Time for nonprofits to leave proprietary fundraising software systems behind
The FSF had highlighted the need for a free software solution in this area as part of its High Priority Projects campaign. With this announcement, the FSF will also be adopting CiviCRM for its own use, and actively encouraging other nonprofit organizations to do the same.
Nonprofits have historically relied heavily on proprietary or web-hosted "software as a service" fundraising software such as Blackbaud's Raiser's Edge or eTapestry. The nonprofit organizations using them are locked in, have little control over the functionality of the software, and are dependent on the whims of a single company. Nonprofits also face costly migration if they wish to switch to a different proprietary system, never achieving independence. These factors mean that tools intended to enhance organizations' effectiveness have actually ended up restricting their ability to accomplish their social missions.
CiviCRM, however, shares its software code so all organizations can see how it works, have the option of commissioning anyone to make customizations to it, and can host it on their own trusted servers. Since the code and the data format are freely available, using the system does not mean being locked into it. Because it runs on the free GNU/Linux operating system, it eliminates the need for another frequent nonprofit proprietary software dependency — Microsoft Windows.
"The features now offered by CiviCRM will satisfy nonprofits seeking to organize their relationships with donors, supporters, and the media. In addition to storing contact information, it handles online fundraising, event registration, membership management, and personalized paper and electronic mailings. Best of all, it's free software distributed under the GNU Affero General Public License, which means nonprofits can host it themselves and retain the freedom they need to advance their missions unfettered," said John Sullivan, FSF's operations manager.
Free software ideals encouraging sharing and modification have been central to CiviCRM's growth. Developer Dave Greenberg explained, "The CiviCRM project was started by a group of developers and project managers who had been working together on a proprietary donation processing application. As folks who were passionate about increasing the impact and effectiveness of the nonprofits, we came to realize that there was a need for a CRM application designed from the ground up to meet the needs of civic sector organizations. From the beginning it was clear that this should be free software — community driven and community owned. On a personal level I find the engagement with our community of users to be intellectually stimulating and rewarding. Seeing folks with expertise in a particular area step up and contribute their time and ideas to help improve the product is quite exciting."
“The features now offered by CiviCRM will satisfy nonprofits seeking to organize their relationships with donors, supporters, and the media. In addition to storing contact information, it handles online fundraising, event registration, membership management, and personalized paper and electronic mailings. Best of all, it's free software distributed under the GNU Affero General Public License, which means nonprofits can host it themselves and retain the freedom they need to advance their missions unfettered.” — John Sullivan, operations manager
In making the switch, the FSF joins other organizations like Amnesty International, Creative Commons, and the Wikimedia Foundation, who have also been using CiviCRM.
Executive director Peter Brown described the FSF's use of the software and intent to publicize it: "I look forward to encouraging other nonprofit organizations to escape their current proprietary or 'software as a service' systems and give CiviCRM a try. As a nonprofit, the FSF manages over 40,000 contacts and 15,000 donation transactions per year, a book publishing operation, online store, and several advocacy campaign websites with associated mailing lists — all with free software. A general purpose donor and contact management system will be the final piece of the puzzle for charitable organizations looking to operate using only free software. We plan to publish a guide offering our experiences as a resource for other nonprofits concerned with the social implications of their technology."
Nathan Yergler, chief technology officer at Creative Commons, offered further praise for the software: "CiviCRM is a critical part of Creative Commons' infrastructure. We've seen the application mature and steadily improve with new features and performance improvements coming in every release. CiviCRM's developer community is accessible and responsive, going beyond the normal call of duty to help when needed. I would happily recommend CiviCRM to organizations like Creative Commons looking for a CRM solution."
CiviCRM core team member Piotr Szotkowski noted that despite the project's maturity, there is still rewarding work to be done: "We could definitely use more helping hands. Being able to work on CiviCRM gives a lot of non-direct benefits, like the very warm and fuzzy feelings of great satisfaction and fulfillment: knowing that one’s code was used to help the Katrina hurricane victims, that it helps organizations like Amnesty International or Front Line fight for human rights defenders, or that it helps organizations like the Wikimedia Foundation better organize their great work on Wikipedia and all their other projects."
Further information about downloading, using, and contributing to CiviCRM can be found at http://civicrm.org. An ongoing discussion of comparisons between free software database options is on the FSF's LibrePlanet wiki.
For a description of the dangers in relying on "software as a service," see "Who does that server really serve?".
About the Free Software Foundation
The Free Software Foundation, founded in 1985, is dedicated to promoting computer users' right to use, study, copy, modify, and redistribute computer programs. The FSF promotes the development and use of free (as in freedom) software — particularly the GNU operating system and its GNU/Linux variants — and free documentation for free software. The FSF also helps to spread awareness of the ethical and political issues of freedom in the use of software, and its Web sites, located at fsf.org and gnu.org, are an important source of information about GNU/Linux. Donations to support the FSF's work can be made at http://donate.fsf.org. Its headquarters are in Boston, MA, USA.
About Free Software and Open Source
The free software movement's goal is freedom for computer users. Some, especially corporations, advocate a different viewpoint, known as "open source," which cites only practical goals such as making software powerful and reliable, focuses on development models, and avoids discussion of ethics and freedom. These two viewpoints are different at the deepest level. For more explanation, see http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/open-source-misses-the-point.html.
Media ContactsJohn Sullivan
Free Software Foundation
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