October 19, 2011 | By Kellie Brownell and Micah Lee and Lisa Wright

EFF's Membership Program Goes Open Source

If you were inspired to support digital civil liberties this afternoon, you may have noticed that EFF's donation pages look different. The information you enter will now wind its way to an EFF-hosted server and populate a local installation of the first-class, open source database management product for nonprofits, CiviCRM. EFF is proud to join a growing cadre of activist organizations using CiviCRM and will continue contributing to its ongoing success.

Quick Guide to EFF's New Membership Center

Your new EFF membership center, powered entirely by CiviCRM, is located at https://supporters.eff.org/. There you can:

We have a new partner for advocacy campaigns as well: SalsaLabs. When you take action as part of an advocacy campaign, SalsaLabs makes sure your letter reaches the right representative, and we make sure your data gets transferred to CiviCRM and deleted from SalsaLabs within 48 hours.

Nonprofits Deserve Better Products

The CiviCRM project began in 2006 with the lofty goal of becoming a viable alternative to proprietary database services for nonprofits. We applaud the founders’ foresight, as the choices available to nonprofits now are expensive, privacy invasive, and insecure.

This issue became personal for EFF in September of 2009. EFF, along with eight fellow nonprofit organizations, wrote and distributed to Congress a legislative primer (pdf) entitled, "Online Behavioral Tracking and Targeting Concerns and Solutions," which contained nine principles designed to apply Fair Information Practices to the collection of electronic data about individuals, including collection limitation, data quality, purpose specification, use limitation, security safeguards, openness, individual participation, and accountability.

A few days after publishing our legislative primer, EFF was contacted by someone at our membership database service, Convio, who challenged whether a nonprofit organization -- even one that espoused fair information principles -- could actually implement those principles in practice. Convio is full of "features" -- some that can be disabled, but many that cannot -- that are designed to track the behaviors of individuals who visit a nonprofit organization's system. Convio is not unique in this regard; virtually all of the membership databases currently being marketed to nonprofits are stuffed with "features" that enable those nonprofits to target their members based on online behaviors. While EFF had gone to extraordinary measures to turn off or disable many of these features, we believed our members deserved better.

Designed By and For Nonprofits

The CiviCRM community has done an excellent job creating a product that even non-technical organizations can feel comfortable working with. We have been pleasantly surprised to discover features built into CiviCRM that very much suit our preferences: reducing the time it takes to acknowledge our donors, or putting a stop sign image next to an email address that has opted out of a mailing list, for example. The CiviCRM community has given nonprofits an attractive alternative for managing and protecting the information donors entrust us to store responsibly.

The best part about using an open source solution that we host ourselves is that we can modify and extend it to fit our needs. Now that we're using CiviCRM, we have total control over the security of our data and our constituents' privacy. Instead of storing passwords in plaintext, we no longer store passwords at all. Now that we've switched to CiviCRM, we can safely force HTTPS on all parts of our membership center.

Equally important, using CiviCRM dramatically reduces the cost of supporting a robust membership program, so more dollars can go directly to the programs that actually support your digital rights. In the coming months, EFF's technologists and fundraising team will be speaking to a broader audience of nonprofits about our experiences leaving a proprietary platform in the hopes that more are inspired to follow, including the Bay Area Drupal Camp Conference at UC Berkeley on Friday. And we are eager participants in the CiviCRM project. EFF is hosting a Code Sprint at our new headquarters Tuesday through Thursday this week, where developers across the country will be adding and optimizing a number of new features.

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