Free tools for the FSF
The Free Software Foundation draws our strength and support from our members and supporters around the world. We use CiviCRM, a free contact management system, to run our campaigns, collect donations, and send emails to our database of nearly eight hundred thousand contacts. We're not alone in this, top organizations like Creative Commons and Wikimedia Foundation also use CiviCRM to stay in contact with their members and organize against threats to free knowledge. Before switching to CiviCRM, we relied on a custom membership tool to handle the complexities of FSF membership, particularly perks like email forwarding. By the time this article reaches you, we will have completed the final steps of our migration to CiviCRM for membership management. Although CiviCRM is a powerful set of tools, the default membership dashboard was missing some features essential for our needs. Since CiviCRM is free software licensed under the AGPLv3, we have been able to modify it to suit our needs.
FSF web developer Dave Thompson has been working hard over the last few months on building an extension to CiviCRM to finally unify our membership management system with the rest of FSF-provided services. Now, the same account you use to log in to the Free Software Directory or LibrePlanet wiki will allow you to update your email and postal mailing preferences, view attendence at past events like LibrePlanet, and soon will even allow you to get in touch with free software activists in your area. This custom membership dashboard currently depends on some Drupal-specific features, but we're working on getting the core parts of the new dashboard into upstream CiviCRM so everyone can benefit from the work we've done and contribute changes. We have hopes that this extension will become platform agnostic and also support Joomla and WordPress instances of CiviCRM.
To keep our work reusable, the new member dashboard is implemented as a CiviCRM extension. By creating an extension, we can add features to CiviCRM without modifying the core source code. We decided to create a new extension because CiviCRM's default contact dashboard doesn't display all of the information that we would like our members to see and has no knowledge of our domain-specific member information. For example, we exposed the option to choose whether to receive plain text or HTML email directly on the dashboard for convenience.
Additionally, we tweaked the columns that are displayed in tables for contributions amd events to include the most relevant information. Since FSF members can create email forwarding addresses, our extension adds a new database table and user interface for managing them. The biggest new feature is that our extension displays a special CiviCRM profile that allows members to update their own contact information.
Since the FSF first called for nonprofits to switch to CiviCRM in 2010, the project has seen a remarkable rate of adoption and improvement, with feature development outpacing that of many proprietary donor management systems. If you volunteer with or donate to an organization that's still using a proprietary system, like a local animal shelter or prisoner support group, let them know that CiviCRM is a suitable replacement and offer to help them migrate if you have the technical skills.
Meanwhile, you can check out the new dashboard by joining the FSF or renewing your membership. Let us know what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, patches are encouraged!