Choosing a database for your small charity

Our message to you: it’s 2022. Whatever you want your database to do, there’s probably a product that can do it.

Our question to you: do you have a clear idea of what you want it to do and how it will fit in with your current ways of working?

Often, readers are disappointed in articles about ‘how to choose a charity database’ because it doesn’t give them a definitive answer.

We just want someone to tell us which is best, and which one we should use.  
Time is of the essence and we need something now because we’re drowning in spreadsheets. Data collection and reporting is becoming so time consuming.

Sound familiar?

Cards on the table: we can’t tell you which one to choose and use, but we can help you make decisions.

We’ve researched some of the most often used systems and given an overview of what they can and can’t do. But there’s something we need to ask you to do too.

Keep reading.

Because we need people to re-frame the idea of selecting a database.

We’ll show you that 50% of the work of implementing a database has to happen before you even ask “right, what database should we use?”. If you do that hard graft first, the answer will come more easily.


What do we mean by database?

Our research has shown us that the majority of smaller charities and community organisations want most help with capturing data on their service users and the impact of their programmes. And, we agree, this can be the trickiest set of data to capture, track and manage.  

In this article we refer to this as a database.  

People also refer to this as a CRM (Customer Relationship Management system). We’ve avoided using this term because there are CRMs for all sorts of ‘customers’: your members, donors, volunteers, partners etc.  But we’re keeping our focus tight and focussing on databases defined as:

a system that collects and analyses data about your service users, how they engage with you and the impact of that. 


7 stages of database implementation

Choosing a database can be like choosing a mobile phone contract, there’s one for everyone.

But if you walk into the shop and don’t really know what matters to you, it’s easy to think you need everything.

Of course, the idea of 10,000 minutes and 20GB of data is attractive but if you know you only use it for sending texts, you can dismiss those offers and focus on the plans that really fit your needs.

Businesses want you to buy their product, but instead of letting them tell you what their product can do, it’s better for you to tell them what you need from a product and ask them if theirs will do it.

That’s why we’ve put together this 7 stage process to help you understand all that needs to be done when choosing and implementing a database, and where the bulk of the work lies.  


Diagram outlining the 7 step process we're advocating when choosing a database


We often find organisations wanting to start at Stage 4, but there is a large amount of work to be done before this which will:

  • Allow you to strike certain databases off your list because they can’t meet your needs
  • Ensure you can ask the right questions when speaking to database companies
  • Help you keep your vision proportionate to your operations and budget
  • Understand the impact on everyone in your organisation - from frontline staff to managers
  • Put the structures in place to be able to undertake what is actually quite a big job


Our aim is clear: to shorten the length of time you’re down a database rabbit hole!  

Each of the stages has practical templates to help you on your way.