4 Questions to Ask Before Using Free Software for your Association

Lori Halley 30 July 2010 0 comments

Free!For small associations or for any organization with a tight budget, the idea of getting free software can be very appealing.  But 'free' should always be taken with a grain of salt.  Using something that you don't have to pay for upfront can cost you in other ways.  Here are a few questions you should ask yourself before you commit to using free software for any mission critical task:

Will it require customization?

As our friend Felix Figuereo at Nicasio Design noted recently when talking about open source content management systems, "they are free to acquire, (but) they are often costly to customize."  Does that free system do most of what you need it to do out of the box?  If not, you may end up spending more in time and dollars getting it to the place where you need it to be.

What kind of support is available?

I love using Google tools such as Gmail, Google Docs, Google Analytics, and others.  But have you ever tried to get a support question answered by Google?  Good luck!  Actually I have to give them some credit, Google have actually have answered some (but not all) of the support emails I've sent them over the years, but frankly the answers are usually short and not incredibly helpful.  If you're paying for software, chances are much greater that the support desk will be responsive to your needs.

Will advertising appear on your site?

Many web-based software companies who don't charge you for software will instead generate revenue through display advertising on your site.  At Wild Apricot we actually do this for our free membership software version.  That's fine if you're okay with seeing those third-party ads, but keep in mind that you likely won't have control over what is shown -- and some of the things being promoted may not fit with the message of your organization.

If they're not charging, are they still going to be around next year?

If you're using any software for an important long-term use, you should always do a little investigation into the background of that company.  In the case of free software in particular, it's important to think about how that company is making money in the long run and whether they'll still be in business in the future.  One reason I don't mind using Google's free tools heavily is because I know they make a bazillion dollars from advertising and are aren't going out of business any time soon.  In the case of Wild Apricot, if you use our free version you know that in addition to the ad revenue we get from free accounts, we have thousands of paying customers who are our real bread and butter, so we're also going to be around for the very long haul.

If after thinking about these questions you find that a free software option meets your needs, I say go for it!  As long as you're going into it with your eyes open, free software can provide a lot of value to your small association.

Originally posted by Jay Moonah

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Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Friday, 30 July 2010 at 12:57 PM

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