Libre Software Resources for Non-Profits
To some extent, businesses and non-profit organizations face many of the same challenges where computer technology is concerned. Yet, non-profits also face some unique challenges, such as how to recruit and retain good IT experts. Many non-profits jump through hoops they don't have to jump through to get low-cost proprietary software, when perfectly good libre software exists - usually at no cost - to help them accomplish their missions. However, many people still - believe it or not - don't have a clue what libre (Free/ Open Source Software) is, let alone where to find it and how to install and use it. So, if you're the one tasked with handling your organization's computer stuff, you should know there is a community out there ready, willing, and able to help you get started with libre software.
I will focus here on introducing you to the non-profit community. If you have questions about what libre software exists that you can deploy, you can scout that out in the web sites I'll introduce you to. While there are those who can help your organization migrate to a libre software platform, like GNU/Linux, there are also plenty of people who can assist with deploying libre software on the more common proprietary platforms, such as Mac and Windows. You'll discover that the people involved in the non-profit sector are as you would expect them to be - very warm and helpful people. People in the organizations discussed here participate in each of the other organizations. Indeed, that's how I learned so much!
The Organizer's Collaborative (www.organizenow.net) is a nationally recognized technology resource that reaches thousands of organizations each year. This group started in 1999, and offers training and expertise, software, and an on-line infrastructure to link individuals and organizations. The Organizers Collaborative holds the annual "Grassroots Use of Technology" conference. They offer the Organizer's Database, a free management program being used by over 350 organizations. The Organizational Divide Initiative helps smaller non-profits by focusing on shared learning and collaborative implementation techniques. Organizers Collaborative also boasts a community website where members can share tips, resources and developments. Additionally, they offer internships aimed at helping organizations learn how to use e-mail, databases, and the Internet.
Aspiration (www.aspirationtech.org) focuses on helping non-profit organizations obtain and deploy the best software available. Aspiration focuses on identifying what software exists, what doesn't, and what needs to be improved. Aside from helping non-profit organizations to find usable software, Aspiration seeks to connect libre software developers with usability experts to help improve the usability of the available software. This group also plugs NPO users into a vibrant community of other users and developers. They sponsor Penguin Day events around the nation to demystify libre software for the non-profit community.
The Low Income Networking and Communications Project (www.lincproject.org) is another nationally recognized organization that helps low-income grassroots groups implement technology by sending circuit riders to each group's site to guide and assist with implementation. Their Technology Toolkit includes the "Operating Systems Choosing Guide" that is both brief and fairly helpful. It actually includes a list of several GNU/Linux distributions that most of us would recommend, although they should definitely add Ubuntu to the list. One of the most useful tools they offer is the set of worksheets that an organization can use to help walk themselves (to some extent) through the necessary steps of planning their technology infrastructure.
All of these groups are involved in the Non-Profit Open Source Initiative (www.nosi.net), which has been around since 2001. Essentially, a number of non-profit sector technology assistance providers saw the benefits of lbre software for the organizations they serve and began collaborating via e-mail. In the first month, NOSI's e-mail list membership grew to 70. By the end of 2002 they had over 200 members subscribing to the list. NOSI's Open Source Cyber Cafe is a traveling booth, consisting of laptops running GNU/Linux, that allows non-profit decsion-makers to check their e-mail and print documents, thus getting a tour of GNU/Linux and discovering other libre software programs in a most useful way. NOSI has developed an introductory guide, The Open Source Primer, to help non-profit organizations understand libre software.
These are the primary organizations that specialize in helping the non-profit community learn about libre software. You may find others as you explore the community. You'll be able to expand your personal network of non-profit technology resources and find the software and help you need for developing and improving your organization's technology infrastructure. For those of you who serve non-profits as consultants, you will surely find these groups to be vital resources for helping you serve your clients. If you think of non-profit IT as a real adventure, you now have plenty of guides to see you through! Bon voyage!
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