WestCoast2008:Software and Services: Deciding When to Use Free, When to Pay, and When to Do It Yourself

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Looking at getting a new Constituent Relationship Management system, Email system, Internal Knowledge Management System (Wiki), or externally facing Content Management System? With the proliferation of "free" (i.e. ad-supported) and commercial online hosted services, as well as open source Do-It-Yourself alternatives, the array of technology and vendor choices can be dizzying. We will look at the advantages and disadvantages of each approach, and talk about criteria that can be helpful in evaluating the alternatives, from whether you need to know if the FBI gets a copy of your membership list to what kind of technical expertise you have on staff.

Session Notes

Notetaker: Jude

Tim facilitating:

DIY Why spend funds on software development. Freeware options Commercial


Free hosted CMS:

  • Build simple website on Google Sites

Criteria [c]-1: How broad and how big is website? Add fundraise and tell thousands of supported, updated on daily basis. c-2: How much functionality?

DIY Open Source plus Custom

Ads on the site? What’s tolerance of constituents. Internal users. Google aps has ads. Can turn off the adds on the educational version.

Word press – free hosting simple website. Complicated. Downloadable service. Wordpress.com and wordpress.?

c-3 Sensitivity to ads

c-4: willingness or ability to update etc.

Drupal – maintain updates and update content. – new business.

Civic space CRM and CMS updates and hosting.



Exchange server versus Google apps for email etc. had an exchange server crash; maybe need to have staff to maintain.switch to google for domain. So easy. No training. Administer google. Free hosted.

Small organizations. Example: Easier to manage internal versus external people they talk to. MS small business server with google accounts. 2 versions simultaneously. Reference internal and external. Security reasons. Exchange for internal.

Google accounts. Gmail. Can use own domain and they will host it. Pay them to manage their domain. Free for NGO. Ask for as many users. Have to have 501c3. Gmail for student email boxes – university students. But not faculty and staff.

Outlook with google. Timeout. Gmail, and popup thru outlook, so don’t see the ads.

Google is insecure.

Privacy issues. Google has all info that goes through your information. Godaddy already is breached by the feds? Google’s ability to pick out certain things. Godaddy probably can’t pull out data as effectively. Google cross reference, what websites they have searched, etc.

Personal and organizational sensitivity.

Tim not comfortable with google having all his data.

Case Management: Client Tracking Software.

Example: Using ETO is a hosted solution. Dianna works for them, and Spencer is one of the customer. No other sol’ns that’s free. Has to do with privacy. Track: clients, demographics, assessments, outcomes. Efforts w/ clients. Human services data. Very confidential and secure. Not as wide of a market, so not as many free products. Case management is very specific. Very intensive. Exists in regulatory framework? Pay for, but has to be customized. Low cost for non-profits.

  • Has it been tested?
  • Has gotten a lot of use
  • Tech support
  • Longevity

Hard to have everything met from off-the-shelf.

If you can put too much stuff in it. Fit into the software. To improve how you do business.

Free is wonderful. But if all software is free, how to help one another out. NGO tech infrastructure.

Free software on TechSoup?

Salesforce free platform but spent a lot of funding.

CMS world. Healthy

Drupal, Joomla!, Plone are the top 3 healthy open source. Why would anyone want to pay.

1. Learning curve?

2. Hear about them

3. Have to find out on your own?

4. Supplying credible information?

5. Time is money

6. Who’s doing the investigative job?

My SQL or small Oracle – small dbase. No support. Or if upgrade, not easy.

Get dependent on certain module that’s obsolete.

SQL light. Still have to do programming. Filemaker traditional flat file. Access.

  • Googlesites does not have database as part.
  • Access can’t handle users.
  • Online free dbase product: not organizers collective.
  • SQLbase costs $$
  • Another one xxxbase

Used to be lots of low end dbases before access.

Tool. Design something on the tool.

My SQL wonderful dbase. Lots of work. Sample dbases. Have to know what you’re doing.

FreeWare – careful when you download. Never download to production server.

Online services. Flicker. But still use own galleries.

Use event.db ? consumer base event management system. Website calendar, .

Evite is ugly.

How do we decide? What’s the spectrum?

NGOs use Evite.

If there is a tool that you can import your brand. Build more professional image. No time to be flickering and twittering… So need info that use the tools.

What’s your risk?

Permanent loss of data. If tool is cumbersome or time-consuming. Data, security, Major issue is investment of time.

On it’s way of Salesforce. Do they have a strategy. Make sure that you have a way of backing it up. Offline version of Salesforce. Replicate. That is the case with any online systems.

Openofficebase = flat dbase

On-line versus at the office. Someone else is doing infrastructure. Take their word for the security.

Export individual files. Second on line storage.

Example: Contara site. Hard to deal with. No backup.

Use Amazon 200/year for 100 gigs. Hae to encrypt and use jungle disc.

Support. Have a vendor. What if google screws up? They lost some emails. What’s your recourse. Open source – what’s the vulnerability in a module. Website hosted in google or yahoo.

Layers and layers.

Talking around a lot of issues.

1. Control: how much do you have and how much do you want to give up. (eg Evite ads, and no control)

2. Features and your ability to control the features.

3. Scalability: how complex (small and straightforward; website with 1500 pages huge.

4. Security, privacy, legal and politics. (hospitals and universities often need direct relationship with vendor)

Rules and regulations. Research institute UCB. Can’t allow access. Invented Unix.

What does it really cost you?

  • Training
  • How easy to use
  • To get it running, adjusted
  • Cost of software.. not that big a factor.

Social solutions: consult with client – make sure it’s set up properly. May fumble how to use it. How to make the most of the functionality?

Major dbase. For example, Unionware major dbase. All they do. Update it all the time. Help desk. Saves money in the long run because people are productive with it. Other unions are also using it, so talk about it at gatherings. Gets better each year.

Key point: what’s the vision for the product. Is there a roadmap? Open Source is kinda organic. No insurance if someone is going to stay with it/

Good vendors will make it part of their selling. Where the market is heading. Using social networks with fundraising. Hear diff pitches make more sense. Find someone who gets it. Community makes a big difference in vendor context and open source context. Influence direction and have ways to interact. Annual user conference and learn from clients. Increases the value to you if it has a community.

Rich Open Source “ecosystem” in some cases

EG used to program in Oracle. 2 gigs of data. Full version. Now Oracle has tools bc they let geeks play with it and develop stuff. SalesForce has copied them. Product company to a platform company. Great position as vendor. And customer with extra value.

What consumer products.

  • Popmail.
  • Godaddy
  • Exchange server.

MS has e-open donation program. Get grant for software. Techsoup manages it. Microsoft approves them. SharePoint part of projects. On a MS server. Hosted version. Sweet never down never usage problems. Quickbooks on line. Server version created work. Just back it up. Mail. Webhost.

Content management system. Salesforce. Won’t integrate with website. Events for example cross functionality. Manage contacts.

SCIU. All specialized vendor tools. IT director is a consultant.

Wrap up:


Joe: choice of the solution. Commitment to the solution doesn’t end with the choice. So much you have to do afterwards.

Whole thing is an AH-HA. Free, web-based. Have to do the research, including the future.

So many different ways to do Control. Infrastructure. Someone is doing infrastructure.

Report back:

  • Infrastructure.
  • Backup and security.
  • Commitment long term.