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The Almighty Buck

Open Source Software And The Non-Profit Sector 71

Cliff Lampe wrote this thoughtful piece about one interesting societal intersection -- the one where free / Free software meets the millions of volunteers worldwide who give of themselves to make the world a better place to live in. It's intriguing to note as Cliff does here that the benefits promised by Application Service Providers -- ease of use, low overhead, painless transitions to new software -- are ones that apply just as much to low-budget nonprofit organizations as they do to large businesses. Perhaps some major ASP (like USinternetworking) could also see the public relations boon of offering what would be a drop in the bucket of their application bandwidth to host OSS applications for local, voluntary organizations.

This May, the University of Michigan held a conference on how Application Service Providers and Open Source Software could help community serving nonprofits achieve their goals. Participants from the nonprofit world, open source projects, ASP's (definitely not Active Server Pages here) and foundations attended several days of intensive talks on how OSS could be applied to help smaller nonprofits realize the benefits of information technology. For a full list of participants, please refer to the conference website. This was a small group, thirty people total, who met in intensive sessions designed to bring them together for the first time. Remarkable for a conference, it seemed to energize rather than enervate, and conference members have kept in contact over the months that have followed.

Community Serving Organizations

Obviously, there are several sizes and varieties of nonprofits, ranging from the mega lobbying organizations of the NRA and AARP, to three people sitting in a kitchen trying to clean up a local river. The Michigan conference was mostly concerned about such smaller organizations that are trying to make a change in the world on small budgets. Typical organizations of this kind include local environmental groups, community theaters, food gatherers, advocacy groups, individual churches and so forth. Basically, nonprofits who do not have the benefit of a huge infrastructure driving their efforts to engage in some community-serving activity.

These groups could benefit from the blessings of information tech as much as their private sector friends have, but see expenditures on technology as drawing money away from their core missions. After all, a Big Deal has been made in recent years about how much donated money actually goes to direct service, so people in nonprofits have been reluctant to increase the money they put into this thing called 'administration,' which includes money spent on computers. The problem is, information technology might be able to help some of these people with their missions -- and in many cases, it's vital.

A computer is unlikely to directly feed a homeless person, but it could certainly connect a nonprofit to a broader range of opportunites to find food and housing for that person. One of the commonalities of most nonprofits is a need to communicate -- either to solicit funds for future activities, or to disseminate information on their particular cause. Use of the Internet and computers in general can go a long way in helping nonprofits seek and maintain a group of supporters, as well as the typical office tasks that all organizations need to deal with.

For most of the community service population, coding their own applications in unfeasible. These are people who want and need to deal in their specialties, and if they have little or no money for computers, they have less to spend on programmers who can work out proprietary apps for the nonprofit. It would suck pretty hard if a homeless person got to the shelter and heard, 'Sorry sucka, we sold the beds so we could hire this programmer.'

Application Service Providers (ASP's)

Lately, a deluge of ASP's have popped up to serve organizations without the money to install of the technology pieces they might want. The idea is pretty simple. For an honest fee, the ASP provides server-side applications available to anyone with an Internet connection. The most common type of ASP offers data storage, but others allow one to use office style products (though pared down for efficient transport). Some very clever ASP's have even popped up that allow people to create forms and collect data, super simple style, over the provider's server.

The problem is, there really aren't any ASPs designed for nonprofits specifically. This is weird, since the nonprofit sector is worth hundreds of billions of dollars in spending every year. Some of the conference members are working towards creating such a business -- ASPs aimed at nonprofits will emerge -- but the question becomes whether that will happen under a proprietary model, or under one of the Open Source style licenses. There is still so much money to be tapped in the private market, where it is easier to find funding, that most ASP's will not turn their attention to nonprofits for a good long time. Finally, the ASP market has become volatile since April of this year, and it would be unlikely for a private company to take on the risk of starting one without more of a measure of success than most people find in the nonprofit sector.

The Role of Open Source for Nonprofits

The obvious connection is that many open source projects are nonprofit, community-serving enterprises themselves. However, there are many positive interactions available between the open source community and the nonprofit sector, and not just free coding for the nonprofits if that is what you are thinking. If there is one thing that the nonprofit sector has learned how to do, it is to get the message out there. Their experience with advocacy combined with the communications experience garnered by the Open Source movement could do wonderful things for both players.

Also, the list of successful Open Source projects is limited in many ways. The best known successes, Apache, Linux and Sendmail, were coded by the people most likely to use them. This is not bad, obviously, it's just that the Open Source community needs to decide if they are going to remain forever in the shadow of a niche, or if they ever want to move into more mainstream endeavors. Working with the nonprofits, developing applications that would bridge that gap between helping ourselves and helping others, would be a great way to burst self imposed bonds. Scratch someone else's itch, as it were.

This isn't high school, so there will be no lecture on how helping community serving organizations is good for the soul, or how one should devote their talents to help those who have not been blessed. Bugger that for a box of rocks. However, it is true that males between 17 and 24 are the group of people least likely to volunteer their time. It's also true that an organized attempt to code an ASP for community serving organizations could allow people to hone coding skills for future personal use. Besides, it's a damned good feeling to be part of something that makes the world better, that makes people better. Not better in that way that they can get their job done a little bit faster, or that their computer crashes less often. Better in the way that they eat, or that get medicine to save their lives, or that there is air for your kids to breathe. It's a very good feeling indeed. OK, that got a little close to preachy, but suffice it to say there are reasons for the Open Source community to consider creating an ASP for the nonprofit sector.

What needs to be done next

There are several steps that need to be taken before the Open Source movement can mesh well with the community serving organizations.


Most people in these community serving organizations are unaware of the potential of ASP's, much less of OSS. We'll need to do some basic advocating for open systems of development. Most of the nonprofits will see the inherent wisdom of the open source method of application development, having a culture much more used to cooperation than does the private sector. On the other hand, they will have the same newbie style questions about a decentralized system of software development. Who is responsible in case it doesn't work? How do I get changes made? How does anything get done with no one calling the shots? Whom do I call for help? Basically, these organizations are a little gun shy about being abandoned with buggy software, and it would be a coup for the open source movement to not only convince them to follow an open strategy, but to make sure they are not hurt by that decision.

The Open Source movement also has some things to learn. Assume that the people in the community serving organizations are not able to change the code themselves, which is a pretty safe assumption. What does open source matter to them at that point? Also, the software will have to be as transparent as possible, something not only uncommon in most open source projects of the past, but rather frowned upon as "un-leet". It would be interesting for someone to manage a successful open source project where the end user is not also the major developer. The nonprofit sector provides a beautiful guinea pig for developing under this slight alteration of past open source success.


There are few standardized apps that are currently used by the community serving sector. This includes both the very macro types of software, like client trackers, or more subtle things, like XML standards for the community. These will be necessary if we want to make the whole schmeckis fit together. Later, there will be a diagram that will discuss the various elements that all need to work together to make an entire system revolving around an open source ASP that serves this target population.

Secondly, it will need to become apparent that sharing these tools will lead to a stronger overall "market" for community serving organizations. Past attempts at sharing tools often became mired in bureaucracy that would cause anyone to start popping Excedrin like Pez. Not only do the benefits of sharing the information need to be made plain, but the security of that information needs to be guaranteed. Nothing is more precious to a nonprofit than their lists of contacts, client information or advocacy materials. They walk a fine line between the proprietary and the open, and need to be helped to draw that line based on the experience of the open source movement, which will in turn learn from the nonprofits own struggles.


A community serving organization obviously needs to get to the Net in order to reap benefits from it. Connectivity for these types of organizations is more essential than for individuals, which has been the main focus of the widely touted "Digital Divide". There is no easy solution to getting the nonprofits to the Net. Many can afford it, especially if their funds are freed up by having access to a good Open Sourced ASP, but some still will not be able to. For some the telecom infrastructure where they are from will not be good, especially for those community serving organizations in poorer parts of the USA, or in less developed countries. All we can do is advocate for increasing ubiquity of the Internet, which should not go against the grain for any person who believes that technology can make a positive difference.

The time is now

Someone out there needs to jump on this. The potential gains, for open source, for the community serving organizations, and for the individual themselves are great. In the coming six months, more nonprofits are going to be pressured by the apparent successes of the private market to seek out more and more information technology. Many are going to turn to ASP's, which do not currently support the special needs of those community serving organizations. Many are going to turn to proprietary software, either out of misunderstandings of the power of open-sourced applications, or out of sheer ignorance that such things exist. Think of this as a few separate open source projects, enough for many of the bright people here. One is the creation of the open source ASP to serve the nonprofit sector. A few more open source projects will devolve out of the infrastructure that will need to spin out of that ASP-OSS project. And one more, that everyone should be involved in, is thinking of open source like advocates, if it is something you do believe in, and trying to recognize how it could be exposed to a broader world. This problem is one area where we can combine self interest with advocacy.

The paper at the the conference web site includes many possible steps that could be taken in the next months. There is also some money possibly available for someone taking this on. Many foundations were present at the conference, and all made committments to see that this thing happened, or more to the point, that if someone tried to make it happen they would not be flying alone. The opportunity here is rich, and it would be a Good Thing (tm) if someone from this population were to make some action happen. You could not find a better time or a more worthwhile enterprise.

The diagram below is something of a summation of the conference proceedings, which, again, are available here. Yes, the diagram is ripped directly from the site, with permission of course. It was initially drawn out by Brian Behlendorf, and immediately became a community property creation, like a center point that created a common vortex for the different working groups. For more information on the subject, you can contact the author of this article at cacl@umich.edu.


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Open Source Software And The Non-Profit Sector

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  • So I should switch from proprietary to open in order to save money on one-time costs...and then have another company host those apps for an on-going cost? Yeah, that makes sense.

    It would be a lot smarter to just switch to Free Software but continue adminning it yourself. No change in operating expense (actually probably a decrease since Linux has fewer maintainence problems than Win95) and a big decrease in capital expense.
  • by El Huevo Anales ( 223884 ) on Wednesday August 23, 2000 @06:41AM (#833338)
    I have been a member of a non-profit educational center for inner-city youth for quite some time now, and I must say that OSS has been a boon and a blessing to our organization. We quite often have gotten donations of old computers (486/P1's) and Linux has been a godsend. Since it is free I was easily able to convince the uppers to try it. And multi-users allowed me to teach kids to browse the web without trashing the machine, saving us time and money in administration of the machines.

    OSS has allowed a lot of kids net access that would normally have never seen it, and made it economically viable for us to provide it.


  • Yes OSS is great but when something goes wrong you need someone thier to hold your hand. If you do not know what you are doing or you do not have time to take care of it. If companies could come up with a resonable cost for Quality service for non-profits I say go for it.
  • by ostiguy ( 63618 ) on Wednesday August 23, 2000 @06:44AM (#833340)
    Have less than 100 people, and couldn't possibly comprehend application development. Having worked in DC while in school as a part time network admin for a firm whose client base includes tons of non profits, I can speak about this with some assurancy. Customized app development is not what they need. Despite the myths, any kid in DC who could hack PHP could be doing on a contract basis for good money, and not for 10 an hour from a non profit.

    Generally, they look to do things on the cheap, which often means not doing things well. Keeping good geek help is tough, because geeks often feel underappreciated in environments that really don't understand them. We had some difficultly convincing organizations to move to DSL (when it was available, and given that they could lose the dedicated analog line, the ROI was a no brainer).

    They do "get" email. A killer app would be a package Linux/BSD distro that could roll out a web based email and contact management system by default. A lot of the somewhat larger non profits have heavy conference attendee or running schedules, so ubiquitous web based access to core line of business info would be critical.

    They really don't need special apps for non profits, they could use cheap or free good ones. A PHP pased finance system could be huge as well. Push it to the web.

  • but not everyone is a linux guru.

    Founder's Camp [founderscamp.com]

  • by deepakhj ( 182005 ) on Wednesday August 23, 2000 @06:48AM (#833342)
    I don't really agree with this article. I skimmed through it quickly because I'm leaving for work right now. But anyway.. You might save money and time with an ASP. But what happens if they go under? What if they change their mind? What if you need to customize? It's very important for nonprofits to hire a good tech staff because it is a vital part of a business. There are still computer issues, web hosting, purchasing, blah blah. If you already have a staff they might as well build something with free software to handle what you need rather than rely on another company. I mean a ASP sounds really nice to me.. no work for me. But I can't make it how I want and I am at the mercy of another company. I'm currently in the process of creating an intranet for the company I work for. I don't want to go with a premade software or ASP. Instead I am looking at a program called PHPGroupware (www.phpgroupware.org). They develop modules like IMAP email, to do list, calendar, file sharing/editing, etc. Now I can create the pages I need, customize their files and I save a lot of time. Also I am going to start contributing to the project since they are helping me at work and so I can help others. And I'll do it on my work's time! Deepak Jagannath Juma Ventures
  • by ackthpt ( 218170 ) on Wednesday August 23, 2000 @06:51AM (#833343) Homepage Journal
    Should be to drop technical jargon from communication with small organizations. Next, make the service something the organization can actually employ without spending a lot of time on it. (Money isn't the only resource!)

    After giving this doc a quick read, I'm convinced the beneficiary would probably be happiest with a tech volunteer. This is where I usually end up.

    Vote [dragonswest.com] Naked 2000
  • USinternetworking's HQ is literally about 1/2 mile down the road from my work. Maybe I'll ask them on my lunch break...
  • And notice how none of these reasons are nonprofit-specific. ASPs are here to stay--some people will buy anything. But they are a hot item only insofar as they are toast. By that I mean ASPs are the early-00's version of the mid-90's "push technology": getting loads of attention for no known reason.
  • I read the article and it seemed sort of dumb. The scientists injected a hygroscopic chemical into rat tissue to remove the water so that it would not bend light as much. They "haven't investigated the toxicity of the technique". But it's obviously going to damage tissue to pull out the water.

    This isn't invisibility. It's translucency. It might win the science fair in some high school, but it's not earth-shaking. I probably would not have accepted it on my weblog either.


  • Like VA Linux, Red Hat, Linuxcare, Caldera? They're all on Open Source anyway.

  • Non-PROFIT!?! What's wrong with these people? Donating their time and (most importantly) money, without ever considering getting something tangible (as in more money) back?

    We have to rid ourselves of these evil communists before their cult of "sharing" and "cooperation" destroys the fabric of capitalism!

    As the Great Prophet Ayn Rand once said, "Screw the poor, I got mine."

    Or was that Ronald Reagon who said that? I can't recall. In any case...

    We can't allow these godless pinkos to spread their ideas. We must rid ourselves of the whole notion of "altruism" and "selflesseness." People who care about other people will never help out those in need. Only people who care purely for themselves can help out the poor, the homeless, the sick, the underprivileged.

    Join me as I pledge my allegience to these people, these leaders of the capitalist utopia.

    Our Beloved And Respected Comrade Leader Bill Gates!
    Our Beloved And Respected Comrade Leader Phillip Knight!
    Our Beloved And Respected Comrade Leader Donald Fisher!

    All Hail Monsanto-Novartis-DuPont-PhillipMorris-Time-Warner , Inc!

    Michael Chisari
  • I think this classifies as news more-so than many of our "vaporware stories"...of course, would the concepts behind this classify as vaporious(sp)?

    It sucks trying to get stories submitted....

  • If non-profits need an ASP, why not a non-profit ASP that has as its mission serving the needs of the non-profit organization? That would be worth building, and free software can do it all.

    The main advantage of an ASP for the non-profit is that it can facilitate distributed collaboration. Second to that, it offloads the load of administration and the operating and hardware expense. But ASPs don't make software cheaper if there is free software that does the same thing already.


  • by Anonymous Coward
    You guys need to check out http://www.etapestry.com [etapestry.com]. It's a great nitche.
  • Cliff Lampe says "The problem is, there really aren't any ASPs designed for nonprofits specifically" Not true!! Check out http://community.web.net. We have press release, events, and fax your member of parliament apps up and running, and more to come, working with our international organization The Association for Progressive Communications www.apc.org. Interested in participating?--oliver@web.net
  • by Max von H. ( 19283 ) on Wednesday August 23, 2000 @07:27AM (#833353)
    I would really like to see a complete OSS package based on GNU/Linux or *BSD that would allow a moneyless NGO, or any office for that matter, to deploy a LAN with more-or-less dumb terminals (old Pentiums for example) that would entirely run from the server.

    The package would have to serve all office (not M$!) applications such as PIM, word processor, spreadshit, db, etc AND be compatible with MS file formats (let's be real, do you any office that doesn't use a flavour of MS Word?).

    The cherry at the top would be a web end that would update a site automagically... (think XML all the way)

    Yes, it sounds like M$ .net and all their IIS/Office stuff, but if there's an OSS alternative, I can tell you most NGOs and international organisations will dive for it once they realise they can save tons of cash, which is something they always lack ('specially NGOs).

    If it already exist, tell me... I got clients for that!

    Btw, does anybody know of a hosting provider that would host for free or for very little money a moneyless, small NGO site?


  • ...or however it's spelled...
    Keeping good geek help is tough, because geeks often feel underappreciated in environments that really don't understand them.
    I've been interning this summer at a non-profit in DC. They were between webmasters, and needed someone to do website maintenance. Now they have a webmaster who is also the sysadmin, but I'm still doing a lot of web work (including ColdFusion programming...yum!). The organization has nothing to do with computers, but I don't feel at all underappreciated. If I have a burning desire to talk computers with anyone, the sysadmin is a nice guy. In fact, I enjoy the ability to work in an environment that is not totally computer oriented but where I can flex my computer skills and learn new ones.
    Granted, this is just my personal experience...
  • Good one.. Had me laughing for a full minute..
  • Realize that most nonprofits aren't blessed enough to have someone like you around that understands the details of technology. Frankly, if you have the skills, a chunk of the value proposition of the ASP goes away. But not all of it- most ASPs will have facilities and administrative tools that should enable them to provide a more reliable service than most small organizations could on their own, for a comparable cost. Whether that's an acceptable tradeoff for the loss of control, well, that's a call you have to make.
  • Probably rejected because of me, and other /. readers who have complained about the "tabloid" quality of some /. stories. I think the editors were wise to reject this one. Keep up the good work.

  • Sure, some nonprofits are lucky enough to have skilled technical people volunteer for them. But most don't. So if they wanted to make use of all of this wonderful free software, they'd have to pay someone a lot of money to set it up and maintain it for them. This usually ends up being a heck of a lot more than the cost of the software in the first place.

    The cool thing about ASPs is that they can afford to hire technical hot shots, and spread the benefits across a large number of organizations that normally couldn't afford to pay for that person's time.

    Of course, this is all based on the premise that the ASP won't load up the pricing with large margins. The problem with corporate ASPs is that they can charge a premium because they companies that need this level of help and expertise can afford it. That's why I think that the only ASP suitable for a non-profit is a non-profit ASP. Otherwise, the motivation is wrong- you want the ASP reducing costs to provide more benefit to it's nonprofits, not it's own profits.
  • by SimonK ( 7722 ) on Wednesday August 23, 2000 @07:53AM (#833359)
    Many of the problems with ASPs are just the same problems you get with outsourcing anything at all. For instance, you need to make sure they have the right incentives (so they won't be encouraged to provide choddy service), and you need to make sure they are legally obliged to provide the agreed level of service or compensate you properly. Its possible that non-profits don't have the financial clout to deal with an ASP on this level and get what they need.

    There are also technical problems with the model. If you are outsourcing complex apps, there is the question of how they're configured and whether you/your users can customise them. Similarly, there's the question of who holds the data: you or the ASP ? If the latter, can you access it without going through their apps ? In this area, ASPs overlap with hosting services.

    There is a real force driving this though, which push lacked, which a desire to offload the extreme hassle of managing and maintaining big, complex apps onto someone else who, presumably, can develop expertise and thus make their costs lower than yours would have been and thus make the whole deal cheaper for everyone. Will it work ? Good question, but don't write it off yet.
  • staroffice/starportal software can do that. ok so starportals not freeware.....but the concept is great. its based on staroffice but can be run over the web. checkitout : http://www.sun.com/products/staroffice/starportal/ ..i've got a coupla copies of it running beta ..works ok.
  • This seems like a very good idea to me but it has one big problem. Like for every service provider you need equipment like NASes and multiple servers. I don't know how this should be financed for a non-profit ASP.

    If it is possible to finance that it seems like a pretty interesting idea.
  • You will all have corrected, it's not "spreadshit" but "spreasheet"...

    "speadshit" is a M$ feature I DON*T want to see in OSS software... :)

  • I'm going to have to disagree with you on this one. ASPs are a natural extension of a pretty old (and sucessful) idea in computers -- time-sharing, dialup shell connections, remote X sessions, etc. The only real difference is that now, they're all on one big network, rather than on a few thousand seperate LANs or WANs. This is a Good Thing, if you think competition and availability help the development of better technology.

    The core reasoning hasn't changed though; it is still entirely possible to serve many users' needs from a single, more powerful, computer, and to do it more economically and efficiently. A well-run ASP can offer better securtiy, data integrity, and support than most small non-profits would ever be able to maintain internally. Open sourcing the tools being used further increases the support and development base, and the non-profit using the service shouldn't have to worry about anything much more complex than getting a hard backup of their data put into storage somewhere every few weeks or months.

  • Speaking as a software developer and NPO volunteer for 25 years, I can certainly attest to the fact that most NPO will NOT do any software development. DB design is possible, but not common. HOWEVER, they also have need for special software not shared by for profit organizations: fund raising, e-mail constituent management, estate planning, accounting packages gear to nonprofit practices, etc. This is in fact a niche market with some active software vendors. Unfortunately, the smaller NPO's rarely can afford the commercial packages. So I DO see a possible role for Open Source in these niche software. Since MOST of the staff and volunteers in NPOs will NOT be technical proficient, it is imperative that any Open Source project for them should hold forth as a primary requirement: Ease of Use, even at the costs of flexibility and power. Tungbo
  • That's assuming that the $300 linux install doesn't eat up $4,700 in lost time and technical fees because no one at the non-profit knows how to manage it. I've worked for a couple non-profits, and consulted for a few more, and it's pretty rare to find one that has anyone on staff with any interest in or skill with computers. I'm sure some are different; but most can't afford a top-notch sysadmin in today's market. NT, for all its problems, is point and click out of the box, and most non-profits are more comfortable with that. Plus, here in the Northwest anyway, MS will donate pretty much all the software for free--OS, productivity, the works. Because of this, I have yet to encounter an established non-profit around here that runs linux.
  • Unfortunately, it's far, far, easier to hurt the small entrepreneur than the megacorporations. That's why they're still... er... mega.


  • Must agree that non-profits grok email. Email is the lifeblood of most nonprofits, and they're starting to understand they need web pages.

    But they don't seem to want streaming audio or video.

    They could definitely use some web-based contact management system, since a lot of officers travel around their regions a bit, but never have cash for the fancy methods. One that generated email reminders would be good as well.

    Another concern sometimes is privacy. Many advocacy non-profits don't trust corporations to safegaurd their information, so they would go for privacy, so long as it's easy and free (note I did not say cheap).

    PHP based finance system - that and some software for writing grant applications are the major needs I can see.

    Most non-profits would write way more grant applications if they had more help with this.

    I provide most of the IT services for a local non-profit myself.

  • Great idea, but the devil is in the details. As much as as it would be nice to fly in as the knight in shining armor and eliminate all the hassles of proprietary software, the real problem lies in the complexity of the problem. A recent slashdot article on library software [slashdot.org] shows just how complicated the needs really are.

    Instead of trying to make a magic bullet for every project, identify what each different non-profit organization really needs and build software to address those needs.

    Up until just recently I worked at CCL [ccl.net] a non-profit group that supplies newsgroup/ftp/web site for the computational chemistry community. For our site, we have very different needs.

    • idiot proof tool to make a working backup from one computer to another.
    • automation for requests for services from members
    • specialized searching software to handle ill-defined but frequently used comp. chem. acronyms
    Obviously this is off the top of my head and some of the packages may already exist. Obviously, these needs differ from a library's needs/wants, which differ again from a lobbying group, which differe again from a church feeding the homeless. A site co-ordinating the different projects might help, but a one size fits all is impractical.

  • Probably a bit off topic, and a bit U.S. centric, but, the with all the talk about non-profit companies, the article did make me think:

    Wouldn't it be great if you could claim open-source work as a charity/tax deduction?

    A flat per-hour rate that you could claim up to a certain limit for any open source programming...of course, the implementation would get a little hairy I guess...expecially with the million and a half minscule projects on source forge...maybe each project would have to qualify based on certain merits...hey, it's better than campaign finance...

    Although, I've always felt giving to charity for the tax deduction (or even for the chance to win a car the local United Way Raffle) is lame.
  • that wasn't very funny because you actually believe it. a small lesson in how the economy and people's lives really work:

    I urge you to

    • dedicate a chunk of your life working hard doing something worthwhile, so worthwhile to someone else they actually pay you
    • which puts food on your table and enables you to keep doing it.
    • Your ideas are so good that it makes sense for you to hire other people and teach them to do it
    • and they dedicate a part of their lives to doing it and it puts food on their tables.
    • You and some of your employees devote some of your free time to unpaid work,
    • feeling very good about yourselves, holier than thou even
    • till you realize the more paid work you do, the more you income you create and can then spend
    • which puts far more other people to work
    • and gives you cash you can donate to non-profits if you want, till you realize that
    • the volunteers at those organizations feel holier than you
    • and do a very limited amount of good compared to those who give paid jobs to the poor and disadvantaged.

    Yeah, yeah, I know, lots of volunteers do lots of good work. But they're only able to volunteer because the vast bulk of the economy exists to take care of most people through the charity of paid work, paid work that feeds the vast bulk of the people quality food, and comes up with lifesaving medicine, heated houses, tax revenues to take care of the unfortunate... oh I could go on... so by all means, volunteer! ... volunteer to work overtime and get paid for it, you owe it to your fellow man. You will not be called a hero, but you will be a hero, because the best antidote to poverty is the vast wealth, capital and intellectual, of a robust economy.

  • by RebornData ( 25811 ) on Wednesday August 23, 2000 @08:17AM (#833371)
    There are a variety of reasons why the commercial ASP sector is not well-suited to serving the non-profit ASP industry directly. I should know- I've been involved with it for 6 years.

    The main stumbling block for a non-profit ASP is going to be the large capital investments required to build out / buy the needed infrastructure. This goes for both hardware and software. Yes, software -- although the application delivery systems could be entirely open source, many of the sophisticated management tools that ASPs are buying to help them gain an economy of scale (application management, capacity management, trouble ticketing, integration middleware, etc...) do not have open source equivalents.

    Fortunately, the non-profit world has organizations that can help overcome these issues- foundations. Foundations already provide many kinds of assistance and enablement for the non-profits they fund, and it would make a lot of sense if that extended to IT, in the form of an non-profit ASP. I know I'd pitch in to help, if someone got one started... in fact, I've considered doing it myself.
  • The smaller non-profit organizations don't have the spare cash to start throwing $200 on an office suite, or $150 on a graphics package.

    NPO's need cheap, fast, reliable, easy-to-use servers and applications. And most geeks are willing to volunteer some time to help others in need, simply because anyone who codes for pleasure rather than profit is aware of needs greater than worshiping the Green God of Gloopy Glop.

    I've done plenty of volunteer work, myself, revamping the web pages of public parks, helping non-tech minds understand what the overgrown desk calculator in front of them can do, etc.

    IMHO, the free exchange of ideas is central to the whole Free Software model/ideal, with the "reward" in knowing that you scratched an itch. In the case of non-profit organizations, esp. genuine charities, these are itches that can afflict many people, but very few have the power to scratch them.

  • Whatever, it's mostly over-priviledged kids with too much free time who are doing that kind of shit. Typical suburban white kid who has no parental supervision and no better way to release his attention span lacking energy.
  • Why are you attempting to tar Gates, the donor behind the largest charitable foundation in the world, with the brush of being a Randian?

    Surely, Open Source has its own share of these nutters, starting with Eric "Love and altruism don't scale up very well [tuxedo.org]" Raymond (the linked piece, btw, is the single stupidest piece of political polemic on the internet, IMO

  • Thanks for the info, but there's a glitch if one wants to deploy it for a moneyless NGO:

    Backend requirements:

    - Solaris[tm] 7 Release 5/99 operating environment or higher
    - Java[tm] 1.2 platform
    - Ultra[tm] 60 system, 256 MB RAM, 2 CPU or higher
    - Netscape Navigator 4.7 or Microsoft Internet Explorer 5 browser

    I believe the Ultra 60 server would be waaaayyyy out of NGOs financial league.

    I'm mostly looking at something that would run from an x86 server, or a cluster of them (depending on the needs, thanx to Linux modularity isn't much of a hassle).

    The best would be either StarOffice, but it lags on old boxes without enough RAM, or KOffice/Konqueror with Zope for the web front end. A single box could do the MS formats translation for external compatibility would solve many problems, and anyway there's always some MS Office license hanging around in a bundle offer with a cheap PC.

    If there's anyone who feels that kind of stuff is possible, get in touch with me! Geneva, Switzerland, is the home of hundreds of international NGOs. They all have needs...


  • There are definitely ASPs which fit this description- I've had the unfortunate experience with working with some of them. Maybe even half of them. But to paint the entire industry with the brush is not accurate- there are at least a few that are in this to build solid businesses, and it's likely that those will be the ones to last.

    Your ISP analogy isn't a bad one- obviously, we survived that period of their growth, and now there are many well-resourced ISPs providing high-quality services. The same thing will happen with ASPs. Of course, there will still be some crappy ones around as well, but that's true for every industry I'm aware of.
  • Bruce,

    I'm an engineer at a for-profit ASP for non-profits called 4charity.com. The company actually started out as a non-profit one since many of our people came from non-profit backgrounds. However, we realized switching to a to a for profit model made the most sense. There were a number of reasons for this:

    • It allowed us to attract top talent and investment money.
    • It's very hard to be competitive and move quickly as a non-profit ASP.
    There were actually a number of non-profit ASP's over the past year that aren't very active anymore. We think the trick is to operate as a for-profit company while still maintaing the spirit of non-profit ASP -- i.e. excellent service for our non-profit customers with no exploitation.

    Open Source certainly fits into this. We've always run many of our internal servers on Linux and BSD. We're now moving to build as many of our core products using Open Source as much as possible. The company is even very supportive of the Open Source projects that many of us work on in our spare time.

    We think non-profits are certainly best served by Open Source and occaisonally by a good for-profit company :)

    -Matt Tucker

  • Um- 'insightful'? I could see '+1 Funny' and I bet there's one in there, but 'insightful'? Methinks somebody isn't getting a joke even when clouted over the head with it. Ouch :)

    I wonder if I can moderate a moderation as funny? :)

  • The neatest part, to my mind, is that you also get access to compilers and linkers. Yes, sure, 99% of the inner-city kids are only going to be interested in browsing the web. Maybe only one percent, or one percent of one percent of those inner-city kids will light up and start hacking on the computer and writing programs and creating stuff.

    But what is it worth to give such powerful, free tools to that one kid who can use them and might never get the chance otherwise?

    Sneak that ol' gcc on there, or perl or something. One day you might be glad you 'wasted' that HD space on it, when you come in and some little display hack is zipping about the screen :)

  • I am an officer of the Technology Foundation, whose mission is to help make the world a better place by providing appropriate technology to nonprofits. So, while we are on the topic, I thought I'd mention that we exist, and would be happy to hear from:

    A) Direct-service nonprofits (i.e., folks who are out feeding the hungry or saving the whales) with ideas about how their work can be improved with technology.

    2) Nonprofit technology assistance providers (i.e., nonprofits that exist create technology plans, install LANs, and upgrade PCs for other nonprofits) with ideas about how we can help their nonprofit clients.

    iii) Members of the geek community who would like to become individual or corporate donors.

    Please feel free to email me at finn@techfoundation.org.

    Many thanks and best regards from Deborah

    Deborah Elizabeth Finn
    TCN/Technology Foundation
    Cambridge, Massachusetts

  • It may be a joke, but it's not a vacuous one...there was some irony intended (maybe you're not "getting it"?) and it's fairly inightful irony at that. I thought it was bouth amusing and insightful.
  • A used eMachine will not magically transform into an unbreakable server overnight just because you install Linux on it. I think a lot of non-profits could probably benefit more from a system that would have been pricy as hell a few years ago, but is now outdated enough to be rediculously cheap. You can pick up a used Sun Sparcstation off eBay for a few hundred bucks, and with a decently-sized hard drive and the occasional preventative maintenance and log checking, the thing will continue to purr away for another four or five years without complaint.

    Linux, BSD, etc. (really, any UNIX-like OS) should only be used in a non-tech-savvy office for one of a short list of purposes. Web hosting, file sharing, or firewall configurations should be more or less rock-solid for months on end if they're done right. Maintenance shouldn't be much more than a remote checkup every few days (logs, drive space, etc.) and a weekly tape backup.

  • The ASP push is a huge step into the past. It is back to centralized servers and effectively time-sharing networks. This at a time where vast amounts of computational power are on the desktop. Hell, huge amounts of power are in most appliances. What is really needful imnsho is a true distributed computational environment where updates and such are utterly automatic (with enough local control to feel secure of course) and file formats are transparent enough to ease full inter-operability. Java gives one answer to going in that direction. The capability is present in almost any language that supports a VM/interpreter and some intermediate form of executable code. In this world we have clouds of components that assemble to meet whatever task you currently need done. This is far more powerful and efficient than talking over the net to a few central servers where monolithic applications live (or even non-monolithic ones) and having some probably relatively limited local UI. If we ever want to get to a relatively uniform computational world then that is the direction we need to go in. The ASP model will not support ubiquitous computerized devices and agents that interoperate as needed. But the world of devices is going in that direction. So we have two contradictory currents.
  • Hi!

    There already is an ASP targeted directly at not-for-profits. (Distinction: Bethlehem Steel is a non-profit, the Bethlehem YMCA is a not-for-profit.) Look at 3rd Sector.net [www.3rdsec...argetblank]. 3rd Sector was launched by a group of software executives who did well in a buyout and decided to invest a chunk of their boodle in providing services to the community. (I'm on a couple of local economic development committees with these guys--very, very good people.)

  • get it straight: that was Protestant work ethic, and it was completely in keeping with "from those who have the ability".

    and I missed where in the world or in history you've seen the elimination of private property leading to anything good?

  • BTW the project that orkz mentions is on Source Forge here [sourceforge.net]. They are called Action Apps, they are an automated web publishing and sharing application, it's actually fairly extensive and easy to use. It is still in the works however, but the early institutors will be putting it up in a matter of weeks.

    Check it out, vive la revolution!!!

  • Gee, what timing. The non-proft I volunteer for is running a tech for non-profits seminar next month. Here's what non-profits need. Whether an ASP can provide them or not is another question.

    The list:
    • Simple means of accessing and changing content
    • Client machines capable of actually running modern applications
    • Cheap applications
    • A standards manual and policy for creating content and other material
    • knowledgable volunteers and other resources that can help as needed

    Why open source software is not the best answer:
    • inconsistent interface and behavior of most software
    • inability to get immediate help in the office barring an open source expert on staff - likely to be more common when using OSS rather than other software
    • steep learning curve of most OSS apps (tied to inconsistent software behavior)
    • business support and contacts do not generally use OSS software

    The nature of non-profits force them to use whatever means at their disposal for doing work. However, the lack of resources (mainly time) necessitate that whatever is used must be able to be picked up by several different people because many people may be sharing the same job responsibilities. It may also be common that outside resources are used. This means the simple solution that requires the minimum amount of resources and training is likely to be the most successful.

    Some volunteers will have previous training in Windows or Macintosh systems. Do you throw out that expertise in order to use OSS? Are you going to train staff to use the apps you need? Do you run a mixed environment?

    Non profits usually have a great deal of turnover. What kind of system is in place to train new people? You need a simple system to minimize training costs and be able to increase personnel flexibility.

    Not all non-profits are for middle-class white people. The one I volunteer for (Asian Media Access [amamedia.org]) serves the Asian Pacific American community. What kind of resources exist in the IT world for software that is used by ESL speakers? How much software supports Asian languages like Thai, Hmong, Vietnamese etc? Unicode looks nice here, but how many applications use it? What software packages are available for groups that need to publish newsletters in double-byte languages?

    And what about non-profits that deal with government or business agencies that require particular formats for their documents?

    I'm sure the creative community here can answer many of these questions, but I am far from sold on using OSS at non-profits, at least until OSS makes an appreciable dent in the desktop market. As for ASPs, I am worried about the viability of the business model, data integrity, and privacy issues.

    Maybe it is a good model for keeping things simple, but I believe that dedicated volunteers are the best resource for non-profits when it comes to IT related areas. Yeah, it'd be great to have an IT staff (even if it is only one person) but it is unrealistic to expect such a person to work fulltime in a non profit environment given the current job market.

    Non-profits need simple systems with unique characteristics more than cheap or free ones. maybe an ASP can provide that. Maybe not.
  • I recently donated a lot of computer equipment and called around for computer-oriented non-profits in the SF Bay Area. The experience was depressing.

    From the donation guidelines and other information, it is pretty clear that these organizations were largely only interested in machines that they could run recent version of Windows and MacOS on. Organizations that provided training for nonprofits were largely only looking for volunteer training for Windows.

    In part, this is probably because Microsoft and other companies provide Windows software free or at a relatively low cost to nonprofits and educational institutions. This means that the most easily understood argument in favor of Linux, "it's free", isn't really that convincing.

    I think nonprofits and schools should be very interested in Linux. Linux runs on low end hardware, it is stable, it doesn't require a lot of retraining from version to version, and it uses mature, industry standard, open APIs. And in particular at schools, we want students to be exposed to something other than Windows administration and the Windows APIs. The best way for Linux proponents to address that is through targetted donations and volunteering.

  • If I'm Microsoft and I donate 1000 copies of Microsoft Blonk to a non-profit, I can deduct the price of Blonk on my taxes. This money-laundering trick is used to make the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation smell sweet like flowers.

    If I'm an open source developer and I donate an infinite number of copies of FreeBlonk to non-profits all over the world, I can't deduct anything. What's the difference here? Arguably, the latter can have much greater value. The software would free you from the Blonk 2000, BlonkPro, etc. path of wasting money, and this is important in a non-profit, right? The software could even be superior. Still, it has no retail value.

    What's one solution? One could go the way RedHat and many other companies have done. Package the software and sell it, with support, and donate a healthy number. Still, some applications are too niche to garner a healthy (for the IRS) number of sales, and who's going to buy something they can get for free? Only a few.

    What's to be done?

  • Spanish Civil War, circa 1936. Anarchist Collectives form to redistribute land and abolish private property in accordance to anarchist-communist principles.

    Also, most indigenous cultures don't have private property (especially when it comes to land), and therefore most of them didn't have poverty.

    It would have been interesting to see industrialisation if it had occurred according to a dogma other than western capitalism or government.
    Michael Chisari
  • Wouldn't it be great if you could claim open-source work as a charity/tax deduction?

    Yes, but AFAIK tax regulators in both USA and Canada refuse to allow donations of any professional services to be tax deductible. I suppose they've decided not to trouble themselves over issues of verification. With donation of a physical artifact, I imagine an auditor could ask to see it if there was a lot of doubt.

  • I am our sys admin as well and the help desk and the hardware guy and....... Like most midsize nonprofits we can barely afford one full time (me) and one part time (my boss). Let alone the time or money for me to pick up a programming language like Perl. I have begun to phase out the MS software and am replacing it with Red Hat or BSD. Yes we are getting our software from MS for free however the organization can not afford the hardware to run the software anymore. Even with some truly generous lease rates on the hardware. (read negative interest). There are people in the office who think that oss is a waste of time however my boss "gets it" and reads /.(Hi Dick) So oss will be making inroads here. However I don't think we will be switching to the model in the article. I think for 501c3's it is better to keep it in house. We will. BTW whoever was wanting a broswer based interface for the network firewalls, file servers, servers look here. www.netmax.com They give a 60% discount for non-profits. That is about 300.00 for one server one firewall and one file server. Just my two bits
  • I have no problem with trolling. Any adult who finds entertainment in what PBG and MDMA do have definitely got problems.


  • The protestant work ethic has no mercy on those who aren't able

    that neither follows from the ethic, nor do we see it in practice.

    it does, however, maximize the productivity of those who are able, thus increasing the wealth of society at large, as we can see in all of the protestant countries, those countries that do the best at providing for the unfortunate. kills you, doesn't it, that your failed ideology has no exemplars. To put it in Slashdot terms, communism is the 8008 of processor chips.

  • I am the Product Development Manager for an ASP company [slashdot.org] that has been developing an ASP model for non-profits for a few years now (OK- thinking about it for a few years- developing it for the last year). The truth is, my development team has always felt that open source was the way to go with this- I just never knew exactly when/how/if to go about it.

    We've had a lot of progress, and like the author (inquirer?) noted above, unless there is some input from all you open source developers that changes something (which is what I hope will happen) it will emerge as a proprietary model that the company currently employing me is in control of. If I can get some good arguments, I'll bet I can get everything we've done switched over to open source and refocus the company's business model on support etc. But I'll need all your help.

    Here's some motivation. The truth is, the NPO's who need these technologies most are the ones who can afford them least (I know, it's already been said). These businesses writing web-based software will market it mostly to big corporations (like Wal-mart and IBM etc.- all of which have big volunteer / community action arms that need to be managed). That leaves the little group in the kitchen wanting to clean the river out of the loop. Most of these smaller organizations spend all their time going through two drawers in their filing cabinate- the drawer w/ all the community opportunities, stating what kind of volunteers they need, and the drawer with all the volunteers who have registered, along with what skills they have. The ma and pa NPO spends hours and hours a week matching the two up and then calling the volunteers etc.
    We've estimated that a nice affordable piece of software (or online app for free) that matched appropriate opportunities to the interests of registered volunteers- we would be saving at least 10 hours a week for that small NPO. Here's the beauty- They're not going to use that 10 hours they saved to sit on their duff and watch TV- the people who usually run these are the type that are proactive and motivated enough that when they have 10 extra hours a week, they'll use it to find more ways to serve the community. A few hours of programming may in the end equal thousands of volunteer hours created...

    Anyway, enough of _my_ preaching on the subject. Help me put a workable business model together here- it's not going to be by the book OSS, because the paradigm is a little different, as has been pointed out. We do this, and I'll open up all our source (lots of php running on apache on a debian linux, lots of DHTML / javascript and a couple of applets etc. etc.- all very open sourceable. Currently Sybase as the backend, though we're keeping a close eye on Interbase...).

    Joseph Wecker
    Product Development Manager
    Samaritan Software, LLC
  • Whoops, bad url. Try this [samaritan.com]
  • MyAssociation.com is an ASP to the Non-profit and Association space. They offer community, Collaboration, Content and other fulfillment services through their ASP.
  • Flame-ish ravings follow, skip if at all leftist...

    "Anarchists are libertarian socialists," you say, which I've heard before... Anarchists are those who see no need for government, however they might dream of society without it, and I'm tired of having a heretofore useful and widely understood political label which I could self apply shanghai'd by the flakiest crusts of the fucking communists fer chrissake.

    ...and no, I ain't a Libertarian, either; violence is always an option.

    ...much, much better now

  • True enough, but not everyone is an idiot either. Loarning to administer Linux may not be as common as learning to set the timing on your car but it isn't much more complicated.
  • It's often difficult to explain to non-profit organisations why free software is important. An article I wrote last year, Development, Ethical Trading, and Free Software [danny.oz.au] makes the ethical and political argument for use of free software by Oxfam, but is applicable to other non-profit organisations as well.

    Danny [danny.oz.au].

  • M$ isn't great. When something goes wrong, you have to sit there while your shit is being exploited over and over, while you wait for M$ to fix it. OSS=You are supposed to know what to do.
  • "business support and contacts do not generally use OSS software" Ya. like ISPs run NT. I dont' want to sit around and be exploited while i wait for someone else to fix somthing while i can be doing it myself.
  • Supprisingly many. Most people i know who use the same OS i do, have paid for it!. I dled mine from slackware, and burned it on cd.
  • I have been thinking about this for a long time actualy about we might be able to send our old PCs to Africa. Bundled with open source software.

    We could have volunteers to colect and check out the computers making sure that they are alright and others who volunteer their time installing software. And yet others who will go to places in Africa and set the computers up for various comunities and teach them how to use them.

    We could assist whole communities by enabling to connect to the rest of the world.
  • If anyone out there knows a nonprofit (For a reasonable cause, the NRA and their ilk can go hang) who could use a Linux/UNIX administrator (Spare time, best efforts, from Amsterdam) let me know and I'll be more than glad to help...

    I spend most of my time prostituting my skills so I can eat and buy toys, I think it would be worthwhile to use them to help someone else in my spare time.

  • Hum, it says it needs an Ultra 60/2 CPU server. Do you think it's OK with Solaris/x86?

  • While I can certainly understand the advantages of converting from a nonprofit organization to a for profit corporation, there are quite a few reasons that the nonprofit ASP I work with (pathways-usa.org) has opted not to make the change.

    First, your corporate partners realize greater benefit when they work with you. In addition to making a positive impact on the community, there are positive tax implications. Second, it fosters the same sense of community and common purpose that is often present in the open source movement... which means that people with important skills and contacts make themselves available to you simply because they want to be part of the solution to the problem that's being addressed.

    Without these positives, it would have been very difficult for Pathways Community Network to build a nationally honored secure data system. And it would have been very hard to break out of the pack and gain national attention.

    The only significant down side to the nonprofit ASP model, in my opinion, is that - because traditional nonprofit funders don't want to pay for ongoing operations - licensing costs have to be passed on to the nonprofits that are being served. If the ASP is doing e-commerce applications, this can be a significant barrier.

    This is where open source is most valuable, and it's why we at Pathways are convinced that open source is going to make a big difference in the effectiveness of, and quality of care at social services organizations around the world.

    -Bill Matson

Thus spake the master programmer: "When a program is being tested, it is too late to make design changes." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"