Why use Open Outreach?

Open Outreach is designed so that staff and volunteers working for small nonprofits and NGOs can more easily harness the power of Drupal—an open-source content management system (CMS).

In layperson’s terms, a CMS is a framework that is used to develop a website by populating it with content uploaded by nontechnical staff. Open source means not only that the software is free in the monetary sense, but also that the code on which it's based is openly available. Developers contribute their source code so that it can be worked on by other people in a community process. Drupal is only one of many CMSs but it is hugely popular with over 1.5 million registered users on drupal.org.  As a version of Drupal, Open Outreach is available for free download and can be used as is or used as a base for further development. Chocolate Lily has sponsored the initial development of Open Outreach as part of its commitment to the nonprofit sector.

Who should consider using Open Outreach?

Nonprofits looking for a new organizational or project website

A CMS like Drupal provides a lot of help when building an organizational website, but installing Drupal is just the first step. Typically, getting from an initial install to a website that meets your basic needs requires a fair bit of work, and some highly specialized skills. You could easily spend from $5,000 to $10,000 for just the basics that pretty much every organization is going to want.

That's what Open Outreach is designed to save you. Want an events calendar? Instead of having to pay a Drupal contractor or shop to build you one, you just install and you've got it. Want a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) visual editor for formatting text? Ditto, it's already set up and ready to use.

If you've got pretty average needs, an Open Outreach site might well come with all you need to get started. Even if it doesn't and you need to get help to customize and extend it, you're starting from a solid basis and need to contract for just what's specific to your needs--not the whole deal.

Often a good approach will be to start with a basic Open Outreach install and grow into it for a few months. By that time, you and your community of site users will be familiar with the toolset, and ready to consider more. Maybe you'll find that the basic site is all you need. Or maybe you'll want to selectively add in functionality. Since new features are being added all the time, you may also find that just by upgrading to a new version of Open Outreach you get the new functionality you were looking for.

Nonprofits upgrading to a new Drupal version

If you're an organization with an existing Drupal website considering upgrading to Drupal 7, Open Outreach might provide a big leg up.

Drupal changes a lot between versions. Upgrading is seldom if ever just a matter of installing the new version and clicking a button. The solutions and modules on your old site might not exist in the new version, or even if they do exist they might be outdated and replaced by newer, better supported alternatives. Even if you're just going from Drupal 6 to Drupal 7, but especially if you're skipping a version, it's very often quickest and best to start fresh, build out what you need, and then selectively migrate your legacy content into your new site.

If you choose this route, Open Outreach can save you a lot of the considerable work of building out the basic content types, views, and displays to replace what you had in your old site.

Site builders

If you're a Drupal site builder, Open Outreach could provide a big leg up as you build out a new client website.

You'll know already that a lot of the initial work of building an organizational website tends to look the same. You select and download the modules you're going to use. You wrestle a bit with compatibility and stability issues, especially if you're using a relatively new Drupal version. You create some basic content types like event and blog. You build views for each content type with multiple displays. You do a bit of basic theming. You use a tool like Context to get your views displaying on appropriate pages. You configure social media links for given content types and add a WYSIWYG editor. And before you know it you've spent out a good chunk of development time doing, well, pretty much just what you've done a dozen times before.

Open Outreach is designed to save you that thankless legwork. Is it everything you could wish for? Not at all. If you're an experienced site builder, you'll immediately find functionality you'd like to add. You might also decide to skip some of what comes with Open Outreach--not every project requires a forum or an event calendar.

But even if you keep just 80% of what it provides and dig in from there, Open Outreach can save you a lot of rote work--and also provide a consistent framework to base new functionality on.

Open Outreach vs. other Drupal distributions

Open Outreach is only one of many Drupal distributions now available. What's different about Open Outreach?

The main difference is that Open Outreach is designed around a fairly broad set of use cases. Most Drupal distributions are very focused on a specific use case: an organizational intranet (Open Atrium), a conference website (COD), a publication (OpenPublish). These distributions can address their specific uses well, but are relatively hard to leverage for other applications.

Compared to some other Drupal distributions, you'll find Open Outreach relatively flexible in its design. Fewer fixed design decisions have been made, leaving you freer to customize a site in your own directions.

On a technical level, Open Outreach is built on a set of stand-alone features, the Debut feature set. This means minimal dependencies between features and also a documented specification for building new Debut-compatible features.

Finally, Open Outreach is built on Drupal 7 while some other Drupal distributions are still on Drupal 6.

Provisos

While there are lots of reasons to consider Open Outreach, there are also provisos to keep in mind.

  • Some Open Outreach features are built on modules, or module branches, for which there is not yet a full Drupal 7 release, meaning that there may be some instability.
  • Compared to some other Drupal distributions, Open Outreach has a relatively small development team. This means that progress may be relatively slow when team members are focused on other projects. And if you're a developer using Open Outreach, please consider joining the development team--your skills and ideas are welcome!

Open Outreach won't suit every site project, but in many cases it will provide a major jump start, allowing nonprofits and activist groups to get a lot more from the resources they spend on web development.