December 20, 2003

Help introduce charities to free software - Updated

Author: Jono Bacon

When I recently searched for organisations that were trying to help introduce charities to free software, and I found practically no information. I find this particularly surprising, as charities are, in many
ways, the most worthy organisations to use free software. If you can go to a charity
and propose a solution that is more stable and secure, free from vendor lock-in, and free to use and
maintain, you can help the organization plough the savings into the work it is there to do.

How can we help free software and charities
speak the same language? With a combination of advocacy and handholding.
If every person reading this article told one local charity about free
software, just imagine the impact this
could have. Yes, I'm talking to you, hunched over your PC reading
this text. Take an active role.

To begin, you need to find a list of charities
in your area. Use a search engine such as Google, check the phone directory and yellow pages, or look for a charities register or list at your local library or on
your local government/council Web site. You may find an enormous selection of
charities to choose from. Choose for adoption a small one that may only be run
by a few people in their spare time or at weekends.
These small charities are particularly cash-strapped,
and often have fairly modest IT requirements.

Get in touch with the charity and explain that you are not selling
anything, but making a suggestion for
some free software that could help them. At this point
you should expect some cynicism. Most people are not aware of free software,
and are used to hearing from door-to-door salesmen
with a profit to make. Simply explain the issues
involved, such as freely available software,
communities that develop this software, and the idea of
creating tools that are shared among people and cannot
be abused by any single person
or commercial entity. You should also mention that
commercial support and products are
available to complement this software.

When I realised there was no single document that really
explained what the issues were for charities making use of free software, I
wrote a document that discusses many of the issues
and applies them to Linux-based software. I recommend that you print it out and post it to
the charity that you selected.

When you have presented them with the information, you may get some further questions from
the charity regarding exploring the subject
further and discussing a possible solution. In many
ways this is the make or break of whether the charity
goes ahead with it. Be brutally honest with
them. The worst thing you can do is to
present free software as something it is not.
Free software has its problems, as does other software. You need to be as up-front about the
problems as you are with the benefits; you don't want the charity to get a
system installed and then realise they have particular
problems that they could have known about in advance. If you are clear with them, they will be
grateful for your honesty, which will reflect well on the free
software community.

If the charity is interested in deploying the system
you have been discussing, the next step is getting it installed. You
may or may not want to be involved in the installation. Although
it is beneficial for you to get the system
installed for them, this is going
beyond the call of duty. If you do not want
to help, you may be able to point them in the
direction of other people or business who can.
You could also point them in the direction of books
and documentation that can help them get the software
installed, and give them CD-Rs with the software
on it.

All of us can pull together and get in touch with our local charities. LUGs can get involved too. Good luck, and keep me posted with how you get on.

Update: After some queries as to whether Jono will make his Linux for charities document available under a free license, Jono is happy to do this and will re-license the document early next year. For updates on this progress and to get involved in updating the document with extra information, see Jono's Charities forum.

Jono Bacon is a professional writer, developer, and
consultant based in the U.K. Jono writes for Linux Format, Linux Pro,
Linux Magazine, Linux User & Developer, PC Plus,
MacFormat, MacTech and others.

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