Free as in "Hurricanes"

As NPTech community members have heard, a brilliant metaphor was coined the other day by Karen Schneider in her excellent article titled IT and Sympathy:

“Free as in kittens” (as opposed to the popular “free as in beer”).

It’s not a hard sell to tell the average executive that open source, or donated Salesforce.com licenses, or volunteer labor isn’t exactly free of cost. But “as in kittens” really says it well, implying the commitment and caring that need to be applied to critical IT investments, regardless of the license terms.

I think Salesforce.com‘s offer of 10 free licenses to any 501(c)3 is a great example of this. Salesforce rises to meme status in the NPTech world these days, with their corporate philosophy that 1% of their people. product and profit should be donated to non-profits. I could write another blog entry on all of that – but I’ll boil it down to this: one part “Great ethic to model” and nine parts: “Only 1%?!?“. But anyone who thinks for a second that taking Salesforce up on their offer has no budget impact, well, right away you’ve cost your organization every minute that you’ve invested in a project that’s doomed from the start. CRM doesn’t deploy itself – a successful CRM strategy generally involves dramatically altering your corporate culture. Is it worthwhile? For people-based organizations, like non-profits, that’s a general yes. But is it free? No way.

Any major technology project has potential for gigantic leaps in productivity and success or flat out disaster. A key skill for any of us who manage tech is fiasco avoidance. Fiasco avoidance has far more to do with company culture, planning and politics than it does with the actual technology. Salesforce offers a powerful, flexible system that can do incredible things for you. But Convio/Kintera, Raiser’s Edge, or ETapestry might do exactly what you need and are ready to take advantage of out of the box. Software evaluation for strategic projects requires an organizational readiness assessment right along with the product evaluations. Lots of things in life are free, but the “as in” modifiers tell the story.

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