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Customer relationship management is a very different animal than it used to be. Pick up an issue of any magazine, including this one, from about six to eight years ago and flip through for information about CRM, and you’ll wonder if you’re reading about the same technology. What’s different nowadays? Too many things to list right here and right now. But two of the hottest growth areas in this new wave of CRM are solutions for niche markets and specialty functions, and open-source CRM. Dallas-based MPower provides both: it’s the only full-feature, truly open source CRM software specifically designed for nonprofit organizations. More than 200 charitable organizations as well as consulting firms and professionals working in the philanthropic community now have downloaded MPower since it became available as an open source offering without licensing fees on March 11. I recently spoke with Randy McCabe, Founder and CEO of MPower, about the company and its future.

RT: Why did you decide to go open source?

RMcC: Moving to an open source model has been our plan for some time now. Over the last year, although we have made significant enhancements to our product and service offerings, we also have recognized the inherent shortcomings of the proprietary software business model. Under the old proprietary software model, clients are “held hostage.” They lack control and options for having the features and functionality they need when they need it. The product roadmap moves only as fast as the proprietary company’s development team priorities. This model also forces clients to pay for new modules and releases whether they like them or not – or they have to replace their entire system.

All of us at MPower strongly believe that moving to an open source model is the right thing to do generally and absolutely the right thing to do for the nonprofit community, which needs software that’s as full-featured and powerful as products for the commercial sector. We also want to give clients full control over their technology and ultimately, their destinies.

RT: Was this an easy decision?

RMcC: This was an obvious decision because of the shortcomings of the proprietary software model coupled with appreciation for the technology needs of the nonprofit community, as outlined in my response to the previous question. The challenge, of course, was changing from our existing business model, based heavily on licensing our software, to the new model of giving away the product and providing fee-based support and services. Over time, with our software widely distributed, we’ll support and provide services to a much larger client base, so we expect the business to scale significantly. Making these changes clearly is the right thing to do for the nonprofit community and also good for growing our business – it’s the perfect definition of a win-win value proposition.

RT: How has the developer community responded to this news?

RMcC: Response to MPower’s open-source offering has been extremely positive! Our clients are thrilled to now have complete control over their CRM technology, which translates to the ability to be more effective.
Karen Jacobs with Precept International characterized our move to an open-source CRM solution as “nothing short of revolutionary for the nonprofit community” and “the next big thing for charitable organizations.” She told us, “It is as important a development for nonprofits as the Internet, which has become a critical tool for cultivating constituent relationships and driving fundraising.”
Barry Durman, with East-West International, has said, “MPower is already a powerful and mature CRM software for nonprofits – I can only imagine how open-source will positively affect the product velocity and innovation.”
And Brenton Evans from Marriage Today said, “Offering such a powerful CRM solution to all nonprofits without any big upfront software investment means that every nonprofit now has access to the most powerful constituent relationship and fundraising tool on the market.”

RT: How does nonprofit CRM differ from other types of CRM?

RMcC: One of the biggest differences is that nonprofit CRM is multi-constituent and multichannel. A nonprofit’s constituent likely has several types of relationships with the organization and interacts with it through a variety of ways – for example, a single constituent can be a donor, advocate and event attendee who participates through postal mail, e-mail, a Web site, a fundraising run or a bike ride, etc. MPower enables a nonprofit to easily manage the relationship and communications with donors, volunteers, customers, subscribers, event attendees, viewers and listeners through direct mail, e-mail and Web sites, events, magazines and newsletters, telephone, radio and TV. A big part of the differentiation is in the management of gifts, product orders and any other types of transactions including soft gifts and gifts in-kind.

RT: How open is your solution and how does it compare to other solutions on the market?

RMcC: MPower is completely open – clients have full access to our source code. It doesn’t get any more open than that.
There’s no comparison between our offering and everything else currently available. It’s “apples-to-oranges,” so to speak. Although a number of nonprofit CRM software vendors are recognizing the value of collaboration and making their products more open (which we applaud as a first step), none of the major players is providing a truly open-source solution. Only MPower is doing that.
Some companies are helping nonprofits add other software to their proprietary solutions by doing things such as opening a few application programming interfaces, but typically the vendor has to handle implementations. No company other than MPower provides access to its source code to enable clients to develop the functionality they want when they want it. This is a key characteristic of open-source software.

Also, MPower, like true open-source companies, is providing a full gamut of support and services pertaining to the software and governance for the user community – including things like managing the source code, aggregating new code and providing quality assurance and product documentation, plus managing the client forums and knowledgebase.

RT: Does interfacing with open-source telephony solutions make sense for your company to ensure?

RMcC: Absolutely. Many of our clients and many nonprofits (especially larger ones) have call centers, or they outsource both inbound fundraising responses and outbound fundraising calls to call centers. Our solution has a call center screen to capture inbound data or provide customer service to callers.

RT: What about unified communications – is this an area of the market your software needs to work with?

RMcC: Unified communications is what our software helps nonprofits achieve for their constituents. From a software integration standpoint, MPower should be part of a unified communications platform for nonprofits because we are open-source and built to be the centerpiece of a unified communications strategy.

RT: Will you consider bringing your software into other markets that are for-profit, for example?

RMcC: Because our software is a full-featured, mature CRM solution that is completely open – with full access to the source code, it likely would have tremendous appeal to the commercial sector. However, the nonprofit sector is a huge and vastly underserved market when it comes to CRM. We are focused singularly now on providing the best, fully open CRM solution for this very important community.

RT: Where will your company be in five years?

RMcC: We will be the most trusted and effective constituent relationship management solution for the nonprofit community.

RT: Thank you for your time.

To learn more about MPower, visit www.mpoweropen.com

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