Free software has much to offer non-profit organizations (NGOs). If you are reading this, you are probably a member or participant of an NGO, and I hope I can show you why free software and open standards are important for your organisation. Or maybe you are a free software supporter who’d like to see a change in a social organisation near you. In any case, I will try to give you a few arguments in favour of free software, along with some practical information on how to successfully face a migration process from proprietary software.
I've mentioned before the recent move among UK charities to become more "professional", which is often translated as "do what the corporates do" (particularly when it comes to IT). One reason for this is the dreaded bespoke friend-of-a-friend database. These "databases" (and I use the term loosely) are often written by a student, with tenuous links to the charity, looking for a final year project and usually in Microsoft Access and they are usually awful to maintain.
You might have gathered from my article about hosting free software events, I work and am interested in the UK Voluntary/Community Sector (VCS). I also am a user and advocate of free software and I have a desire to see it used more often in VCS and non-governmental (NG) organisations. I believe that these two groups should be some of the primary non-personal users of free software and here’s why.
It’s not about cost
Last fall a slightly ambitious project to test the uptake of Ubuntu Linux in the volunteer community of eastern England showed positive results, so why has the funder pulled the plug?
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.
MMORPGs, or Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games, are fairly popular in the proprietary gaming world. Rather than playing a game all by yourself on a computer in your own dark room, you could be playing a game all by yourself on a computer in your own dark room---but against thousands of other people who play the same game on-line along with, or against, your character in the game, adding an intriguing social edge to the genre. Unfortunately, no such game currently exists in the free software world. Not yet, anyway.
Nevrax and Ryzom
Gervase Markham, the Mozilla Foundation's licensing officer, in an article in the Times Online, talks about being questioned by a northern UK Trading License Officer about giving away software.
Today, I sat down with the executive director of a counseling service for child sexual abuse to have a chat about developing a case management application for them. These organizations need to be able to track their activities with the people they deal with, write notes about their interactions, produce assessments, demographic analysis and activities reports and manage documents. Good case management software is pivotal for them. I realized that it's ridiculous how these types of organizations struggle with their technology needs.