Where's the missing link on non-profit case management

Where's the missing link on non-profit case management

I still haven’t found a free software case management framework for non-profits emerging on the horizon. If you search SourceForge or Freshmeat, you find legal case management systems, but nothing oriented to the general non-profit market for client management. There are electronic health records, CRMs and ERPs... all of which have elements that would be useful, but none alone can do the trick.

I guess that means the field is open to start that free software project. So, with that in mind, I’ve been poking around and thinking about how to approach the development of this idea.

I have looked at free software solutions and investigated blogs and wikis, Joomla, PHProjekt and others... .

Given I am not a developer it’s somewhat second hand knowledge that drives me forward here, but I have found CollabNet who produce a community based on line collaboration system for managing the code base and the distributed development process. Go figure that some group would have come up with a free framework for developing free software projects!

CollabNet’s Community Edition looks pretty cool and may be just what I’ve been looking for.

What was interesting was simply finding CollabNet itself. This is a strong indication as to the direction of the software development business.

Now my next step is to find an existing framework, i.e., what’s really needed is a combination of Pentaho, Medsphere, SugarCRM.

These three products cover the basics of what a case management system needs to be with the demographics and client profile portions, the health information recording and the analysis and reporting. However, the ideal case management system must be able to be adapted to various business processes—organizations shouldn’t have to reorganize the way they do business to adapt to a technology.

If you have a mental health program, the case management system should be able to respect the clinical assessments that you perform and have the ability to have those assessments built into the framework. If you have an employment assistance program, or a clinical counseling program, or a shelter, a sufficiently well designed case management system should be readily customizable to all those programs and enable the transfer of information on unique clients between those organizations, within a shared clinical context.

For example, a shelter will need a bed registration system and an employment service will need an employment placement component. Both may need activities tracking and demographics, but the shelter will need less demographic info than the employment service. This level of feature development can get pretty complex with the addition of more and more types of non-profits. However, it is less efficient, and more prone to error, if you are having to use more than one system to account for client activities across multiple programs within your agency.

So, obviously, the addition of features: assessments, new data collection forms, custom reporting, and changes to existing fields and forms should be a primary consideration in the development of a case management application.

The social services field is undergoing significant changes and will continue to undergo changes as public sector reform initiatives continue to play out throughout governments. These changes will effect the processes, policies, accountability and the reporting requirements of agencies involved. A hard coded application that is not straightforward to change will be out of date quickly. I also believe it should be ASP based so that it facilitates multiple agencies sharing relevant client information.

Much discussion will also need to be had on the security model. So, with all the above necessity of extensibility, wide implementations, and multiple features a CollabNet type environment for distributed development is essential. It may be that it's possible to take a legal case management framework and work with that; but that will take some investigation as well. I'm sure a framework is available out there somewhere that may form the basis for an open system...I'll keep looking.



Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Chances are, if there isn't a package that fits your requirements, you'll need to put some resources into developing a new one. If you do not have the skill, time or knowledge to do it yourself, then you'll need to get someone else to do it for you. Sounds to me like you need to hire a professional software developer - one that is experienced with Free software. If the packages you pointed out are close to what is required, it shouldn't take long for the professional to develop something that'll work.

wilinux's picture
Submitted by wilinux on

What an opportunity! Personally I'd love to contribute & I'm sure many others would too. I imagine there may even be grant money available to help fund some of the work. Let's get serious!

Chris Holt's 1st Free S/w Mag post on this topic -

Check out Chris Holt's blog category "case management" (Chris' ideas for the specs & useful background info to be found here) -

What did you find out about desc.org's system? (from your comments in "Free S/w for Non-profits")

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Interesting blog entry, we need more feedback like this. Disclaimer: I'm a developer of one free software project aimed at non-profits (LCM).

There was an interesting discussion recently similar to this on the «NOSI» mailing-list. To quote David Geilhufe, from the CiviCRM project, in a message posted on January 5 2007: «With CiviCRM (www.civicrm.org) we found that building a reliable user community took about 18 months since users don't care about what the application could do, they just focus on the 30% that you don't have done.»

That's OK, we can't force users to work without features which are essential to them, but users (or consultants/technicians working with those users) need to get a bit more involved. Submit bug reports, ask questions, be constructive. If you can't invest money, invest time. Not all free software projects have stable sources of funding or full-time developers.

Instead of saying that «I still haven’t found a free software case management framework for non-profits emerging on the horizon», start by describing a list of required specific functions, explore the most suitable solutions, which features would be missing and how much work would it take to improve. Encourage a few organisations to collaborate together, use a wiki and/or a mailing-list to document the evolution of the research, etc.

I would add that the most successful Free Software projects are those who do one specific task and do it well. We usually get those programmes to interoperate in order to build systems that satisfy the requirements of an organisation. We cannot always add every single feature into one software, but we can encourage various software to "talk" to each other. Therefore, if one software is missing one very specific feature, try to see if another software might not be able to complement it. Sometimes it is necessary to modify the two applications so that they work well together, but that's one of the strenghts of free software.

Finally, if you do hire a professional, make sure that the person clearly documents what he/she has done. If any modifications were made to the software, request that those changes were submitted for review and integration by the software developers of that project. This helps the project to go forward, but also avoids being dependent working with only that professional. After all, free software is about freedom!

Happy hacking,

Mathieu Lutfy
[email protected]

Chris Holt's picture
Submitted by Chris Holt on

Thanks for the comment and your points are all well taken.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

On the contrary, I provide FREE case management software for food pantries and emergency services organizations which provide food, clothing, diapers, HBA items, funds to avoid utility cutoff and eviction, funds for Rxm etc. Since Nov 2004 the software has been installed in 28 501(c)(3) agencies. YOu can learn more about the software and download a trial version here:



bobalston9 AT yahoo DOT com

Donald Lobo's picture

I dont think CiviCRM comes close to your needs, but I think it offers you a good start and a decent basis to build a case management system

Drupal: For managing Content
CiviCRM: For managing Data
BIRT (via CiviReport), similar to pentaho: to build detailed reports and analysis as u see fit


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Chris Holt's picture


Chris Holt specializes in consulting for Government and NGO public health and social services organizations about software to assist with case management and patient management systems.
Check out his site at http://www.intuitech.biz.