non-profits and systems administration

Wouldn’t it be great if the non-profit world could embrace free software? In my head, I’ve seen a giant Venn diagram labeled “VALUES” with Open Source/Free Software overlapping significantly with the of non-profits. Here’s a small one:

nonprofit open source venn diagram
I think that non-profits are certainly not ignorant of open source. In Oregon, our legislators tried to pass a bill that required F/OSS alternatives to commercial software to be considered for every software purchase. Then, the story goes, the guys from Redmond came down and talked them out of it. NOSI has been around for a few years, and I come across forums or blogs like techsoup daily.

The problem is implementation and systems support. Administration is where the car goes off the rails for non-profits. Qualified open source admins are not necessarily available to non-profits – I’m not sure exactly why, but I’d bet cost is a big reason.

Non-profits often receive equipment and software donations from the community, with little technical experience to maintain them. Most of the donations are commercial software with expensive licenses. There are a few tech support groups popping up that cater to non-profits (lower prices, focus on maintaining – not upgrading).

We have FreeGeek here in Portland. But there are still many non-profits who don’t or can’t use their services. I wish that there was a “server-in-a-box” setup that office managers would feel comfortable maintaining. Filesharing is so ubiquitous and necessary, it is unreasonable to expect that every office that needs filesharing will have a “qualified” systems administrator to maintain the server.

I guess my question is – is there a set of software apps that could be given to small- to mid- size non-profits as a replacement for commercial/non-free software?

Off the top of my head, I would want:

* Ubuntu Linux for client/server
* Firefox for a web browser
* Zimbra or Chandler/Cosmo for email and calendaring
* WebDav and SMB filesharing
* Subversion auto-versioning support on sharepoints
* Something like once:radix for a Filemaker-like database interface
* Accounting software?
That would all be pretty tough for a non-profit to maintain. I wonder about packaging those things together. Would it be worth it?

And then, once it was put together, how do we create a system where non-profits either have access to qualified sysadmins or can administrate everything themselves?

I’ve done a little research into non-profit/tech forums and organizations, but not nearly enough to know everything about what’s already out there. I’m very interested in pursuing this idea, maybe just for the sake of the few non-profits I work with.