IT Helpdesk: Databases

If you're building a database, it may not be the best option to start from scratch, says Anne Stafford

Q: How should we create a database to store our clients' and supporters' details, record donations and book people on to our training courses?

A: The first question is whether you need to build a database from scratch. Bespoke databases can be unwieldy, especially as they develop piecemeal over several years; and as charities get new funding and start projects, data needs will change. Flexibility is vital.

Your needs are unlikely to be unique and a suitable product probably exists, so ask similar organisations what they've used. Their solutions may not meet your every need, but would 90 per cent of your specification suffice? Have you prioritised your key features?

Another question is whether you want to use a product stored on your computer, or on the web. Could you use an online client relationship management application? CRM systems are web-based databases that you access with your own password. You'll need to check that they offer the features you need most, which might include contacts, donations and volunteer and/or events management.

Do you need to have every feature in a single database? Maybe you'd be better off using a website such as Eventbrite, Upcoming or Meetup to manage your events and training course attendance. Maybe you could use eFundraising to manage donations taken through your website.

There is more information about data management solutions at

Anne Stafford is programme manager at iT4Communities. Send questions to

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