I often get asked by other churches, often smaller ones, for recommendations on where to buy software or hardware (but primarily software). Usually they want to purchase some Microsoft software, sometimes Adobe products as well. Both companies sell popular software that costs, well, an arm and a leg at retail! The good thing is that they offer huge discounts to churches and non-profit organizations that can prove their status with a Â§501(c)(3) recognition letter from the IRS. There are companies out there that can beat this charity pricing, the most well-known being TechSoup . However, although TechSoup carries a variety of hardware and software, they often have terms and requirements stating that only non-religious non-profits may not take advantage of their offers! I don’t like this practice but I can’t change it. (The terms vary per vendor so you have to read the fine print.) In addition, TechSoup usually has very specific limits on the quantities you may purchase at their pricing in a certain time period.
Because I recently received a request for a recommendation of where to purchase Microsoft software, I wrote an email reply with information on available options and contact information for the sales representatives that I work with. That was the catalyst for this post, and I’m going to provide some of the same details below:
Microsoft and Adobe Charity Programs
Microsoft’s charity licensing program is called Microsoft Open License Charity . Their price list is available  for download as an Excel spreadsheet (or it used to be; thanks to Jason Powell for the link  and an excellent post about this topic that also includes some sample pricing on common items), but you may need either extensive training or experience to decipher a lot of it! But a reseller will be happy to give you a price, which I find is often less than the suggested retail (but the reseller price will usually still have wiggle room for negotiation). Suffice it to say you’re wasting money if you can purchase at charity pricing and aren’t. Percentages vary, but expect more than 50% off and up to 90% off is not uncommon.
Adobe didn’t used to have options for non-profit, religious purchasing discounts, but in the last couple of years that has changed. Their discounts are in general over 50% off the retail price of their software, sometimes a lot more than that. They have a website dedicated to non-profits  and also have a non-profit blog , although it’s not very active.
The regular charity pricing offered by at least Microsoft and Adobe, unlike the restrictive TechSoup offerings that don’t usually apply to churches anyway, is good for unlimited licenses! The main limitation is that Microsoft requires at least five licenses to be purchased at once to set up a charity pricing agreement, although these can be low-cost licenses (if not otherwise needed) that will not normally negate most of your savings if you need fewer licenses! Adobe’s current program lets you purchase just one license at a time if desired!
I’ve been using Zones as a supplier for somewhere in the neighborhood of 3-4 years. They have had competitive pricing in most cases and I’ve worked with a single, excellent sales representative, Lisa Shook (formerly Brubaker), for that entire time. The Zones HQ where Lisa works is located in Washington state, but most shipments (to us) ship out of warehouses in Illinois or northern Indiana and even with standard ground shipping arrive here in Indianapolis the next day or, in rare cases, in two days. There may be warehouses closer to you, so it’s worth asking if you’re buying hardware. Keep in mind that software from Microsoft and Adobe, when they’ll allow you to order discs rather than downloading it (and my understanding is that Microsoft recently started requiring you to download disc images for their software), must be shipped directly from Microsoft or Adobe themselvles, although the discs usually arrive within a few days in my experience. Contact me if you are interested in Lisa’s contact information, I won’t post it here so she can spend more time helping me and less time dealing with spam :-)
Update 2010-07-06: Lisa moved on to larger accounts and didn’t hold onto ours any longer, as of close to two years ago. However, her neighbor Eric Inabnit  (who she recruited to Zones) took over our account and has been just as excellent! I still highly recommend him. I recommend shooting him an email if you need charity pricing or good non-profit pricing in general on Adobe, Microsoft or hardware (they can resell Dell too). Tell him I sent you! You can also call him at (800) 258-0882 x 3361, or directly at (253) 205-3361. Make sure you talk to him first before another rep gets you set up so he can help you.
Although I’ve ordered some Dell stuff in the past, I hadn’t really used their business sales division where they resell just about anything (with some limitations) in addition to giving (good!) discounts on their own hardware. I haven’t verify that they carry Adobe charity licensing, but I know they carry Microsoft’s and they seem to be undercutting just about everyone else right now on price, including Zones. They appear to be making little to no money on the licensing side of things to earn your business in other areas, and I’m OK with that. I haven’t made the decision to switch to them for all licensing yet because managing licenses is easier if done through one vendor, and right now that’s Zones for us, but I’m contemplating the situation. Our sales rep at the moment is Lindsey Keen, and again, if you want contact info let me know. Dell ships primarily with DHL, and while systems generally ship out of their Texas HQ (and the most recent one took only one week), I’ve received shipments of non-Dell-branded items from the Kentucky/Tennessee/Ohio areas recently that took only 1-3 days to arrive via ground shipping.
Also, Dell will often have huge discounts they can give you at the end of their fiscal quarters if you talk to their reps, in addition to the deals they usually offer on their website. January was the end of their last quarter, so start tracking from there and see what you can get if you can wait long enough!
Update 2010-07-06: Our Dell rep, Lindsey Keen, left Dell and was replaced by a new rep who has been around for over a year and a half now, Shelton Cammon . He’s great to work with, has a good team, and is often the lowest on Microsoft charity pricing due to Dell’s policies of low- to no-margin software sales. If you do a lot of ordering, ask him to set up a Premier account so you can login and see your approximate pricing with discounts from a website, including ordering (and you can finalize order’s Shelton has quoted you over the phone via Premier as well).
Consistent Computer Bargains
A company I’ve never dealt with simply because I didn’t know about them when I first started with charity pricing is Consistent Computer Bargains . They offer charity pricing programs for both Microsoft and Adobe, and they also have many other products. They are Christian-owned and cater specifically to non-profits and churches. I have heard many good things about them, so although I can’t personally recommend them I would certainly add them to your list of places to investigate.
Purchasing and Credit
Zones and Dell both offer lines of credit, or you can purchase with a credit card. Talk to the reps to get started opening a line of credit, but basically Zones will do Net 30 terms, and Dell will do a form of Net 30 with their Dell Business Credit line for purchases under $500. If your purchase is over $500, Dell will usually do their 60-days-same-as-cash loan. If you pay it off in full within the 60 days, there’s no charge. But let it go one day longer, and you’ve got a multi-year loan with prepayment penalties on your hands! Dell offers several leasing options as well, and Zones offers leasing through their partners. (UPDATE 2010-07-06: After writing this post, I did find out that Dell will also do standard Net 30 credit terms, which is much easier to deal with than the Dell Financial Services loans, which often have brief due dates and high finance charges if not paid off in the free period.)
When you order Microsoft Charity software, most of it requires a volume license key to be entered at install time. Once you have your emailed agreement information from your purchase, you’ll want to head over to the Microsoft eOpen Licensing  (now the Volume License Service Center , or VLSC, as eOpen was replaced in 2009) website, log in with (or create) a Microsoft Passport account, and add your agreement information to the system. You can then download licensed software images to burn to disc from this site, and you can view the license keys for the products you have purchased. Adobe volume licensing software will come as an email with a username and password and a link to the site where you an log in and get your license key(s).
Keep in mind that if you can’t get something through Zones, Dell, or another reseller, or you can’t get a non-profit discount, try talking to the company directly about a non-profit discount. I would say the majority of software vendors I’ve talked to, and many hardware vendors, are willing to offer at least a 10% discount for non-profits, although I’ve seen it go up to 15%, 20%, or higher. But you usually won’t get this without asking! I don’t have a list of all the software I’ve gotten non-profit discounts on, but I do recall HelpSpot  and WebDrive , and SftpDrive  offered a very good discount as well. Also check out Remote Desktop Manager , which has a non-profit discount (50% off a site license when I asked, which made it $100 for the pricing at the time!), as it’s my current favorite administrative tool for connecting to remote desktop and LogMeIn  sessions remotely (it supports other remote connection types as well) using saved information and tabbed connections (there is a free, useful version as well).
Make sure that you know what Software Assurance (Microsoft) and upgrade insurance (Adobe) is and whether you want it or not. I usually recommend it on server products, like Windows Server, Small Business Server, Exchange Server, etc. but on desktop products (Windows XP/Visa, Office) it’s a bit of a tougher decision, although I do recommend it for Adobe products. The idea is you pay more up front and then a recurring fee (every two years in the case of the Microsoft and Adobe programs, I believe), and you can upgrade to future versions of the software you’ve purchased without having to pay full price when a new version is released. The sales reps should be able to give you the details and pricing.
Updated Info on Mac Office 2008 pricing; also Home Use Program
UPDATED May 23: Thanks to Jason Powell for pointing out something I have not yet run into: Mac Office 2008  is not available at Microsoft charity pricing from Apple. In fact, Apple and others are selling Mac Office 2008 at prices above $200 per license, while the charity vendors I’ve listed in this post (and others) are carrying it for under $60 (no typo!). Check out Jason Powell’s post on the topic  for more details. Thanks Jason! (Update 2010-07-06: I’m not sure of all the details, but you can also use Mac Office with a volume licensed version of Office for Windows, as long as the version is ‘the same or lower’ though I’m not sure of the specifics. Do some research, but keep in mind you can “trade” OSes in some cases if you have licenses from one you want to use on another!)
Also, I didn’t mention it here at all, but I’ll throw in that if you buy Software Assurance for your Microsoft products, some of them come with home use rights (the Home Use Program, or HUP) that let your users get separate licenses to the same software you bought for use at home, generally for very low cost. This is something you can activate through your eOpen licensing management portal  (when it’s actually working). Microsoft Office has been the most well-known software available through this program, but Jason also posted that Office for Mac is also a part  of the Home Use Program now! I’m just starting to dig into the HUP program myself but it’s certainly a good deal! And one good reason to pay for Software Assurance, although I’ve certainly heard arguments in both directions.
Disclaimer: The licensing programs described here are based on my understanding of the programs through my own use and purchasing, reading agreements, and discussions with resellers familiar with the options. However, it’s all just my (non-legal) opinion and you should independently verify all terms and legalities as they apply to your situation. Be careful as Microsoft licensing guidelines can be and have been interpreted differently even by different Microsoft representatives themselves! If you can decipher the straight legalese in their licensing on your own, you’re a better man than me. And if you’re a woman and can decipher it, well you’re already a better woman than me, so no contest :-)