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In Need of a New Reporting System

In Need of a New Reporting System

  • Catholic Charities of Sacramento is in need of a reporting system to communicate the results of four social services programs: CalFresh Outreach Program, SNAP-Ed NEOP Program, Covered California Outreach & Education Program, and CCC Poverty Data Report.

    Microsoft Excel has outlived its usefulness to the organization as there is too much data and too many calculations, spreadsheet links and monthly reports (75+). Data is to be scanned and data mapped and parsed (probably using ABBYY FlexiCapture 10) and then sent to file in XML format.

    We need an inexpensive and easy-to-use solution to report on this data (as the users of the system are non-technical). I would appreciate your recommendations. Thank you.

  • "We need an inexpensive and easy-to-use solution to report on this data"

    My honest opinion is that you can get an inexpensive solution, you can get a super-easy-to-use solution, but it's doubtful you are going to find both.

    What kind of data are you currently tracking through spreadsheets?

    How is this data gathered so that it can be inputted?

    WHO inputs this data regularly?

    I think a database built on FileMaker Pro would be great for your organization - I prefer it to MS Access, which I always find hard to use, no matter how much the designer has assured me it's user friendly. But that's a subjective opinion.

    What, me worry?

  • You probably need a real relational database program, which FileMaker is not.  

    Access is the most common desktop database program, and very cheap here on TechSoup.  

    There are zillions of Access database people out there.  Like all Microsoft programs, it is easy to get into, but with a powerful backend that can get very complicated, so you want to make sure the Access person you are working with does not get in over his/her head.  One of the things I've found about Access people is that many do not know what they don't know.

    Another thing I've found about Access is that almost every organization has someone on their staff who is working below their ability, and would really jump at the opportunity to get into maintaining and gradually taking over the database work.  Access has a lot of easy-to-learn routine tasks that can be readily taught to a motivated staffer, leaving your Access expert to the more complicated tasks like streamlining report production or updating new reporting requirements.

  • "You probably need a real relational database program, which FileMaker is not.  "

    Hmmm... I've used FileMaker pro to build a relational database - one database tracked volunteer contact information, one database tracked projects, and I was able to relate the databases to each other, no problem.

    Here's more about FileMaker Pro's relational capabilities:

    As for Access... I don't find it easy to use at all. I think when it comes to databases, ease of use is quite subjective. That said, you're absolutely right to suggest it as a possibility - or its OpenOffice free counterpart - as, indeed, they might have in-house expertise to use such to meet all their needs.

  • Hi, David,

    The key question is: What kind of data are you wanting to report on? Depending on your answer to that, there is another solution to add to the expert advice that Jayne and Margaret have given here.

    Sometimes the easiest solution is to find software that is already developed to meet the kinds of reporting needs you have. It's possible that there is some kind of software that has been developed specifically for the type of nonprofit and/or reporting you are doing.

    For instance, if you are tracking donations to your programs, then some sort of donor management software that has been specifically developed to help with the most commonly needed reports can be a good solution. Donor management software is just an example-- maybe what you are looking to report on are specifics related to volunteering, then volunteer tracking software might be the solution.

    Most likely there is a range of information that you are wanting to produce reports on, not just a single thing like donations or volunteers. Even in that case there may be software developed specifically for the kind of work you are doing. Often organizations think that their needs are very unique, and that they need to develop their own reporting software using Access or Filemaker, etc. Often, however, other organizations working in similar ways to you have had the same profile of needs and there is software already developed, with lots of support to help you learn the software and answer questions about how to get out the reports you need when you need them.

    All best,


    Sasha Daucus
    Volunteer TechSoup Moderator

  • It is not the fact that Microsoft Excel has outlived it's usefulness, but rather it was never the right tool for the job to begin with. Excel is awesome as a spreadsheet tool, but it is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a database tool. It was never intended to be.

    The best bang for the buck is going to be investing in training for a staff member or two. There comes a time when searching for an easy solution is going to cost you more in the long run than investing in training your staff as to how to implement a GOOD solution.

    If you are like any other regulated industry, reporting requirements are going nowhere but up. Having someone on staff who knows how to use a real database and create useful reports is going to pay dividends for your organization. NOT having someone with that skill is going to cost you either in ridiculous hours spent with the wrong tool (such as Excel) or huge monetary penalties levied by the various agencies expecting reports.

    Tim Claremont
    Systems Administrator
    Rochester, NY

  • David,

    Depending on how much data, a "big data" cloud based solution may be your best short term option and lest expensive. What I mean by short term is that you can alway export the data to a final type of solution whether it be on premise or remains in the cloud. Carefully consider NOT doing cloud only. I'd recommend a hybrid of on-premise-in the cloud solution. Your redundancy of live, backup, and archived data will be safer this way.

    Be sure to look at products/services that have an open architecture so you're not platform dependent. Business Intelligence tools are out there and can get pretty expensive as I'd imagine you've done some due diligence.

    There are companies out there in which they provide BI (Business Intelligence) as a service. The pricing can get up there but if you depend on metrics and analytics to drive funds, it may be worth it. Then, there's Zoho Reports. Fast, easy, drop & drag, and you can even try if before you buy it. The cost are very reasonable should you decide to use it. Here's a video that explains it a little bit: You can see more information @

    Another possible option is to search for a plug-in for your website; if you have an integrated model of gathering and sharing data. If you use Wordpress, Joomla, Drupal, etc. many times these plug-ins or modules are little to no costs.

    I hope this helps!




    Manny W. "Manny" Lloyd,  Manuel W. Lloyd Consulting®

    Subject Matter Expert In ITIL®, Cisco®, Oracle®, ESRI®, Microsoft®, & Kroll Ontrack