Charity Digital – Topics – Should charities use open source software?



The advantages of free software

At low price

Undoubtedly, one of the main advantages for an open source software charity is the fact that it can cost little or nothing to acquire and use it. This can be especially appealing to charities when it comes to fairly straightforward software such as an office productivity suite that includes a word processor, spreadsheet, and maybe an email client.

But charities wishing to use more complex open source software, such as a Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) software package, may have to pay a consultant to help install and configure the software package, so adopting it won’t involve not necessarily zero cost.

Unbundled assistance

Proprietary software vendors provide support for their products, either through license fees or through support packages. But if a charity downloads and starts using an open source software package, support won’t be available in the same way.

The good news is that informal support is often available for free from the community of open source software developers – the people who help with changes and improvements to the software, as well as the people who started the project in the first place.

For more popular or complex open source software projects, support is often offered on a formal commercial basis, either by the original developers or by third-party companies specializing in providing software support. It can be a subscription or pay-as-you-go.

“The way of thinking is that the support is unbundled (from the software) but widely available,” says Simon Phipps, former president of the Open Source Initiative. “This means that instead of having to get support from one sole provider for a fixed price, a number of different support providers can compete for your business in terms of quality and price. “


Another advantage of open source software is that it is customizable. Rather than buying proprietary software that can meet most of your needs, your charity can get open source software to use as a starting point, and then pay a developer to add specific features that you want.

The end result is that you can pay as much for open source software as you can for proprietary software, but you end up with a program tailored to your charity’s needs.

The customizations can then be donated back to the community, so other charities can benefit from your customizations in the future – and you can benefit from any of theirs that you find useful.

Disadvantages of open source software


A common drawback of open source software is that its developers often lack the resources to pay attention to software aesthetics in the same way that proprietary software vendors do. This means that some – but by no means all – open source software looks less appealing than its proprietary counterparts and may not be as easy to use.

Orphan projects

Another potential downside is that if the people who are the driving force behind an open source software project decide to abandon it, development may stop.

This is unlikely with large open source or established projects that have many contributors, but it is a real danger with small or new projects that may have only one developer working on them. However, since the source code is available for free, nothing prevents a charity from hiring a developer to continue the project.

Some examples of open source software

Office productivity suite

Apache OpenOffice and LibreOffice: these two suites are great completely free alternatives to Microsoft Office, and the files they produce are compatible with Office, so Microsoft users can use files created in OpenOffice or LibreOffice and vice versa. versa. They are attractive and anyone familiar with Office will be able to use them immediately.

CRM software

CiviCRM, openCRX, and SuiteCRM: These are three popular open source CRM systems, which include donor management, with various support options available.

Mailing List Software

Mail for Good: email campaign management software with html templates, analytical dashboards, import and export of lists and follow-up of email openings. A good alternative to MailChimp for large charities.

Project management

MyCollab: Basic project management features, suitable for small charities.

OpenProject: This open source project offers project planning and scheduling, task management, roadmap, and release planning.

These two open source projects are a subset of more sophisticated, non-free versions of the products that also offer support and various premium features.


GnuCash: financial accounting software for small businesses and charities

Odoo: a suite of business management software tools, including CRM, e-commerce, invoicing and accounting. A commercial product is available alongside the free open source edition.

Open Source Invoicing: A completely free invoicing and reporting tool.



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