Free And Open Source Alternatives To Proprietary SaaS Offerings


With this week’s announcement that Blackbaud will buy Convio there have been many questions whether this will be good or bad for the nonprofit organizations both companies count as their clients. We have often had clients and other nonprofit organizations we come into contact with us ask about the open source tools we specialize in, and how they compare with the proprietary tools or Software as a Service offerings that they’ve heard about. One very clear difference is that the open source tools don’t get bought up and consolidated.

Eben Moglen, of the Software Freedom Law Center, gave a keynote address at the Nonprofit Technology Conference (video) a few years back. In a passionate 45 minute speech, he discussed the choice between free sofware and proprietary software as a moral one. Every dollar spent purchasing an operating license, or paying a lease on proprietary SaaS is a dollar taken out of the public trust and given to private companies to distribute to their executives, owners or shareholders. On the flip side, money spent deploying free and open source solutions is often also spent making those solutions better, and available for others to use.

Allen “Gunner” Gunn of Aspiration Tech wrote similarly this week of the Blackbaud/Convio merger:

Blackbaud makes tens of millions of dollars in annual profits by charging nonprofits usurious rates for mission-critical software.

Their sales tactics and licensing terms are among the most aggressive and ruthless I have seen, even in my hardest-core Silicon Valley days.

And their executives receive multi-million-dollar cash and equity compensation packages.

Organizations do have options. Unfortunately those options due not have multi-million dollar marketing budgets (as my colleague Fen points out is his comments on Gunner’s blog.

Of course at CivicActions we work with Drupal and CiviCRM. The former is a powerful content management system that runs some of the largest websites on the planet. it is 100% free and open source under the GPL. CiviCRM is a robust constituent relationship management system that is free and open source under the AGPL. Together, these tools offer much of the functionality people pay expensive subscription and support fees to the likes of Blackbaud and Convio for.

But these are not the only alternatives to proprietary SaaS solutions (and they, themselves are not SaaS though there are SaaS providers of Drupal and CiviCRM). Nonprofit organizations should take the time to research all available alternatives when making decisions on web content management systems, and donor contact management system and evaluate the total cost of ownership of both proprietary SaaS solutions and the associated vendor lock-in against open source and free solutions and their associated maintenance costs and upkeep.

Conferences like the NTEN NTC are a great opportunity to talk to vendors who supply both types of systems, as well as customers and users of both proprietary and open source solutions. But you don’t have to travel to a conference to get an opinion. The open source community is… well… open. And as such, people are very willing to share their experiences and opinions on the solutions they’ve chosen and why. Look no further than local user groups for Drupal, or forums and local events for CiviCRM.

And of course, if you have questions about the open solutions we offer, we are happy to answer them. Just drop us a note.

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