So I though I'd share a personal experience that reminded me of what Open Source, and therefore CiviCRM, means to me. Over the past year or so a lot of conversations have been taking place about the direction of CiviCRM, how we should fund the project to ensure its sustainability etc. More recently the partner program has come about and we've all been drawn into the mya that comes with it, thinking about the bigger picture. Why mya you may ask? Well, its mya in my view because the answers to those questions are different for each organisation and therefore are somewhat illusory. Anyway, lets get on with the story at hand…
Those of you that know us know that we've been involved in a few integration projects here in the UK with CiviCRM and third party systems, such as Direct Debit, Just Giving and more recently HMRC for the reclaim of tax on gifts. Anyone thats tried the latter knows that integrating to any government provided service is a painful process taking time, energy and a huge amount of will power to see them through. You often find yourself asking why you ever got involved in the task at hand and often you can't find a way to resolve the issue your facing purely down to the lack of support provided by the HMRC. I think they're goal is to ensure that every single software supply has to go through the exact pain that the others did in order to get to the an integration that works, which is their own convoluted way of ensuring that no favouritism is shown to any particular supplier! So after months of fighting battles, with the help of smaller Charities testing (John @ Merton Music Foundation and tapasdatta @ ISKCON London) and funding from Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, we finally seemed to be winning the battle to allow UK CiviCRM users to claim Gift Aid online. Up until now the alternatives have been pretty much closed source, whether you purchased the integration from your software supplier or built your own - the functionality normally would only benefit your organisation. But this isn't the essence of my story, the real lesson happened a couple of days ago.
I help out a bit at the local temple on the city of London and happened to be dropping by at Lunch time last Wednesday. Once up into offices I noticed a couple of individuals huddled around the monitor looking at what was undeniably a drupal page showing a CiviCRM contact record. I've been involved in the temple on and off for a number of years and never knew they were considering CiviCRM. So I piped up with "Yay, CiviCRM" and jumped into the session with them. There was a moment of silence whilst the individuals tried to work out how I knew what their new software was, so the next question I fired at them was "How long and what are you trying to do?". i got a relatively simple answer, simply that they looking to put it in place, as a replacement for their existing Access based CRM system. A few more exchanges took place and it was through this conversation that I learnt that Tapas was in fact the same Tapas that I'd be liaising with over the gift aid online extension. He had been struggling to get his CiviCRM working for him and had ping'd us questions mainly around the gift aid online extension as it was in its infancy. I must admit I got a little choked up, that people contributing to society I value so much had been struggling to carry out tasks that would take us consultants minutes to do. And also the fact that the blood, sweat and tears we put into the gift aid extension had somehow manifested into an installation right in front of my eyes. In fact the main reason for switching to CiviCRM was down to the fact that CiviCRM's gift aid online extension is free whereas others cost money, effectively costing you the same funds your trying to claim back!
So for me this brought home why Open Source exists and where I should be focussing my attention. Yes, its important our needs as consultants are met but whats most important to me is that the needs of the small guys sitting in their rooms trying to solve real world problems using CiviCRM are able to succeed. This doesn't mean giving them SAS as an alternative or pointing them in the direction of manuals, but somehow finding a way to connect to that very community. This is what Open Source is about for me and what community software really means, the rest will take of itself so to speak. I, probably like a few others, seemed to be losing that key directive over the past few months and this was a very timely reminder.