The place for nonprofits, charities, and libraries

Databases for small organizations?

Databases for small organizations?

  • If you work at a small nonprofit, what type of database do you use? How did you choose it, and how do you maintain it?
    senior editor, TechSoup
  • I guess such a wide open, non specific question is to get a lot of discussion on the board. If that happens, it will certainly be a very wide discussion.

    Are such TechSoup prompted discussions that have a "wide open" topic such as this useful to the members?


    Free case management software for food pantries/emergency services 501(c)(3) organizations. See:

  • I think for a better discussion we should elaborate the question - are we talking about choosing a database software (Access, MS SQL, MySQL etc.) or software to handle a database with specific kind of data (contacts database, donations database, members database) - or all of the above?
  • To clarify, the discussion for this topic should be framed by this article, which discusses databases for tracking constituents.

    Does that help?

    Managing Editor
  • Thanks for the link, now it makes good sense.
    In this case I would like to mention several web-based databases relevant to this:
    DabbleDB - great generic online database tool
    Wild Apricot - Memeber/contact database (I work there)
    Neat Clubs - Member database
  • The right database can transform a small and medium sized nonprofit. In the last 3 years I've had to "turn around" two small (4 staff) and the other medium (40 staff). Both were in critical need of reliable data management. Multiple uncoordinated Xcel spreadsheets were the stones jamming each organization's gears. In both cases we hired CiviCore ( to analyze and create new web-based solutions. Cost effective, fast, adaptable, and not too confusing. In fact our city's collaborative of mentoring agencies has now adopted this system. a nonprofit leader I can now trust my information. I can now manage our product and services. Our program data now coorindates with our fund development data. Not only is our credibility is no longer in question, but our quality of service/product is greatly increased (as well as our reputation).

    Dave DeForest-Stalls, Pres/CEO
    Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado
  • I am looking for new software, but would prefer NOT to use web based software due to the unreliability of our internet connection. We are in the situation of having multiple (around 10) locations where data on donors could be stored. I just viewed a demo for Sage 50, but that is probably too expensive for my organization. We could use a lot of the functionality it offered, though. I also downloaded a demo for Exceed, but since a demo has very limited functionality, I couldn't get a good feel for it. Any suggestions?
  • ChiefApricot--Good to know about those sites; I periodically run into organizations that could use them.

    DaveDS--You're absolutely right that the right database can be transformative for an organization (just like the wrong one can waste vast amounts of money and crush morale). And I agree that for a lot of organizations with unique data needs (which is most service organizations), something custom is often the best way to go (and not as expensive as you'd think if you get someone good). That said, no one should re-invent the wheel if their needs are covered by a commercial product (e.g., for a fundraising DB).

    wildernesscenter - I think your best bet is to get a more reliable internet connection. You don't want to get into the business of manually synching all those sites. It's a recipe for disaster. Besides, you want your email etc. working all the time anyway.
    Daniel Heath Giant Rabbit, LLC
  • I think the prospect of fixing your internet connection and then going with a web based approach is going to be more rewarding and beneficial for the organization than investing in an alternate solution.

    Tim Claremont
    Systems Administrator
    Rochester, NY

  • We are pleased with Giftworks. And were are small. 4 employees, I don't know how many constituents we have, I think under 3,000. I have had experience with Raisers Edge and I prefer Gift works
  • For three years, we have also used CiviCore ( to track and manage our donors and stakeholders. Our organization has grown exponentially since then, and CiviCore has kept up the pace beautifully. Reports are easy to produce, export, and manipulate. Data is consistently reliable. Staff is responsive, helpful, and knowledgeable about the product. This database is very cost-effective for a budget-minded organization, and the product is a custom-built application to suit your organization's specific needs. No maintenance required other than adding and modifying entries. We've been very happy with CiviCore and would definitely recommend them.

    Chris Myers, Founder & CEO
    OpenWorld Learning
  • We use two different databases for different purposes.

    We use several in-house instances of Access. I use one access database (that is fed from a MySQL database online) as a local copy of grant records to track when they were paid and what activities the grantees engaged in.

    We use MySQL for online grants management, in several Drupal site, for, for,, and

    Personally I prefer the online databases to the local database, but that really has to do with my favouring open source.

    If you are looking for a free opensource database to use locally, check out OpenOffice's ( offering, "Base".

    NonProfit Technology Consulting

  • I have been satisfied with Filemaker Pro, but am thinking of changing to Access to take advantage of MS Sharepoint. I am leary of putting our member information on a Web database due to security issues. What is your experience with Sharepoint as a way to share the database and have an internal wiki-like shared document creation for multiple locations?
  • Does anyone else worry about the safety of online databases? Here's what I mean: information is a tool which can be used for good or evil. I remember reading that the Dutch kept beautiful, orderly geneology records; when the invaded, they profited from all this hard work by very quickly and efficiently locating Jews and shipping them out to concentration camps. In this new era of terrorism and an unfriendly internet, if we keep our organization's databases online, would we even know if hackers, criminals, or anyone else were tapping into them?
    This is the main reason I'm leaning away from some of the excellent web-based products . . . .
    Thoughts on this?
  • I work for a medium non profit (25 full time employees) and have been in charge of the search for a new databaseover the past year. We currently use Filemaker Pro 6, which I love because of it's flexibility. But others would like something more standardized and consistant. One major paramiter that was placed was that this database had to be one that was in house & not web based. We have narrowed our choices down to either Raisers Edge or Sage100. The promises of Raisers Edge are calling to some people, but the practicality and ease of use has me pushing for Sage 100.
    What are other peoples opinions comapring these 2 databases?