Hi. I’m Jeremiah. I do technology consulting for nonprofits, primarily in Alaska, but sometimes Outside as well. When Rasmuson Foundation receives a grant application with technology in it, they occasionally ask for my help. Almost all technology-related grant applications include software, which can vary greatly in price, depending on the vendor. Sometimes at DesignPT, we see applications that have software quoted at or near its full retail price, which is crazy! There are some great, low-cost software options out there that your organization is uniquely qualified for.
In this post I will cover three different types of low-cost software options that you should know about:
- Discounted commercial software — these are popular, professional desktop and server applications from companies like Microsoft and Adobe.
- Open source software — these are free, but not (generally) commercially supported applications. Some popular website platforms, like WordPress and Drupal, fall into this category as do a number of other server and desktop applications.
- Cloud-based software — these are subscription-based applications that you access via a web browser, mobile app, or lightweight desktop application. Many of these have free options and some have waived or discounted fees for nonprofits. This category includes things like Facebook, YouTube, Dropbox, Google Apps, and Salesforce.
Discounted Commercial Software
This is a pretty straight-forward option; you buy the popular software that you know and love from a nonprofit-friendly retailer. You have to register and verify your nonprofit status with each retailer. Not all nonprofits qualify for the discounts, so it may take some effort to find the best option.
Pros: Huge discounts, popular software, commercial support
Cons: Registration process can be slow/cumbersome, time and volume limits on purchases
- TechSoup: This is the most popular and cost-effective nonprofit-friendly retailer that I know of. They are a nonprofit serving nonprofits. In addition to deeply-discounted software, they also offer email newsletters and blog posts that cover a variety of tech topics. Most nonprofits and libraries are eligible for their software. I have run into some exceptions when working with educational and religious nonprofits.
- CCB: This is the retailer I use for religious organizations and any other nonprofits who have exceeded the time or volume limits with TechSoup.
- JourneyEd and Academic Superstore: I have used both of these retailers for educational software. They both focus exclusively on technology for students, teachers, and educational organizations. I haven’t worked with either of them enough to recommend one over the other.
- CDW: When all else fails, CDW has you covered. They get access to some basic nonprofit and education discounts, but they don’t specialize in it, so they don’t get the best discounts like the other retailers. Make sure you pick “academic” or “charity” from their filters when selecting products.
To give you a sense of the cost differences, here is a table that compares pricing for popular software from the retailers listed against Amazon.com, which is the first place I’d go if I didn’t know about these options.
* Student and Teacher edition
** Nonprofit / academic license
*** Norton Antivirus 2013, which is similar
Open Source Software
These are great options, but not for the faint of heart. It’s simple; you go to the project’s website and download and install the software to your heart’s content. You don’t have to worry about the license unless you plan to modify the code and redistribute it (which you don’t). Sounds great, right? It is, unless some feature doesn’t work or you can’t figure out how to do something with the software. I would only recommend this if you’re really in a pinch, or if your IT staff has a lot of experience with the product.
Pros: Free, easy to download and install
Cons: Documentation and training resources are usually poor, no commercial support, generally lack the features and polish of their commercial counterparts
- Apache OpenOffice: This is an alternative to Microsoft Office. It’s pretty good, and I use it at home. The menus and buttons are a little different, so it takes some getting used to. It has the ability to open and save documents in the Microsoft Office formats, but moving documents from one product to another is not seamless — some reformatting is generally required.
- GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP): There is no direct open source replacement for Adobe Creative Suite, but GIMP is a reasonable substitute for Adobe Photoshop. I’ve been using it for over 10 years for basic photo and other image editing.
- Dia: Dia is a diagramming tool, kind of like Microsoft Visio. You can use it to create basic diagrams, like flowcharts, network diagrams, and wiring diagrams.
- ClamWin Free Antivirus: This is an antivirus program. Its virus detection rate is lower than the best commercial products, but some protection is considerably better than none at all. There are other free, but not open source, antivirus products like AVG and Avast that you may also want to check out.
- CutePDF Writer: This is not open source, but it is free and useful enough to warrant inclusion here. Once installed, “CutePDF Writer” is added to your list of printers. Whenever you need to print a document, select it and it will prompt you to save the printed pages as a PDF document. This is very useful and might help you save a few trees.
- WordPress and Drupal: WordPress and Drupal are content management systems (CMS), which simplify the job of building websites. There are lots of commercial CMS, like Microsoft Sharepoint and ExpressionEngine, but WordPress and Drupal will satisfy most organizations’ needs.
There are many, many other free and open source products out there, but these are some of the more popular ones that I have experience with.
They’re commercially supported. There is little or nothing to install. You can access your data from any device with an Internet connection. There are downsides, but these are quickly becoming some of the most popular options for nonprofits — especially services that are free or offer nonprofit discounts.
Pros: Quick and easy to set up, accessible everywhere, commercial support
Cons: May lack features of traditional software, subscription licensing model (you don’t own it), service or Internet outages prevent access, data security concerns
- Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, YouTube, and Flickr: I’m not sure what to say about these social media / social sharing websites that hasn’t already been said. They’re free and they’re useful. Like most things in life, you get out as much as you put in.
- Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, Amazon Cloud Drive, and iCloud: These are cloud-based file storage / file sharing services. Dropbox gives you 2GB of free storage and the others give you 5GB. Aside from Google, through its Google Apps for Nonprofit program (described next), none of the services have nonprofit-specific pricing for larger accounts.
- Google Apps for Nonprofits: This is an alternative to Microsoft Office that includes email, calendaring, and file sharing. The products in the suite are missing some of the advanced features of their Microsoft Office equivalents, but, if you can live without them, there are a lot of advantages. Most notably, it’s free for up to 3,000 users in your organization and requires no server infrastructure. This is a great deal; the retail price is $50/user/year.
- npOffice: A service provided by npCloud (a TechSoup Global company), npOffice brings Microsoft’s Office 365 to nonprofits. Office 365 is different from Google Apps in that it integrates well with the full Microsoft Office suite, giving you the ability to access documents online and offline. Through npOffice, you can subscribe to the service for as little as $2/user/month, which is considerably less than the retail cost of $6-$8/user/month.
- Salesforce CRM for Nonprofits: Salesforce will donate 10 free enterprise edition licenses to any nonprofit who wants to use its platform for managing constituent relationships. You can also use it for donation and grants management, as well as program management, but these uses will require some customization and training to become intuitive.
- VerticalResponse and MailChimp: If you have an email mailing list, you should probably be using one of these services to manage it. VerticalResponse gives you up to 10,000 emails per month for free if you’re a 501(c)(3). Not to be outdone, MailChimp will let you send up to 12,000 emails per month to up to 2,000 subscribers for free, regardless of your organization’s status.
As with the other categories, there are tons of other cloud-based services. These are just the ones I know about that are particularly nonprofit-friendly. I’m sure that many more will emerge in the near future.
This should get you started on the road to free and discounted software. My final advice: if you’re ever presented with a full retail price for software of any kind, you should probably do a little research to see if any nonprofit discounts or low-cost alternatives exist. For all but the most specific types of nonprofit software (donor management, program management, etc.), they probably do. If there is anything I missed, please feel free to ask questions in the comments section below or email me directly. Happy computing!