Tendenci, the NPO CMS website software, is going open source thanks to Matt and Dries

UPDATE 4/3/2012: The Tendenci Open Source Download is available on GitHub here. Also view Instructions on Hosting Requirements


We are making Tendenci open source. Yes really. Official Tendenci Open Source Press Release here. So what is Tendenci?

Tendenci is an Open Source Software for Associations (AMS) and Built Specifically for Non-Profits.

That’s it. Sounds simple but organizing people, especially members of non-profit organizations (NPOs), is a real challenge. And designing software is a challenge too. Therefore focus produces better results.

We’ve talked about making our product open source for years internally. So why now?

The tipping point for me was last year at our bi-annual conference where we had the privilege of hosting two open-source visionaries Dries Buytaert and Matt Mullenweg on the stage at the same time. Dries is the founder of Drupal and Matt is the founder of WordPress.

Their WordPress-Drupal talk at SchipulCon 2011 moderated by David was absolutely inspiring to me. Here were two men who give their product away for FREE but still create jobs with over 100 employees each. The video is on WordPress.tv here.

One thing Matt said during the talk was:

People being told what to do and working for money are never going to match people working for passion and a community.


Matt’s right. I do things for free with a greater passion than what I do for the almighty dollar. I’ll spend 5 hours editing photos for a volunteer event out of passion for the arts. Or to support and remember our troops. Because I am passionate about both. I am passionate about non-profits and service to community and country, which is what drove me to start programming Tendenci in 2001! And yet paradoxically I have always kept Tendenci proprietary. My vision for the company is:

To Connect and Organize the World’s People. Do Good.

Thus we are making our code open source for the NPO community to use, build upon, download and do as they wish. And yes, we fully realize our competitors will be the first to download. But hey, maybe they have some great ideas for integration plugins and they can make a profit too. It will be released on GitHub to coincide with the NTEN conference in San Francisco next month.

Why am I doing this? It is me (Ed) making an ideological decision. I didn’t say “logical” I said “ideological.” I want to change the world. After travelling extensively and earning a degree in Political Science I’ve become more aware that we are part of a global community. I want to leave the world a better place than when I arrived. Yes, seriously!

Open Source enables us to DO GOOD at a higher level than our pure proprietary model allows. “To connect and organize the worlds’ people. Do good.” As goes the vision so goes the company. Enzo the (talking) dog in the amazing book The Art of Racing in the Rain says:

That which you manifest becomes you.

What Enzo was saying is that when you are driving a race car you can’t look at the wall to stay away from it. You need to look at the road way up ahead so you are prepared BEFORE you get there. And proprietary is limited by resources in ways that open source is not. We can manifest more good being open source.

Matt and Dries convinced me that we can build an open source product through a global community to change the world, AND still create jobs and make a profit. Thus after 14 years in business and having started programming Tendenci in 2001 (11 years!) I am ready to make the jump to open source.

What technology is behind it? It was originally written in ASP. Not anymore. On January 22nd 2009 our programming team convinced me we needed a complete rewrite because the only people who know the Tendenci 4 framework are people who work at Schipul because I never documented it. Ooops. So over the last three years we have done a COMPLETE rewrite of Tendenci from the ground up using the best-of-breed open source technology. At a technical level our programming team recommended the Django/Python/mySQL/Ubuntu “stack.”

That was a big decision. I’m committed and I am 100% positive this is the right path forward for us, our clients and NPOs everywhere. (We plan to have a github repository available by NTEN if not sooner. See you in San Francisco y’all!)




Is Tendenci really built specifically for non-profits and will memberships be included in the open source download?

Yes and yes. Memberships are included in the base download. As are membership benefits like pricing for events etc.

Can businesses still use Tendenci?

Yes, most definitely. In fact with the new plug-in architecture and the new templating system, you will have even greater flexibility.

For example, WordPress is used as a great CMS system and we build a BUNCH of WP sites for businesses, organizations, individuals, artists, and non-profit organizations. WordPress rocks. It has a ton of great add-ons. Yet its DNA is fundamentally a blogging platform. Tendenci is fundamentally a CMS for non-profits.

Will Schipul, the company behind Tendenci, continue to build and support Tendenci?

Yes. Absolutely. I LOVE THIS SOFTWARE! And our programming team is excited to be a part of the open source community. We are not going anywhere. Quite the opposite – we are getting even more energized about it!

While I like being able to download it if I want, I’d rather not deal with all of that. Does Tendenci offer hosting?

Absolutely. Visit www.tendenci.com and click the “Free Trial” button and you are up and running. Work with your own developer to configure it to your specifications or call us at 281 497 6567 and we can help.

We are a web design firm. Can we sell Tendenci sites and host them on our own servers?

Yes. That is how open source works. And we need design partners as well to help with clients who choose to host with us. And theme and plug in-developers too.  You can find out more by checking out our Partner Programs.

How will you stay in business if you just give away your product?

I not only expect to “stay in business” but I expect our profit and revenue to go up through lower cost cloud based hosting at Amazon and increased volume. Lower costs means higher usage pretty much in every economic model I have ever seen.

And Tendenci being open source creates an ecosystem for other developers to develop apps on that meet the needs of their specific clients.

Why make Tendenci Open Source now, in 2012? Why the timing?

What better time? Thanks to our clients we grew another 20% in revenue and earned a fair profit last year. We have been profitable since 2002 and are completely self funded so I didn’t have to call a banker or a board that doesn’t understand SaaS and open source to get approval to make this decision. I simply listened to our clients. I listened to our employees. I listened to our stakeholders. I listened to Matt and Dries. And I made a decision that is best for everyone including non-profits all over the world given Django is multi-language.

And hey, financially we are strong and what better time to give to the open source community than during a recession and at a time of strength? I would have done this years ago but you can’t build an open source community around a proprietary technology like ASP (what I originally wrote it in). It was the rewrite of Tendenci by our young and talented programming team that is allowing us to make the move now.

Why is open source so important for NPOs? Do they really care?

Yes, yes and more yes. Just ask them.

According to the NTEN 2011 survey 33% custom built their web sites (perhaps on top of open source), 10% used proprietary products, cloud based or not. The remaining 57% strictly use open source software. Excluding non-profit hospitals and other niche verticals, I believe open source web technology probably accounts for close to 70% of the market by number of NPOs. PHP based CMS systems like Drupal, WordPress and Joomla currently fill this need, and they are great products.

I believe opening Tendenci up as open source provides a fourth viable option to meet the specific needs of non-profit web sites. And Tendenci is built in the Python programming language on the Django framework which opens opportunities up to developers who prefer Python.

Or to put it another way, I believe proprietary SaaS products that target the non-profit community will only survive if they focus on very specific niches because they are excluding almost 60% of their target audience. As a VC would say, that sort of limits your “addressable market.” Our proprietary competitors don’t share this belief. And I didn’t either last year. I’m a convert. And I ask you,

Would YOU rather know you can download all of the technology for your site if you wanted to?

Of course your answer is yes. You want open source because you want and deserve to control the destiny of your web presence.

That is why my personal blog and this blog are on WORDPRESS! I believe WordPress is the best blogging platform around. I love it. I started with a paid hosted site at www.wordpress.com. And at some point I wanted more control so I migrated to my own server (we have a few. #heh). Shouldn’t you have that same freedom as a non-profit?

Well, now you do.

How can I get a copy of the source code and start working on it now? (I’m writing this on 3/15/12 – the Ides of March indeed)

We hope to have a public repository available on github by NTEN next month. The (slight) delay is simply because we built our hosted environment to use three distinct servers, search index, web server and CDN. That won’t make sense to 99% of the people reading this. In English it means “we built it for BIG HUGE SITES. We need to make that part optional so a small NPO can download and run it on their own web server without having to buy three slices at Amazon. We’re working on it! And I can’t wait!

In the meantime, you can sign-up on our website and we’ll be sending an email with the download link to you as soon as it is ready.

(Note: We do have a few select beta testers with early access working on the SpacePoints site. We’ll get it available to everyone soon.)

What other questions do you have? Hit us up in the comments below!



13 Replies to “Tendenci, the NPO CMS website software, is going open source thanks to Matt and Dries”

  1. Ed and team: I think I probably know the answer, but I’m asking on behalf of your other current customers as well. For those of us already using Tendenci to power our websites, what impact will this have and what is the benefit of this move to us? Should we assume that you will you continue to provide support for your current customers?

  2. Dan – Excellent point. For the majority of our clients it means they will soon have access to significantly more plug-ins developed by others in the open source community. And that they will have options to customize the sites even more.

    Or, if a client wishes, they can move their site to their own server.

    We will of course do our best to leverage volume to keep our pricing more competitive, but price isn’t the only reason someone would want to self host and I get that. A submarine for example. If they are using Tendenci to manage their events they can’t host at Tendenci.com – they would sort of need a local server 20,000 leagues under the sea.

    So if Jules Verne is reading this – give us a holler. If you are a client and you are reading this – feel free to email me but don’t worry, we will have a lot of communication about this change going out in our newsletter.



  3. Ed, You have always had an infinitive for doing what you believe is in the best interest of others. It comes as no surprise that you would take let another of many steps to stay true to your philosophy and tendency (no pun intended) towards the good of your clients.

  4. I have no idea what this means to our website. Is this T5? We are on T4 (I guess), and there are no plans to modify that anymore, so is this new open source platform going to cost? We are a non-profit and really do not have any money to buy new software. What do you suggest?

  5. I definitely will send this to my aunt we were just talking about this this week!

  6. Connie – short version – it is a very good thing for our clients.

    Long version – We have definitely been trying to communicate with clients FIRST as you are the reason we are here. So I apologize that I didn’t get the question fully answered ahead of time with the newsletters, press release, blog post, etc….

    To recap:

    Tendenci 4, which is code I started writing in 2001, is written in classic ASP, my only realistic option at the time. ASP classes do not support inheritance (programming stuff) and don’t work with a lot of newer technology like AJAX and JQuery. Furthermore Microsoft has moved to ASP.NET which is much more expensive to develop for our clients. We know how important cost containment is for our clients so it was clear that ASP.NET was NOT the path forward.

    While I knew for years that we had to switch off of ASP for our clients, I am not a huge fan of PHP for geeky reasons and we used Python extensively even in Tendenci 4. It was the advent of a solid framework written in Python called Django that enabled us to make the move. That was 2009. The process of rebuilding from the ground up started.

    The redirection of resources since 2009 there has resulted in a definite reduction in functional development in T4 while we put all of our energy into a complete rewrite using open-source technology in Tendenci 5.

    And yet while T5 is awesome, as I write this in March 2012, T5 still doesn’t match the full functionality of T4. Tendenci 5 is the future and it will soon surpass Tendenci 4, but for now it isn’t quite there yet. Thus only some clients are eligible for the upgrade even at a considerable expense to the client. You can’t rewrite 10 years of code in two years. At least not securely and security remains our top priority.

    The future for us and our clients?

    Our new business model is based on the WordPress and Drupal open source model. By going open source we have a TON of options including having clients utilize someone else to write a custom plugin for your site that gives you exclusive functionality. There are a LOT of people who love Python/Django/mySQL. This is a good thing and opens up greater competition and lower cost options for our clients.

    The difficult part is yes, at some point there is an upgrade process and that is like a full redesign which brings with it the cost of a full site rebuild. There is no time pressure, but it is something to budget for over the next few years. Don’t worry, we aren’t going to stop supporting Tendenci 4. Yet long term all of our clients will need to upgrade to keep up with the latest technology.

    The good news is that Tendenci remains low cost and we are working to lower the costs. Open source will foster more competition so you won’t even necessarily have to host with us (actually Amazon web services is our provider, but you get the invoice from us, to be exact.)

    Bottom line – we are moving carefully (security first) and slowly (quality second) to ensure a smooth transition. And while there is a cost to redesign a site for Tendenci 5, it is comparable to a redesign of a Tendenci 4 site which is part of the typical 2 to 3 year upgrade cycle clients should budget for on an on-going basis.

    Questions? Call or email me. eschipul @ our domains or the main line and extension 500.



  7. We have been debating that. I thought it was going to be easy but everyone is explaining differences in GPL2 vs GPL3. We want other developers to be able to develop their own proprietary plug-ins so they can make money off of the product. But changes to the core need to be returned to the core to benefit the community.

    Our programming manager is trying to figure out the best one for clients and developers both.


  8. By “proprietary” do you just mean where copies are sold, similar to the many WordPress themes that are sold on a commercial basis but still licensed under the GPL? Or do you mean truly mean proprietary, in the sense of “no source code” or “you aren’t allowed to modify the source code”? I ask because people are still making plenty of money off of commercially-sold but still GPL-licensed WordPress themes and plugins but I wouldn’t describe them as “proprietary”.

    If the choice is between GPLv2 and GPLv3, I’d lean towards GPLv3 for the simple reason that version 2 of the GPL dates from 1991, when the technical end-runs around the spirit of the license while still keeping to the letter of it were still unforseen (“tivoization”, etc). That, and I do think that GPLv3 is the best license for clients and developers looking forward.

    I would also recommend allowing later versions of the GPL to be used should it be revised again, as there are a number of projects that did not think this was a possibility prior to 2007.

  9. OK, I think I understand. You are saying (correct me if I am wrong) that GPLv3 still allows for a third party developer to sell a custom plug-in to create an ecosystem, and as long as the customer can see the source it can still be GPLv3. That sounds like what I think is best for the community.

    Re the “allowing later versions of the GPL to be used” I am assuming that just means updating the license as new versions come out. Correct? I would assume most software would do that unless there was some poison pill in a later version. At face value, like your comments on GPLv3 that sounds like the best solution for the community.

    Still learning and I appreciate the input. We have millions of dollars invested in Tendenci so I am not taking the decision lightly. I really want to get it right and be sure that nonprofits can use it with or without us every knowing about it. Download – go – done. Our company will be OK offering a hosted service in my opinion.

  10. The third-party developer would have to license the plug-in under GPLv3, which does include making the source available. There is more to the GPLv3 than just providing source code, however.

    The second question is covered in the FSF’s GPL FAQ, who have answered it far better than I ever could.

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