Open-Source Tools for Fundraising

Ask TechSoup: Open-Source Tools for Fundraising?

Free, customizable donor databases and CRM applications

October 16, 2006



We know you have technology questions. TechSoup has answers. In our new Ask TechSoup series, our staffers and community members provide responses to your burning nonprofit technology questions.

In this installment of Ask TechSoup, CompuMentor's John Lorance — Associate Director of TechCommon's Community Engagement program — asks the TechSoup community for feedback regarding open-source fundraising programs. We've taken some tips generated by his original thread in TechSoup's open-source software forum and combined them with a few pieces of John's own advice to help give nonprofits a quick overview of the available options.

Question: Has anyone used open-source software for fundraising? This would include software to run campaigns or perform CRM (constituency relationship management) roles.

- jlorance

Answer: Fundraising software, such as donor databases and CRM packages, makes it easy for your staff to access fundraising and donor information directly from a Web browser or a desktop application. Yet off-the-shelf packages may not always meet your organization's needs. One possible solution is to pay the software vendor to customize the application for you, a service that isn't always offered. Another option? Find an open-source product that you can customize on your own.

If you are simply looking for a way to keep track of fundraising information, there are a couple of open-source databases with features specifically designed to store donor information that you can choose from. If, on the other hand, you are seeking more robust functionality, you may want to investigate open-source CRM software, which not only provides tools for managing fundraising initiatives but also for storing information about your organization's affiliates and their activities.

Open-Source Databases with Fundraising Features

Though InfoCentral is primarily designed for use by religious organizations, other types of nonprofits can take advantage of its donation-tracking features, tweaking the application's code to better suit their needs. Your nonprofit will need to be running a PHP-compatible Web server and a MySQL database in order to install and use InfoCentral, but once you get it up and running, an unlimited number of users on Windows, Mac, or Linux operating systems can access the data and contribute information through a Web-based interface.
This application focuses on helping organizations store fundraising information, although it's no longer under active development. Any volunteer or staff member who wishes to use VisibleResults will also need to install the Firebird database on their Windows or Linux-based computer.

Open-Source CRM Packages


Designed with the nonprofit and advocacy sectors in mind, CiviCRM combines a fundraising-management module called CiviContribute with features that let you store information about your constituents and their relationships to one another. CivicCRM also offers tools for scheduling calls and meetings, as well as for creating and managing email lists.

To use CiviCRM, your nonprofit will need to have a Web environment set up with the Apache Web server, the PHP scripting language, and a MySQL database. You'll also need a Drupal or Joomla content management system. If your organization lacks the technical resources or knowledge to set up the application, it can sign up for CivicSpace On Demand, a hosted version of CivicSpace that includes CiviCRM. If you want to make sure that CiviCRM is easy enough for your staffers and volunteers to use before you spend time setting it up, you may want to check out this online demo.


Like CiviCRM, eBase specifically targets nonprofit organizations by offering a mix of features for storing data about affiliates and donors; creating various types of reports; and managing email lists.

If you want to implement eBase for multiple users or enable the program's Web interface, you will need to purchase and install FileMaker Pro (nonprofit discounts are available). However, if only one person at your organization will be using eBase, you can also install the program as a desktop application on a Macintosh or Windows computer.

Developed by nonprofit-support group Fund for the City of New York, Metrix lets your organization store data about funds, donors, grants, events, and volunteers. Like other CRMs, this application also features organizational tools such as calendars and schedules and can generate various types of reports. Metrix can be installed on a single computer or deployed to multiple users via a Web-based interface; no matter which option your organization chooses, you'll need to have computers running Windows 98 or later OSs (available for $8 at TechSoup Stock) and SQL Server 2000 or the free Microsoft SQL Server 2000 Desktop Engine).
Though SugarCRM offers a for-pay hosted CRM service, the company also provides a free, open-source version of its program, which requires PHP, MySQL, and Apache or IIS. In addition to storing information about your affiliates and donors, SugarCRM provides organizational tools such as a calendars, project-tracking lists, and account-management features. If you want to take a peek at the package before you install it on a Web server, try the SugarCRM online demo.

Other Free Database and CRM Options

If your organization isn't particularly concerned with the ability to modify the source code underlying its donor database or CRM package, you still have several free options. For a more in-depth look at the fundraising software landscape, read TechSoup's article Inexpensive Donor Databases, which lists a number of free applications.

It's also worth nothing that the Salesforce Foundation — the philanthropic arm of leading commercial CRM provider — donates a number of product licenses to qualifying nonprofits, though recipients will have to implement this technology themselves. Nonprofits interested in acquiring Salesforce services for free can apply for a license donation.

Finally, for an deeper look at CRM solutions, read TechSoup's article Creating A Relationship-Centric Organization: Nonprofit CRM.

- TechSoup editorial staff


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