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We are a new non-profit helping high performing low income students get to and through college. As such, we have a lot to track and are currently using excel. We need a database with tables for Student basic information (name address phone etc), student mentor relationships, student grades, monthly activity attendance, etc. Ideally, a multi user database with a set of forms for inputting data, reporting on data, doing custom searches, etc. We have looked at all of the popular private school software, contact management software, case management software, etc. None are close as we need to track and relate students, mentors, grades, attendance at monthly events, and more. We also have many unique attributes to track for each student, each event. A cloud-based database that would allow security and multiple users would be ideal. Also needs to be simple as we are a start up with very limited staff and budget. Any suggestions?
I am not sure about the rules in the forum; I have a suggestion but it is a product I am connected with. I was not able to PM you, seems perhaps because the account is new (tells me no such uses as GenOne). You can email me at my forum email, firstname.lastname@example.org .
You can tell users about a product even if you are connected with it IF the product is a good answer to the user's question.
But if the user is asking about something specific like Quickbooks, then you should not be telling them about your accounting program if you are connected with it. Someone that is NOT connected with a product can mention it, but for the most part the reply should directly answer the user's question.
Thank you for being considerate of our forum rules in your message! We appreciate it very much!
Hi GenOne. Welcome to TechSoup!
I wish I had an easy answer for you. While there are many options for volunteer management, case management, school management, relationship management, etc. I can't think of one that would be appropriate for a startup with a limited budget and limited (if any) tech staff. Idealware has published guides to various types of systems (e.g., volunteer management, case management, CRM, and many others) that should help identify options and costs. They also published a report called CRM Integration for Nonprofits that might help, since there may not be a single system (that you can afford) that does everything you want.
MS Access is certainly an option, as are numerous other do-it-yourself database management systems. But I'm leery of this approach: it usually takes a lot more time, focus, planning, project control, tech support (and often money) than you can envision at the start. I wrote about this issue here. I'm also leery of "free" systems for the same reasons. See The True Costs of Free and Low-Cost Software and There Ain’t No Such Thing As a Free Software Package
Rather than plunging into a do-it-yourself or on-the-cheap project, you might be best off looking for capacity building grants or donations that will support the cost of acquiring or building your software (recognizing that there will probably be ongoing costs as well).
RobertForum Moderator Robert L. Weiner ConsultingStrategic Technology Advisors to Nonprofit and Educational Organizationsrobert [AT] rlweiner [DOT] comwww.rlweiner.com
I've been in the database environment for 30+ years, the last 15 of which in the Microsoft space. Do not get involved with Access unless all you want is single user and all sorts of frustration. If you want some simple CRM tools, you could look at Salesforce. They do offer some help for non-profits.
Just please don't consider Access anything other than a proof of concept or a toy.
Alan, I am puzzled by your comment about MS Access not being applicable for multiple users. To develop a multi-user database you have to set it up as a client server design. One central "data file" on a server and a user-interface file for each individual user. I have been developing custom applications with MS Access this way for over 20 years for organizations across the United States. MS Access is a very viable database development language if the user wants an application that runs on a Local Area Network and not in "the cloud".
Not much to be puzzled about, although Alan may have been a little imprecise. The issue is not multi-user. The issue is that MS Access is most definitely not a "very viable" database for any mission critical data. This is not database or client/server snobbery; I have developed database software in almost every known language and platform for almost 40 years.
If you doubt me, take Microsoft's word for it. They themselves stated at one point on their website that Access should never be used for mission critical data. It created quite a hullabaloo at MS from the Access people, as you can imagine. After about a week it came down with no comment ever from MS. (Access is/was a big seller.)
Access does not even come close to passing the ACID database standard. Even other legacy databases will have 3 out of 4 of the ACID components. Access is great for your home cooking database, but it borders on irresponsible to represent it as being appropriate for mission critical data. End users may open their MS suite and use Access, but professionals should know better. No cost savings, no real database requirements, and no reason to use it.
I completely disagree with AlanJ. Microsoft Access is a quite viable development platform. You can use it for systems involving many concurrent users. Based on the number of users and other factors, you may want to use Access as the front end (queries, forms, reports, logic) and a commercial database (EX> sql server) for the data.
Most people who denigrate Access really haven't developed in it very much and don't understand how to use it effectively.
FREE case management software for food pantries/emergency services 501(c)(3) organizations. Over 550 installations. See: https://bobalston.webstarts.com/
I've been using Microsoft Access for a very long time, and Access is an excellent program, we use it for many different purposes. It works very well as a multi-user database, up to about 10 or 15 users, depending upon what they are doing.
You have to split the database into a front end and a back end. The back end is on your server, and hold the data. The front end is on the users' machines, and can be different for everyone, and can also look at several different databases on the server at the same time.
Access was built from the ground up to be a high-qualifty program for a multi-user environment, and works very well. It has a robust set of tools.
It is not intuitively obvious to newbies, like Word and Excel. You will need someone who is familiar with tables, key, records, forms, reports, macros, etc. Since it is custom, you can set it up to be easy to maintain, and it is very easy to modify as your needs change.
What we do is start out with something simple, and then add complexity as we become used to how it works in our environment.
I've never found anything that works as well as Access, especially in the online world, where you have to worry about a vendor going out of business, or suddenly changing how things work, and also have to put up with typing and using the mouse for everything - very few batch update options.
It is a robust product used by millions of high-end businesses everywhere.
TBV, Access may not be suitable for "mission critical" applications that require 24/7 always-available processing, but is is the core of many crucial business processes. I would not use it as a controller for a machine shop, but it would be an excellent choice for the purchasing department to keep track of the status of the shop's purchase order system. Access is not a robust, 24/7 tgransaction-based backed-up system. Backomg up has to be done expicitly,
I always tell people to back up their database the same way they would back up any other file. I haven't seen an Access database crash in twenty years, but I'm sure it has happened, just like I'm sure people have lost their Word or Excel files. Backup the same way.
I've seen Access used by the biggest and most sophisticated businesses, government agencies and non-profits in the Seattle area in very important projects.
Access is not suitable if you have thousands of people an hour banging on it, requiring 24/7 availability. That's a different scope entirely, and not Access's market.
Access can handle very complex, very large processes and datasets. Access is reasonably priced, and once you buy it, it's yours. I suspect the snide comments come from the fact that Access developers charge a lot less than do SQL, Oracle, PeopleSoft etc developers..
I have quite extensive experience with Access. There are standards for ensuring the integrity of data, and as I said, Access has none of them.
<< I suspect the snide comments come from the fact that Access developers charge a lot less than do SQL, Oracle, PeopleSoft etc developers>>
I do not think insults are necessary.
I have been at 3 presentations by Microsoft, and each time the presenter said what I just said -- Access is more along the lines of a home recipe product than a serious database. It would border on irresponsible for a shop to use Access for their purchase order system.
This is such an obvious thing to anyone with extensive consulting experience.
The fact that you have used it for a long time is not really relevant to what it should be used for.
<<I've never found anything that works as well as Access, especially in the online world>>
I can show you some.
<<It is a robust product used by millions of high-end businesses everywhere.>>
It can't be robust, because databases have a standard for what is robust. The fact that you use it does not in any way enable you to determine its robustness.
<<and also have to put up with typing and using the mouse for everything - very few batch update options.>>
Every database system can easily be a "batch update" system with far more ease.
Millions of high-end businesses everywhere? That is a pretty wild statement, and I would like to see how you determined that fact.
What are your credentials in IT?
Runnjng IT organizations
Your extensive Access experience
30 years consulting. Clients range from mom and pop to IBM and Avis Rent-a-Car
Dir of Software Development - 3 years
Project manager for Lotus (which was later part of IBM).
At any one time 10-35 employees
Had Access programmer on staff for 2 years. Developed 2 large and one small customized systems for clients.
Spoke at software conferences.
I appreciate your question actually, because I am not a believer in the modern idea that everyone is "entitled" to an opinion on anything. You do not have the right to an opinion unless you have earned that right through some type of knowledge or experience that makes you educated/knowledgable in the subject.
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