This post was last updated on May 8th, 2020 at 08:18 am.
You’ll see the phrase “get your free church management software download” all the time when searching for a software that will handle the complex nature of church administration. What it really means, in most cases, is we will give you a software trial for a certain amount of time. Then to continue using it you must pay.
If it is truly free for the church, typically the church will realize the cost down the road after they invested a lot of time getting it to work, for it to just go up in smoke. We promise you that your outlook about free software downloads will change after reading this article. In fact you may change your mind about getting free things in general.
We are going to go over why free software, while an awesome idea, in reality it does not work. As they say there’s no free lunch. You will end up paying in some other way. Then we will go over why some companies or individuals offer free software at first but change the pricing model later. Next we will discuss economics 101 with an example and why the free software model breaks down. And what happens when the free ride is over and the software becomes paid.
Does Free Church Software Work In Reality?
The short answer is no it does not. The reasons vary but it essentially comes down to a few things. The most undeniable is that even when someone donates their time, they still have to make money some how. It would be awesome to offer free software to the masses, however society has not changed enough to allow this business model to survive, yet. For a totally free model to work, the idea of exchanging money for living expenses, would have to cease to exist. Now that we got the philosophical stuff out of the way, let’s move on.
When does the free church software model work?
There are times where free software works. Today browsers are free to surf the web. But many years ago, browsers were not free. Netscape, later acquired by AOL, was not free until 1998. Browsers ever since have been free to the public and thankfully for good reasons. However if you think about the current browsers – like Chrome and Edge, they have a different way of paying for the browser development. Chrome, created by Google, makes it revenue by advertising. And Edge is created by Microsoft which has revenue from MS products. Firefox is the only one that does not have a huge side company making revenue for them. However that may be changing as they are going to offer premium paid features in their browser.
There are many other programs that are free like Paint, 3D Paint, email clients, LibreOffice, and so on. However, churches require a unique set of features. They need a database and not a glorified Rolodex of their church members. They require the ability to take online donations, church attendance, and regular donations. They need to do text to give, church accounting, event registration, and a multitude of other tasks. So a church database system is more than a word processor like Libreoffice or a simple paint program. There is a lot of moving parts in church software.
Why we like free stuff…
First, people love free things. Humans like the path of least resistance. In other words if I don’t have to give a credit card and spend my hard earned money for something, that is the path of least resistance. We are hardwired for it. Second, it fits into our current culture of instant gratification. Given these human traits and the available technology like mobile devices it is no wonder the sense of instant gratification is growing. For example, people can instantly connect to friends via Facebook with updates or have Amazon packages delivered in 24 hours.
Free Church Software – Free Now, Pay Later…
A lot of software companies will give their software away for free to get their name out there. We have seen this many times in the church management software industry. A new software company comes onto the scene with a lot promise, and their pricing is “free”. They could have a very good product and some churches may go and try the newest thing out. Only to find out that the “free” goes away after a year or two.
Some people will scratch their heads as to why did the “free software” go away? Because there’s no free lunch. Although our society might lead you to believe that. In this case it could be they wanted to grow their client list because they are a new company. It could be they truly wanted to develop a free church software system, but found out later the “free” model does does not work. Or the developer moved on to another new exciting project.
Economics 101 – Can The Free Model Work?
There are a lot of developers that donate their time and skills to worthy causes like creating software for all kinds of purposes. However, there is a caveat for these software projects. Developers can’t live in this world for free. Every one needs a certain amount of money to live.
The only way around this need, is to be independently wealthy or have a side project/investment that generates money with little effort. Independently wealthy or having a side investment business frees up the developer to pursue their passion of developing software and donating their time. We should mention being independently wealthy or having some form of investment income to live off of is an exception case. In other words 99% of the developers do not have this kind of lifestyle.
Free software example
Let’s walk through an example to get some background on how this works. A developer creates a free software product. Everyone is happy that they can do their work for free. Or can they? As time goes on, hundreds of user request come in from churches. For any given software product there’s hundreds or even thousands of features requested per year. Add to this list the reported software bugs, that happen from the first release date.
The developer looks at the list of software features and bugs, and knows he may only get to 25% – 45% of them each year while donating 30+ hours a week. Worst yet as feature request are completed, more request and bugs come in. It is a never ending cycle in the software world and one reason the free software model fails.
Let’s say this developer is not independently wealthy or has a side gig making a living wage. In other words, he actually has a full time job. He would be working 70+ hours a week between the paying job and him donating time for the free software project. How long do you think that can last before he burns out? Or he has to ask for help?
He may be able to find some people that are willing to donate their time, like him, to further the project. But more than likely they are in the same situation where their time is constrained by their full time job obligations or other life issues. If he can’t find generous people, then the only option would be to pay some one to help. However this requires resources — ie money. But this project is free and brings no money in, so how do you pay someone? There’s the rub as they say.
Where the free software model breaks down
There are multiple places this model breaks down versus a paid model. The free model breaks down when it comes to developer time constraints, software maintenance, and a developer’s priorities change. Lastly free software offers no support system for when user questions come up. Let’s go over each of these in more detail.
1. Developer time constraints vs feature request and bugs
First you have a developer working 70+ hours a week to maintain the project and working full time to make a living. Worst yet this enormous amount of donated time would probably not keep the project above water. In other words he may only get to 50% of the feature request and reported bugs completed year over year. This means that the other 50% of incomplete bugs and request are added to the previous year’s list. This list snowballs year after year, where it will become so large, you could hire several developers and still not get the list to a manageable size. As stated before software development is a vicious recurring cycle as it never ends.
2. Software always needs maintenance
Second, when software is initially released, it is never without bugs or features. Software requires maintenance from the very start until the end of the software life cycle. This is unlike other free things people might get. Let’s use a crazy example. You won a new fridge at some church event. For the most part the fridge will probably need no maintenance for 10 years, aside from the occasional water filter but no visit from a technician to fix something. Most fridges will last many years without costing the owner anything for their upkeep other than electricity. With software this never happens. Maintenance starts from day one of the release.
Because the bugs and features are immediately needed, this requires time to stay on top of it. More than likely beyond the initial 30 hours. In the example, the developer would have a few choices. He could hire someone and pay them to stay ahead of the request and bugs with him. He could quit his job and dedicate all hours to the free project, but how will he live? Or will his time be in vain and he still couldn’t stay ahead of all the issues? On the slim chance that he might find some one that generously helps would be the only way to keep the software free. All the other options would require him to move to a paid business model.
3. Developer priorities change and they devote less time to the project
Lastly what happens if the original developer’s priorities change? For example he could start a family and have no time to dedicate to the project any more. Or some other project peaks their interest, and they move onto that new project leaving this one in the dust. Or possibly a new job opportunity that they will be working more hours. Sure someone else might step in and take over the project, but do you want to take that chance? A paid version of software shows a viable business behind it. A paid software is more likely to stick around for years to come versus a free version.
4. Free support is not included with free software systems
What happens when users have “how to” questions? Who’s going to answer those? If the developer takes the time to answer those, that time cuts away from the total of 30 hours he uses each week to develop. This means less time for ongoing development and more time supporting the product. As soon as you hire someone in a support role you need revenue from the product to pay them. A developer has little incentive to support a free product. It is possible that he may incorporate ads into this software platform which would offset cost. However these ads may aggravate users that do not want this application to have ads every where.
While we are talking about support, who’s going to train your staff? Free software works a lot better when there is a person in the organization dedicated to learning the software’s capabilities. They typically call this person the product champion. But if the organization does not have that resource, they are going to rely on the developer’s documentation and/or his ability to answer your questions. More than likely he will have very limited to no time to answer questions about a free software. He expects you to use it as you see fit.
When The Free Ride Is Over…
Eventually the new company needs to either make money to keep the lights on, or they fall away into oblivion. Worst yet you typically don’t know what happened. What is apparent is your software is not working and you can’t get to your data. A church’s data is one of the most closely held assets. While companies that charge for their products can go bankrupt, it happens a lot less than companies offering free stuff. What will your church do when the free ride is over and you can’t get donor’s data, for example? Or you don’t have records that go back three years as required by the IRS? Are you going to get lured into another — get your free church management software download? Or come to the conclusion that there’s no free lunch and the better option is a paid software?
Your options when the free ride is over
So what is a church to do when the free ride is over? For example, maybe the developer decides to add in paid ads in the application. Or they decide to go to a paid business model.
Free software becomes paid software
If the church is lucky, the software vendor is staying in business but implementing a non-free pricing model. At least your data is not lost and you can still keep functioning. Although it is going to cost you when the free promise is broken as you will have to pay up. But that is better than losing all your church’s data because you can’t access it. What if the cost is initially too much for the church’s budget? You have few choices. You could budget for the cost some how or find another less costly software package in a short time frame.
Making a decision in a short time frame rarely goes well. Additionally, if you change software you will have to retrain your staff and volunteers in a short time frame. Conversely if you pony up the money and stay with the software, it may break your budget if the numbers fall through. Staying with the same software company after a major broken promise might come back to bite you. Is the pricing the only thing that changes or will they change more in the future. It’s one thing to maybe not come through with a feature that was promised, but having a system go from free to a paid system is a larger issue. It would bring into question the vision they have for their free software, that is not free anymore.
What about ads in the software?
What happens when the free software starts placing ads on the screen and you are trying to do your work? Imagine your everyday application looking more like Facebook where there are ads everywhere. And all you want to do is update some records on the database.
Software developers puts ads in their software to generate income for the free software they give away. The hope is that they get some revenue from the ad agencies to compensate them for placing the ads within their products. However, to most people ads are annoying. It is one of the major reason people are switching to streaming services. For example, in the typical 30 minute TV show, there is 10 minutes of commercials, or better said 1/3 of the time is for ads. This does not play well into people’s hard wired traits of instant gratification. How do you think ads in your everyday software will be received by the end users?
The next issue with ads is users can block ads using software programs like uBlock. Great the user is not seeing those terrible ads. But it does have a side affect. The developer is not getting paid either. So the user has cut off the developer’s living. At that point the developer has two options — charge for the software or not provide it any more. By blocking the ads you inadvertently made the product that you use, nonviable.
Why Paying For Software Is Generally A Better Option
Why is paying for some thing better? Generally speaking when you pay for something you have a lot more leverage. The company wants to make you as happy as they can, without of course going bankrupt. They have an invested interest in keeping their clients happy. Without clients they are out of business. In a free software model, the person really does not care much about keeping you happy. They feel they produced a good product, and you can either use or not. It is no sweat off their backs if you don’t, because it is free and they make no money on it.
The end users typically get some kind of support, for at least a little while. We recommend you always use technical support when purchasing a software package, if its included. Ensure you make use of it! You should not feel embarrassed using it. In the free software model this does not exist. They do not have a technical support structure. You will be lucky if they reply to emails from their hundreds, if not thousands of users.
Generally speaking a paid software model has one focus — making their software one of the best. Rarely does a company change direction that is totally out of alignment with their product offerings. The same can’t be said with free software. If the developer’s priorities change, it is very easy for him to drop the free product and move on. As we noted earlier some priorities may be starting a family, new product, or a new job that requires more hours.
Summary For Free Church Management Software Download
As you can see here there are many issues with a free software model that have not been worked out yet. There’s the philosophical reasons that people have to make a living. Then there are other reasons, such as software in general needs maintenance all the time to how people are hardwired to take the path of least resistance.
In the end it really comes down to, as a society we have not moved beyond the simple transactional way we conduct ourselves. Everyone needs to make a living and pay for things as simple as food and water. These things are bought and paid for by the money you make, thus a person can not simply donate all their time to a free product without compensation. As much as people want to pursue their passions and contribute freely to the community, they must still fulfill the basic necessities of like – food, shelter, and water. And it is always nice to have a few wants like a car, occasional vacation, and so on.