A Personal Guide for Building a Reach-type Organization
The Importance of a Database
Not-for-profit organisations must track information about people
including volunteers, clients, potential donors, current donors, event
attendees, who support or who might support their programs and services.
Managing this information is crucial. A database allows you to manage and
use an incredible variety of information easily. Databases are easy to
set-up, easy to manipulate and easy to use. A database allows you to
maintain order in what could be a very chaotic environment.
Employees and volunteers of not-for-profit organisations have to manage
existing resources very carefully. There may not be the resources to hire
a full-time database manager or a short-term consultant. Initial data base
structure can be very basic, easy to use and to maintain. Databases can be
expanded and manipulated as your organisation grows and your resources
Annex 12 has a list of terms to familiarise your
self with the jargon used in databases
Database Development and Maintenance
A "flat" database holds all of the information about a
record. The name, address, phone number, meeting attendance, publications
ordered, committee membership, and any other information you choose is
kept in a single database.
A flat database is very easy to manage. All the information is stored
in one source. You can see how many board members have e-mail addresses,
or how many donors are also volunteers. You can create a variety of
different ways to look at the data with input screens, reports, mailing
lists and special queries.
The limits of a flat database is not in the number of records you can
put in, but in how much information you can track per record. As your
organisation grows, and more people need to track a great deal of
different information about each record, you may want to change to using a
relational or shared database. This allows one of your staff to track
meeting attendance and program involvement in detail, while another may
search detailed information about each record's donation history. But you
do not need this when you are starting up. Go with a simple, reliable data
Shopping for Database Software
When shopping for database software, make sure that it at least meets
these basic criteria:
to use and easy to learn. It comes with a tutorial, overview or
videotape and sample database structure, in addition to the printed
|It can work on the
computers you have in-house.
import and export data to and from the most-used software packages
for both PC and Macintosh computers. It can export data as d-base or
|It allows the user to
change, add or delete fields of information. Your organisation may
have a particular information interest in a particular group, and no
specialised software can anticipate every organisationís every
generate mailing labels, letters, nametags and other customised
Specialised Data base Software
Once your organisation has out-grown the data base program you are
currently using, you will need to consider the purchase of a more complex
data management system. Before you invest in specialised database software
consider the following:
certain that you really need it. Are there features on your current
data base program that you have over-looked?
|Make a list of the features
and qualities needed.
you understand the basics before embarking on a purchase. The
knowledge you have acquired on a flat database will be extremely
|Request a demonstration of
the software from the company that markets it. If a supplier is
reluctant to provide in-house training, re-examine this purchase.
representatives of at least two organisations that use the software.
Make sure you talk with the people who actually use the software.
Ask them how easy it is to learn, what they use it for, and their
experiences when calling the company's support line.
The idea of designing and using a database can be intimidating, but the
reality is completely different. Databases make sense, they bring and
maintain order, they force the user to think in a very logical and linear
path, and they are flexible. A database is truly an invaluable tool for