Non-auditable accounting software

Software Freedom Conservancy has a plan to help all non-profit organizations (NPOs) by creating an Open Source and Free Software accounting system usable by non-technical bookkeepers, accountants, and non-profit managers. You can help us do it by donating now.

To keep their books and produce annual government filings, most NPOs rely on proprietary software, paying exorbitant licensing fees. This is fundamentally at cross purposes with their underlying missions of charity, equality, democracy, and sharing.

You can help Conservancy fix this problem by . We seek to
raise $75,000 to employ a developer for one year to make substantial progress on this project.

This project has the potential to save the non-profit sector millions in licensing fees every year. Even non-profits that continue to use proprietary accounting software will benefit, since the existence of quality Open Source and Free Software for a particular task curtails predatory behavior by proprietary software companies, and creates a new standard of comparison.

But, more powerfully, this project’s realization will increase the agility and collaborative potential for the non-profit sector — a boon to funders, boards, and employees — bringing the Free Software and general NPO communities into closer collaboration and understanding.

I contributed to the above blurb (and would love to hear critiques of the broad claims therein about free software and non-profit missions), but not to my favorite part of the plan: phase 0, in which existing free software accounting software will be evaluated, with expert input from non-profit organizations currently using various packages, in order to choose a base for further development. How many funding campaigns propose to build something without any understanding of what already exists? Almost all as far as I can tell, and almost always a suboptimal move, is my hunch.

This move is in line with one way of looking at Software Freedom Conservancy’s role: to save free software projects from the suboptimality of another kind of NIH — starting an independent non-profit organization — projects (about 30 so far, git probably the best known) join Software Freedom Conservancy, which takes care of administration such as accounting and provides other services.

I’m generally impressed by Software Freedom Conservancy’s work (read the annual report, pretty and informative) and have served on its project evaluation committee (i.e., intake; applying to join Software Freedom Conservancy is a good motivator to get a lot of best practices in place) for about a year and joined its board the beginning of this year, recently announced.

Please donate to the campaign to improve free software accounting for non-profits. In a past role as non-profit manager at Creative Commons, I absolutely hated the internal non-transparency and dependency of our accountants using a proprietary accounting package tied to a particular Windows server. Doing anything about it was nowhere near the top of my list of things I would’ve or could’ve done given more time or hindsight, but I would’ve been really, really happy if someone else had fixed it, much like I was really happy that CiviCRM became a viable free software customer/donor/constituent/funder relationship management system at the right time for us to scrap a very simple in-house system and not become locked into one of the awful proprietary packages (not soon enough to avoid listening to sales pitches in which the salespeople blatantly lied about implementation costs and product capabilities). Now is the time for someone else to take care of the accounting situation — please help by donating — as I just did.

Oh, and even if you don’t care about non-profits at all, I’m pretty confident that this project will help free software accounting in general, and help is badly needed — LWN’s series on the subject last year is gripping reading. Seriously, it is ridiculous that such fundamental infrastructure for running organizations of all kinds and thus society is itself non-auditable.

6 Responses

  1. @mlinksva, Thanks so much for your kind words and your help with the campaign. We’re really glad to have you on our Board and thanks for all the volunteer work you do for Conservancy. Indeed, while we want to put someone on staff for this project, we will need plenty of volunteer help too, so thanks for being one of the first to do that for this project. :)

  2. @bkuhn, thanks!

    For anyone who wants to follow the project in detail, there’s a mailing list and a git repository to be used for the phase 0 evaluation

  3. […] Accounting software is not something I like to think about, but thankfully someone is (and someone else). […]

  4. […] Donate to Conservancy directly, to one of its current member projects, or to its nonprofit accounting software project (my endorsement). […]

  5. […] about a topic that I have in depth knowledge of and not then question whether all reporting on topics I don’t have in depth knowledge of is also that bad. Because’s reporting is […]

  6. […] free software non-profit accounting project did not meet its funding goal last year, so progress this year has been slow. It’s […]

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