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Software Solutions/Strategy Advice - Non Profit

Software Solutions/Strategy Advice - Non Profit

  • Hello,

    We are a non-profit housing association with a team of 12. Over the years, our office IT network and software solutions have met our relatively non-complex IT needs. However, we're growing in the data and information managed, as well as complexity of business processes. We are basically using MS Office suite of products, and are managing much of our data on Excel spreadsheets. We have three kinds of data managed related to housing societies, buildings, and contacts (people). We are set up on a basic LAN with 12 workstations, a couple of shared printers and some shared folders for documents and such, but overall, our data and information management is department versus organization focused. This is starting to become very challenging to manage, as we don't have any data consolidation/centralization tools or processes, nor ways to analyze data beyond basic Excel functionality. Since our data is growing, our need to access the data and "slice and dice" it is becoming more relevant (e.g., "show me all buildings in this region with this number of units using this type of heating, but where the building is newer than 2000. And show me their property manager's contact information".). Right now, it's just too cumbersome and time consuming in Excel.

    The other key piece of data is our extensive contact list, but each department manages its own list and email addresses, in Excel spreadsheet or Outlook (not Enterprise version so contacts not shared between departments). We are also using one MS Access Database as our official organizational contact list but this list has become membership centric and other departments have strayed from using it. We are constantly at odds as to who has the most recent information, and duplication not only of contact lists but housing related data is a growing problem. Briefly, our main departments are made up of:

    • Membership (membership renewals, member services, etc.)
    • Research (manage extensive housing society and building related data)
    • Education (manage website, manage education programs e.g., workshops, training)
    • Energy Management (manage extensive building related data related to energy management)

    Our main priority is to consolidate and centralize our data (get things out of Excel and into an actual database). But we need software solutions that can manage our access to the data in a way that suits the needs of each department. As an example, membership wants to know when they became a member but education wants to know what workshops the member has attended in 2011. Reseach wants to know if an individual is part of a society and energy wants to know if that society's buildings qualify for a grant based on its demographics. But maybe energy shouldn't or doesn't need to see all the membership information. Right now, each department tracks this person/society/building data separately in their own way.

    Just at a high-level, we likely need a CRM solution that can manage both customers/contacts as well as membership specific information (we are a member centric organization). We also need a solution for managing and analyzing data (i.e., accessing, updating and manipulating housing related data quite easily and quickly as we can do in Excel). By the way, the energy and research departments are constantly adding new rows and columns of data to their spreadsheets so the new solution will have to be flexible to allow for this.

    Any advice on software and hardware solutions that may meet our needs? We are looking for something that is more sophisticated than what we have of course, but with an understanding that we are a non-profit with limited dollars. Something off-the-shelf and easy to maintain, with minimal recurring license fees is highly desireable. Nothing complicated...just an easier way to manage data/information so we're all on the same page. Thanks kindly in advance for your feedback. Please feel free to ask clarifying questions.


  • Hi, johnk14. Welcome to TechSoup!

    Yours is a terrific question, and one that is relevant to many nonprofits. I know our community will have things to say. I've also put the word out over Twitter to cast the net wide!

    It would be great if you could take a quick moment to fill out your profile. Here are some tips for creating a really good TechSoup online presence. Complete profiles help us build trust and credibility in the community at large, and help like-minded nonprofits find each other.

    While you aren't looking exclusively for donor management, I think there is significant overlap. So here is a recent wrap-up of conversations and resources on TechSoup related to finding the right solution.

    I would love to have some of our members share their real experiences with you. We're bound to get some good suggestions from various folks. If you are one of those folks, please consider including a summary of the features provided (or not provided) and why they worked (or didn't work) for you. Also, what type and/or size nonprofit you are and what functions you needed your own database to have.

    Michael DeLong | Online Community Manager

  • Wow, John. A very tall order in one post! One you have obviously thought through quite a bit (good for you). I think you might want to think about how you could post pieces of this to different forum branches on TechSoup for specific recommendations: you might want to post your LAN-related questions to the network branch, for instance, and your database-related part of your post to "software." That might get you a lot more answers from various folks who have different areas of expertise.

    You might also consider recruiting a volunteer who is an expert at tech planning to come on site, spend some time with you and then develop a strategy for your organization regarding what networking and hardware choices your organization should consider in the coming year. There are a lot of experts who would love to volunteer their expertise on this subject. You might consider posting a volunteering opportunity specifically regarding this need to VolunteerMatch ( and AllforGood ( as well as on your own web site.

    I'll have a lot more to say re: software choices - but I'll hold off and wait for your post to the software forum, so that a lot more people might weigh in as well.

  • Hi John,

      How is your project coming along? I am working with a nonprofit client of mine in NYC to implement a data management system for them. If you have specific question on want to bounce ideas around email me


  • One of the core issues based on the info you presented is that you are not using a relational database. Excel, for example, is not a relational database, no matter how hard people try to use it like one!

    Not knowing the size and scope of your data, I am loathe to suggest redesigning your Access database. I think a more prudent approach would be a SQL Server design, but that would take considerable talent to get the most out of it. You could create an intranet, which would include a web based front end to the database, allowing people to search and find to their heart's content. Scalability would not be an issue provided the inital database design was sound.

    Tim Claremont
    Systems Administrator
    Rochester, NY