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Nonprofits and Community Groups

This page has a curated list of free, libre and open source (FLO) tools and techniques nonprofit and community groups can use to increase their effectiveness and capacity to collaborate with stakeholders.

Every organization is unique, but there are a set of functions that all nonprofits and community groups need to perform. These tools include:

  • an operating system and suite of productivity applications for computers.
  • a content management platform that powers the organization’s website with event and form builder functional.
  • a contact and relationship management system that can deliver email newsletters and track donations, calendar, donation intake and more.
  • an online file system where documents, multimedia and other types of files can be stored
  • web-based software services that organizations can use to manage projects, share news and events, communicate through email listservs, share large files and more.

Operating Systems

Linux is the world’s most popular FLO computer operating system that uses the same core elements (UNIX) as Mac OSX. Since Linux is FLO, many groups use it as the foundation upon which to add modules and features to create a “distribution” (or “flavor”) of Linux. There are hundreds of distributions. One of the most popular, user friendly and powerful distribution is called Ubuntu. That’s the one we recommend.


Learn more about Ubuntu.


Once you’re using a Linux-based operating system such as Ubuntu, you can access a wide variety of FLO software applications. Below is a list of The most commonly used tools for nonprofit organizations. Most of the applications listed below will come already installed with your Ubuntu operating system, but a few you might need to download:

  • LibreOffice – Word Processing, Presentations, Spreadsheets and more. Comparable to Microsoft Office
  • GIMP – Graphical Image Manipulation Program. Comparable to Adobse Photoshop
  • InkScape – Vector Graphics Editor. Comparable to Adobe Indesign
  • Firefox and Chromium – Web Browsers. Comparable to Internet Explorer and Google Chrome
  • Thunderbird – Email client. Comparable to Apple Mail and Microsoft Outlook
  • Shotwell – Photo management system. Comapable to iPhoto.
  • Banshee – Music jukebox. Comparable to iTunes.



Content management systems (CMS) allow people to build and maintain content driven websites without having to use software code. If you can use a word processor, you can use use any of the world’s most popular FLO content management systems. These systems have a large, stable development community and plug-in architectures that enable the CMS’s functionality to be extended in a wide variety of ways.



  • WordPress is the world’s most popular CMS platform. It’s designed for blogs but its features can be extended to make exceptional websites and small social networks.
  • Joomla is a popular CMS system that is more functional “out-of-the-box” but less dynamic than Drupal.
  • Drupal is a CMS framwork for creating highly customized websites. It can do more than WordPress or Joomla but is more difficult to set up and manage.


We think organization websites should be simple, easy to use and highly functional. At the very least, they should have an organization’s “about” information, form building, donation processing, a news (RSS) feed, an events (ICS) feed.  Click here for a list of recommended plugins and modules that give each of these CMS systems the above described functionality.



Email is the most widely used online communication technology among people of all technical skill levels. We recommend that organizations use listserv for communications with groups of over 5 people who’re in regular communication with each other because they are a more effective way to communicate with multiple people than cc’ing and correspondence is archived in a central location where it can be more easily reviewed.



Listservs can be extremely helpful for connecting groups of people with each other, but they also present a challenge when it comes to creating a safe, comfortable space for discourse that doesn’t “flood people’s inboxes” with too many emails. Thus, we suggest that organizations create and publicize a clear set of guidelines for their listservs.

We suggest every list your nonprofit makes has a “list moderator” who knows how to add, remove, and blacklist people on the list; as well as someone who is responsible for adding relevant information posted to the list to an accessible website.





Constituent Relationship Management

Every organization should have a system for accepting donations, tracking donor activity and communicating with their community through email and direct mail if necessary.



  • CiviCRM is a full featured FLO constituent relationship management system (CRM) designed specifically for organization and community service organizations that integrate with Drupal, Joomla and WordPress. There are easy to deploy plug-ins for event ticketing, case management, fundraising, email marketing, reporting, and more.
  • PHPlist is a simple email marketing and newsletter application.



CiviCRM has a tremendous amount of features including donation processing, event ticketing, case management, canvassing and more. One important feature set is the ability to categorize people in different ways. CiviCRM has three ways to do this: (1) groups (2) tags (3) fields. Groups are directly connected to CiviCRM’s emailing function, so you’d create groups for all your different email newsletters and assign people to the groups from which they’d like to receive correspondence. There is no limit to the amount of groups of which a person can be a part. You can also assign people tags which enable you to sort people using any terminology you like. For example, one could search a group for people who have the tags ‘volunteer’ ‘gardening’ to find volunteers who’d be interested in gardening. You can also add your own fields to people’s profiles, allow you to add whatever information you’d like. The options are endless. In the Drupal version of CiviCRM you can also produce public, searchable listings of groups in the database. It’s likely that this feature will soon be implemented in WordPress and Joomla versions as well.