal reviews a much smoother process, by saving time for your reviewers within an easy to use interface, allowing them to focus only on the parts of the process which require a human eye.
Step 5: Automated applicant progression
One of the best things about CiviCRM’s application management system is how it can function fairly autonomously. To the extent where filling in certain data (even something as simple as a checkbox!) can automatically progress a process to the next stage which might then trigger emails, reviews or more.
This automated progression is also something that can be viewed by an applicant. Using the portal Compuco delivers alongside its CiviCRM installations, your applicants will be able to see where their application is in the process. Better yet, you’ll have the ability to keep your internal stages and external statuses separate. So your applicant may, for instance, see ‘In Review’ as their external status, but your internal processes are split into ‘Review 1’ and ‘Review 2’.
The automation is even capable of automatically marking applications as closed if you set the conditions for it to do so, though you can of course always do this manually so the choice remains with you. And even closing an application can trigger something else within your system - such as a communication or it could update the applicant’s contact record with a certain piece of relevant data.
Using these 5 simple steps, CiviCRM can make any of your application processes significantly more efficient, saving time for both you and your users, and minimising the chance of missing steps or overlooking applicants. It’s also fully configurable and you can have it running fully on rails with automation or keep it completely manual if you so choose. Though we would recommend at least some automation is worth trying!
If you’re interested in building a more sophisticated application process and how CiviCRM might help you do that, get in touch with us here. We’d love to help!