Free & Open Source Software (FOSS) is a category of software that is developed by a community of software engineers (or their bosses) who donate their resources to create better software for the greater good. It is, as the name implies, free to use by anyone. But more importantly, it is developed in such a way that it is also easy to modify in order to suit a particular organization’s particular needs.
Nonprofit organizations will often times choose to use FOSS because it is actually better than proprietary software (which is much harder to customize to fit an organization’s particular needs). Other times, NPOs will choose to use FOSS because it is free to use.
However, before a nonprofit blindly chooses to use FOSS, great consideration must be given to the “Total Cost of Ownership” (TCO). As described in a publication entitled “Choosing and Using Free and Open Source Software: A Primer for Nonprofits,” the author writes that TCO is a calculation of how much technology costs to implement, use and maintain.
Although a particular piece of software is FOSS (free), the organization might still need to pay someone to help them implement (install and configure) the software, and/or maintain it over time or make changes to the software. Thus, while the software is “free,” an NPO could wind up spending even more money!
We believe that Free and Open Source Software can be a very valuable asset for nonprofit organizations, and we advocate for it quite a bit because we do believe it can – and does- cut costs often times, but we will never recommend a FOSS solution if we think it would cost an organization more money over time to customize and maintain.