I'm Lisa Buckman, the Executive Director at Families Helping Families of Iowa, Inc. We are a small non-profit who serves the needs of Iowa's foster care community and have formed a sub-committee within our organization to find software to help us best track program usage, manage donor information and volunteers and execute events.
Any guidance on how to get started with this project would be appreciated. You can learn more about our organization and the work we do at www.familieshelpingfamiliesofiowa.org.
How are you keeping track now? Are you considering a cloud solution or something to use just at your office? If have Microsoft Office, Access is a database user interface that can at least get you started. If you don't have Office, you could use Google Spreadsheets. Data can be exported into CSV format, which is what most databases are able to import. There are so many solutions to keeping track of data.
Hi Lisa. Welcome to TechSoup!
I would start by reading this old (but still useful) Idealware report (it's an archived copy so it may be slow to load): How To Track Everyone Who’s Anyone To You: Is A Single Database Right for Your Org? and also going through this Idealware workbook: Will All Your Constituents Fit Into One System? It's not common for donor management systems to be able to handle program management, so if there isn't much overlap between your program participants and your donors and prospects, you're probably better off using separate systems.
Idealware and TechSoup published this guide to selecting a donor database: Do You Need a New Donor Management System? A step-by-step decision-making workbook I also recommend this workbook from the S. H. Cowell Foundation: Making Wise Decisions (an in-depth database selection workbook). I've posted links to lots of other helpful resources at http://rlweiner.com/resources#crm_select
RobertForum Moderator Robert L. Weiner ConsultingStrategic Technology Advisors to Nonprofit and Educational Organizationsrobert [AT] rlweiner [DOT] comwww.rlweiner.com
Welcome to TechSoup!
While it's certainly possible to build everything from scratch, it's not something a small nonprofit should take on without careful consideration. Here's my take: Why Building Your Own Database Should Be Your Last Resort
Thanks, Robert. I'm not a fan of reinventing the wheel.
I wasn't suggesting starting from scratch. Lisa has not provided any details, so I'm assuming her nonprofit currently uses nothing.
Thanks so much for the responses and suggestions. I'll definitely be doing some reading soon. We're currently using the following:
Apricot - program management, usage and volunteer tracking
MailChimp - emails to foster parents
Google Docs - mainly in the form of spreadsheets for event management .. timelines, tasks, sponsors, volunteer assignments, etc
We currently do not have a donor database or fundraising platform, which would be ideal, but honestly, those items have a lower priority when it comes to filling our current need. We're mainly funded through grants, sponsorships and corporate donations and don't have a lot of individual donors, but I'd like to change that. However, our main focus is finding something to track usage of our programs and secondly, track volunteer participation. Apricot is a bit clumsy in my opinion and it's very expensive at over $3,000 per year. I was hoping to find something that we can use for "all of the above" but I know that most programs either work for donors, fundraising and events or program usage and volunteer tracking. So I suppose I'm looking for suggestions on ways to manage everything most logically and efficiently and absolutely cost effectively.
I'm not familiar with Access but have seen it here on TechSoup. For those who've used it, would it be a good solution for program and volunteer tracking?
Thanks so much for your help!
Microsoft Access is one of many databases that can be used to track all kinds of activities (you may have heard of FileMaker or Salesforce or SQL Server or Oracle or Sybase -- there are lots). If you have a programmer, or have money to pay one (and time to help design and test the results) you can use it to build your own database. (There are also commercial databases that were built on these systems.) I'm not opposed to do-it-yourself databases, but I would first look for something that already exists..
If you're Windows-based, Access could be a good solution and worth trying if you can get a trial of it. There's a bit of a learning curve, though. But every database program has a learning curve. I guess that's why people use Salesforce.
I do not at all suggest a DIY database; however, you will want to consolidate all of your contacts in one place so that you can import the data into whichever database you end up using.
I would export whatever data you have from MailChimp and Apricot, organize it along with whatever you have in Google Drive. If you find consistency from your exports, a database manager should be able to automate the import of new contacts. Make sure that all the information has one heading per type of data. Think about the way you fill out forms online, i.e., street address, first name, last name, suffix. The more you can compartmentalize your data, the easier it will be to import into a new database. Any compartmentalized data can always be combined (or concatenated as we say in database management) depending on whatever system you decide to go with.
If you consolidate your data into spreadsheets, you may find that your data needs to be on separate sheets. Just make sure that each individual, if the same individual appears on different spreadsheets, has the exact same characters. For example in the name O'Brien, the single quote might look like others, but computers have different codes for different kinds of quotes, like left-quote, right-quote, straight quote. Spaces may make a different, too. Consistency is key. This will make importing less problematic. Even better if you number each contact on a primary contact list and use the same corresponding number as a numerical ID on every other sheet. (That is called a Primary ID.) Hope that helps.
Filemaker is another program. It's old, but it works, can be complex, and it's highly customizable.
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