Understanding CiviCRM Basics


Contacts are the main building blocks of CiviCRM. Contacts hold contact information, including:

  • name, nickname, greeting, title
  • website, email addresses, phone numbers, IM account name
  • addresses
  • communication preferences (which methods do they prefer being contacted by, and which methods do they not want to be contacted by)

There are 3 core Contact Types:

  • Individual
  • Organization
  • Household

For help creating additional contact types , see Create New Contact Types.


Relationships are a way to connect two contacts to each other. Two out-of-the-box relationship types in CiviCRM are the "employer – employee" and the "parent – child" relationship types.

There are 14 core Relationship Types including:

  • Board Member of
  • Employee of
  • Volunteer for

For help creating additional relationship types, see Create New Relationship Types.


Activities are a key concept in CiviCRM. Activities track interactions between the organization and its clients or contacts at a specific point in time. All of CiviCRM's components make extensive use of activities, such as to record contributions, event attendances, membership subscriptions, and emails.

You can create additional activity types to define specific activities that your organization carries out, for example, "completed annual survey".

For help creating additional activity types, see Add an Activity.


Groups are useful to identify two or more contacts with something in common. For example, the advisory board of your organization could be modeled as a group.

Groups are mandatory for mailing lists. For example, in order to send a newsletter to your subscribers, you will have to create a group, assign it mailing list status, then send the email newsletter.

Groups are also mandatory for access control - the feature that allows you to give access to your users to portions of CiviCRM. For example, using an access control group, you can give your board members access to updating their own contact information.

A group can be the "child" of a "parent" group. When a group is a parent, selecting the contacts in that group will also select contacts that are in the child group.

There are no core Groups when CiviCRM is initially installed. For help creating groups, see Working with Groups.


Tags are in many ways similar to groups, but as well as being used to identify contacts they can also be applied to activities and cases that have something in common.

There are 5 core Tags including:

  • Company
  • Government Entity
  • Major Donor
  • Non-Profit
  • Volunteer

For help creating tags, see Creating Tags.