An interview from a NGO Association Manager’s Perspective


So last May at UDS, the discussion of NGOs and use of OSS came up and I wanted to learn more. Did they use oss,?if so what did they use, their issues and how they have over come them? What benefits they see from using oss, and how others can follow suit? I’ve emailed a few NGOs and will be interviewing them and letting folks know how they are getting on. So the first one is from An Association Manager’s Perspective.

Q: What is the mission of your organisation?

How to start? we act as staff for several NGOs. I work for a for-profit company that does government relations and association management. We’re able to offer our services for less cost than their having a dedicated staff And a much wider range of services than a small staff could provide.  Our mission statement is here

Our main clients are: Maine Nurse Practitioner Association, Maine Association of Building Efficiency Professionals, and Maine County Commissioners Association. Each is at a different level of maturity and activity . The most interesting is probably the Maine Association of Building Efficiency Professionals, having newly formed in the last few months

Q: What software do you use?

Primarily Quickbooks, MS Access, Thunderbird, Firefox, MS Word, MS Excel, OpenOffice

Q: How do you use OS or Ubuntu for your NGO ?

I’ve been using Ubuntu as my primary desktop for years. I also am in the process of moving our storage server over, plus maintain a small server at a Xen-based ISP . I keep a couple Windows instances running on another server using VirtualBox, though I want to move to KVM soon for that.

Q: What do you suggest should be done in Ubuntu to better match your needs?

There is a LOT that needs to be improved that would let me get rid of proprietary software. I mean, before I could get rid of it. The two most important applications here are Quickbooks and MS Access. Quickbooks is the most popular software in US for small business accounting.

Q: So ubuntu would need to be more compatible? or does it work at all ?

MS Access will work under Wine for the most part. Some very small weird glitches though — main problem is that the online help doesn’t work. Ubuntu/Debian now has good tools to get at MS Access data, I think the package is called mdbtools.  But it has nothing like MS Access itself in its repositories. There is Kexi — but without printed reports what good is it? There is ooBase too. Not very understandable at all. Doesn’t do what Access can. If they had gone with SqLite we would have had so many more options.

Q: How do you find the documentation? We will be working on these on Ubuntu Global jam day.

For the most part the wiki’s are adequate. My major gripe is that they are hard to search, and sometimes you find obsolete pages. They need a cleanup very much. Many of the topics that have received good attention are excellent, and the format is very readable.

I’ve found the online help in the distro itself to be very nice. But so many applications (perhaps they’re not in “main) just don’t have help installed along with the application. It’s a separate install or non-existent.

I do want you to know I am a fan! It’s just nice to be able to feedback these problems that’s kept me from full adoption!

Q: What is the biggest difficulty you encountered with Ubuntu? Would you say some of the help has not been easy? or overall you’ve found it relatively ok ?

It’s disorganized. But the community very much makes up for it — both on IRC and the forums. That is the primary reason for my choosing Ubuntu over all other distros.

The biggest difficulty is understanding the changes between versions. There’s a big lag between a new release and the documentation in the past. I haven’t upgraded recently though, so I don’t know if that’s still the case.

Q: What do you think is the best trick you learned along the way?

Best trick? pdftk, command line tool to bust apart pdfs, recombine them, add an overlay or background. It’s like my secret weapon here!

Q: What would you suggest to our readers that are interested in an initiative like yours?

My suggestion for your readers adopting Ubuntu is to get a separate computer to migrate to; don’t bother with dual-booting. Try the different flavors of Gnome

(default Ubuntu), Kubuntu, and Xubuntu. Once you’ve played with it, network it to your Windows computer and move your workload slowly over.

Q: Any other feedback or comments?

The Term NGO – In the US, the them “NGO” doesn’t get used much, if at all. I had to look it up when I saw dholbach’s blog post. You’ll get better response from USians if youuse the term “non-profit organization” (or organisation I mean)

Now my big topic: accounting software.  Quickbooks is the most-used accounting software in the US. It only runs on Windows, and not in Wine. It is the ultimate in vendor lock-in.

The export features won’t export everything that Quickbooks holds. The best you can do is custom-design reports with all the fields checked, and export them into Excel. But it won’t export all the relationships between items.  I’m not sure that Ubuntu/Canonical would be up to that challenge, though it’s a major roadblock to adoption in the US by businesses and NGO’s.

Q: How can interested readers help your organisation?

Well, we’re not looking for help — nonprofits are driven by membership. To get Ubuntu into nonprofits, you need to give them the tools to give the members accountability. Cut down on theclerical work by giving the staff good publishing tools, using their member databases and accounting software as leverage.

So it’s good to know we’re helping people out there, but there are still areas we need to help them in.  I’ll hopefully have a few more interviews done in the next week and will update the wiki when I get them all done.  But we’ve all the information on the group here, and you can find us on #ubuntu-ngo.



One Response to “An interview from a NGO Association Manager’s Perspective”

  1. Rishabh Srivastava Says:

    nice interview

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