FROM SPREADSHEETS TO DATABASES

Dear Readers:

I get a lot of questions from all you out in cyberland about databases.  Most of the questions are too technical and too specific, but there is a general thread of questions such as the one below about when to move from Excel to a fundraising database.  I have asked a colleague of mine, Bob Holder, who owns a database firm called DonorExpress Software, to answer the question.  I also highly recommend idealware.org and techsoup.org for thorough reviews of many fundraising databases, their costs, their pluses and minuses and their options.  A database is part of the cost of doing business these days and trying to postpone or avoid getting one is almost like not having email was a few years ago.  But getting one comes with its own challenges and the choices are so many that it is easy to keep procrastinating.  Bob does a good job explaining why you need to move away from Excel.

Dear Kim:

We are a tiny (half a staff) nonprofit with 100 individual donors and a budget of $45,000.  We keep all their information on an Excel spreadsheet and consultants are always recommending getting a fundraising database.  What EXACTLY is the advantage of that for a group like ours?

~Does a rowboat need a sail?

Dear Boat:

It has been my experience that Excel spreadsheets are like kids’ stuffed animals.  They seem to multiply at night.  You may start with one main spreadsheet, but before long a copy is made and edited for a special mailing.  Then another copy for the newsletter and another for volunteers and on and on until you find your office is being run by many disjointed spreadsheets with no real way of reporting except another spreadsheet.  A donor database gives you a single focal point for you to manage all of your contact information, donations and reporting.  This eliminates the need for multiple spreadsheets.  You can imagine how much more efficiently your office will run when you have one database that can handle your special mailings, your response to donors, the way you reconcile with accounting and the production of management reports.

New and small nonprofit organizations start and stay with Excel spreadsheets way too long because many times they think they have no choice.  Directors and boards of small nonprofits have looked at the cost of donor software and decided that they’re out of reach of their organization.  If they were to look a little further they would find that there are good starter donor database tools for as little as $150.  These simple database tools are a great way to transition your organization from spreadsheets to donor software without the intimidation and cost of larger, more complicated software applications.  At some point all nonprofits must take control of their donor database before they are overrun with Excel spreadsheets.

~Bob Holder
DonorExpress Software
www.donorexpress.com