SaaS vs. Open Source

SaaS (Software as a Service) is, most likely, one of the biggest changes over the few years in the way that nonprofits implement software solutions. Of course SaaS has been around quite a while, primarily in the CRM/Fundraising space, with products like eTapestry, Convio, Kintera, and, most recently, and Common Ground (Convio's fundraising application built upon

In the most recent version of the NOSI primer, we added a SaaS column in our software choice worksheet. So how does SaaS relate to Open Source, and, if you are choosing software to implement, how do you weigh the open source vs. SaaS options?

When you implement a SaaS solution, you are, first and foremost, not buying or obtaining software. You are purchasing a service. You are incurring a monthly service fee (sometimes there is a setup fee, sometimes not.) At one level, whether or not the software underneath the SaaS is open source is not really relevant. You are not obtaining the software, and whether or not you can see the code, or modify it, is really not the key issue here. There is a post up on my blog explaining why this is actually more complex than it seems.

Because SaaS is a service, there is nothing to install, and nothing to maintain. There will be, of course, migration of data, customization and configuration, and all of those sorts of things. But you won't have to deal with doing upgrades, or installing security patches, or maintaining the server - these are things that can be a real benefit to nonprofits without many technology resources.

Advantages of SaaS over Open Source:

  • Support is generally included in the monthly fee
  • No installation
  • No server to maintain
  • No upgrades to deal with

Advantages of Open Source over SaaS:

  • You keep your own data and have complete control over it
  • There are no ongoing monthly costs for the software itself
  • You can modify the software
  • You control software upgrades
  • There is an active developer community to contribute to and tap
Users and developers of will likely beg to differ on a number of issues here. is more of a PaaS (Platform as a Service) rather than a SaaS per se.

Of course, in making software decisions, features and such are key, but these are some important components of the decision process.


Wikipedia definition of Open SaaS

 SaaS and open source can co-exist and form the basis on a new delivery model - Open SaaS.  See definition in wikipedia htttp://

Open SaaS describes open source software provided as Software as a service(SaaS). Open source software traditionally has been offered on an enterprise software deployment model. Software offered on a SaaS basis has traditionally been proprietary software with no open source of the code. Open SaaS refers to open source software offered as software as a service (SaaS).


Agree with @abhi on why

Agree with @abhi on why should it be SaaS against Open Source instead of licensed software installs.

Open Source SaaS, now that would be something!


I think SaaS v/s Open source

I think SaaS v/s Open source is not a fair comparison. As dschoenberg said, it should be open source v/s installed software.

In an office or organization with substantial IT expertise, I think open source adoption, instead of SaaS/PaaS could work. Any software (open or closed source) required care and feeding. Some more than others.

Having that software hosted for you and maintained for you is a convenience a lot of people want. The monthly fee is worth it as compared to paying an IT guy.
That is where SaaS helps.

This comparison is growing on

This comparison is growing on me. Initially I was thinking that it was comparing apples and oranges... but as I consider it, I really agree that SaaS and open source software are polar opposites on a few things, mostly to do with control and installation. As you mention, by definition an open source gives you complete control over your data and application, to tweak or hack how you will. When you're using a SaaS, though, you're completely dependent on the vendor as to what you can do - can you get out your data? Can you customize the fields in that drop-down? Build in a form for a new process?

The flip side is true for technical issues - a SaaS removes installation, updates, security, etc barriers, while you'll need to take charge of all of that yourself for an open source application.

By the way, you mention an active user community as a benefit of open source, but I'm not sure there's actually a tie there. You could have an open source product without a community (though you probably wouldn't want to use it!) or a SaaS tool with a very strong community - like Salesforce.

And to the Anonymous question... a platform means that it's built on top of, which is a constituent data system that's widely used across both the business and nonprofit spheres (particularly popular with nonprofits as licenses are free for up to 10 users). Salesforce is an extremely open SaaS platform and there's a number of applications built using their functionality as a starting point.

Michelle-First let me


First let me disclose that I'm the CEO of SofterWare, the makers of DonorPerfect Fundraising software. Unlike the other SaaS vendors you mention, we actually offer both a Saas version of our product DonorPefectOnline as well as an installed version. That's why I think the more appropriate comparison is SaaS vs. User Installed & Maintained Software. Open Source is irrelevant, other than the fact that most open source products are not available as a SaaS offering.

I'd suggest the following modified list of the advantages.

Advantages of SaaS:

* No software to install or maintain.

* Largely eliminates the need and costs of installing and continually upgrading servers.

* Remote access for anytime, anywhere use without additional software or hardware.

* Professionally managed data centers should provide greater system security, redundancy as well as automatic data backup.

Advantages of User-Installed software:

* Greater control of data and timing of upgrades.

* Typically lower monthly costs, but higher upfront cost.

In terms of open source, I also think there are a lot of misperceptions about the costs and benefits. Here is a blog posting on Why free software often costs more!

 Hello, I totaly agree, with


I totaly agree, with SaaS you don't need to know about technology or procedure of working, but don't have ownership which amateur like to have. With open source platform must to spend a lot of time to modify and money to buy properly add-ons

We are a small staff and

We are a small staff and really don't have talent or experience with technology. One of the consultants we are working with suggests that the new product you mention is built on a "Force" platform that could give us the benefits of Saas and some of the benefits of being open. What is a Force platform?