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Organizing With Open Source
Author: Francis Raven, A Sense Of Place Network | September 13th, 2005
Communities: Cool Tools , Economic Development,

The Nonprofit Open Source Initiative (NOSI) was formed in early 2001 by an informal group of non-profit sector technology assistance providers who were interested in the potential of open source software to benefit the organizations they aided. An email interview with NOSI Coordinator John Stanton provided insight into this important project.

What is NOSI's mission?

To bridge the gap between the nonprofit and open source communities. This means helping Non-Profit Organizations (NPO’s) and Community Based Organizations (CBO’s) learn and use Free/Libre and Open Source Software, which we call FLOSS for short. The other part of this mission is to help the FLOSS community learn about the special needs of NPO's and CBO's and identify areas where FLOSS technical expertise can be most useful.

How do you accomplish this mission?

We seek to educate and advocate for the use of FLOSS through our mailing lists, website, publications and community appearances. We recently published “Choosing and Using Open Source Software: A Primer for Nonprofits” (which can be downloaded from the website for free). The primer, made possible through the generous support of IBM, is an easy to understand introduction to FLOSS for non profit and community based organizations. We also host the “Open Source Cyber Café,” which brings a portable computer lab running Linux, a Free operating system, to various community events and conferences around the country. Finally, is an online resource for people and organizations interested in how FLOSS can help non profits.

Why is open source software important?

Free and Open Source Software is important because it can help NPO's and CBO's stop spending valuable resources, which could and should be directed elsewhere, on software. Proprietary software, software produced and marketed with restrictions on its use, is never really owned by the organizations that use it. For example, an NPO generally cannot legally give its workers copies of proprietary software to use at home. Schools cannot send their students home with the software they use at school, and students aren't allowed to copy proprietary software to share with friends. Free and Open Source software renders these kind of concerns a complete non-issue. It's really a very simple and elegant solution to an artificially created problem.

Is it particularly important for nonprofits?

We believe that Free and Open Source Software is important and useful for everybody. We think that nonprofits are no exception to this rule. Free and Open Source Software is a sustainable resource for nonprofit and community based organizations. Moreover, the volunteer ethos that drives the Free Software movement is the same one that propels the nonprofit sector as a whole. We all see a need and seek to serve; we all are devoted to a more just, free and fair society.

How would you begin to evaluate whether or not open source is right for an organization?

A good place to start is with “Choosing and Using Open Source Software: A Primer for Nonprofits”. The primer helps to provide context for making an informed choice. It provides four case studies from real agencies that have made the choice to use Free and Open Source Software. The primer is written with the non-technical user in mind and is short enough to read over lunch.

Why are case studies important for this?

Case studies are important because they help organizations to imagine how the software they are considering might impact them. NPO's may not know much about Free Software but they know a lot about how organizations like themselves make decisions, what kind of problems they have, and what kinds of issues they may need to solve. Case studies can help organizations considering Free and Open Source Technology ask the right kinds of questions.

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