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Introduction to Databases
Added by Anthony Hernandez, last edited by Anthony Hernandez on Jun 18, 2007  (view change)
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TOC: A Primer on Databases | Readiness Assessment Stage | Requirements Gathering Stage | Evaluation Stage | Decision Stage | Case Studies

Introduction to This Page

This page is here to assist the decision makers at an organization with the sometimes difficult task of deciding on a database to implement. There are many factors that influence the database organizations eventually adopt and implement. The following articles address these factors with a familiar and easy-to-understand tone. Most were written by experienced professionals in the nonprofit sector or by those who have worked with nonprofits.

There are stages in the database decision cycle that apply to any database, not just Metrix. The stages are:

  • Readiness Assessment stage - In this initial stage an organization needs to assess its resources (personnel, equipment, budget, etc.) to see if it can support making the transition from an old database to a new database, a paper-based system to a database, etc.
  • Requirements Gathering stage - In this stage an organization has to identify everything it will need from the database; reports, queries, standardized forms, record imports, its workflow incorporated into the interface, etc.
  • Evaluation stage - In this stage an organization identifies the databases from a list of candidates that best meet its needs.
  • Decision stage - In this stage an organization makes its final decision.

Some of the articles are listed in a specific stage but don't focus entirely on that topic. They touch upon other stages as well. For example, one may be listed in the Requirements Gathering stage but may review some content from the readiness Assessment Stage or list some material from the Evaluation Stage, etc.

Below you will find a preliminary list of links to relevant documents, mostly from TechSoup's knowledge base.

We also offer a Metrix product demonstration, which provides a demo of Metrix and addresses issues that arise when implementing a new database: readiness, costs, services, support, training, etc.

A Primer on Databases

Introduction to Databases This article gives a simple definition of a database, lists different kinds of databases, and touches on off-the-shelf vs. custom-built databases.
Flat-file Databases This article defines a flat-file database and gives an example typical of simple flat-file databases.
Relational Databases This article provides insight into the power of enterprise-wide relational databases in nonprofit work, the initial concerns nonprofits have about their data, and the short-term vs. long-term benefits of implementing a relational database.
Should Nonprofit Agencies Build or Buy a Database? This article addresses the factors that come into play when organizations decide if they should buy an off-the-shelf database or have one custom made for them.
Creating the Relationship-Centric Organization: Nonprofit CRM This article introduces CRM - Constituent Relationship Management - and the ways in which a centralized database can help organizations effectively manage their relationships with their constituents, which results in more donations, volunteers, event attendance, etc.

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Readiness Assessment Stage

Avoiding Disaster:The Database Planning Process This article is an introduction to the importance of properly planning for a new database and lists who should be involved in the planning, needs that must be identified initially, future needs that must be identified initially, etc.
Basic Database Assessment This article provides a preliminary list of questions for organizations that already have a database and those that do not.
In-Depth Database Needs Assessment This article delves a little deeper to include project-related data and database-specific concerns that can affect the database an organization chooses.
Database Planning Guide This worksheet provides a comprehensive view of the readiness assessment stage: assessing needs, database development, database comparisons, worksheets, etc.
Database Death: What lies Beneath the Surface This article addresses the issues that may not be apparent when organizations plan to implement a new database: not allowing users or potential users to have input in the process, deciding on a tool before properly identifying the data that need to be tracked, and more.
Information Management This article covers some of the introductory material in stage one, but is focused on properly planning before any database implementation occurs and focusing on how company culture and human behavior ultimately affect how information is collected and stored.

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Requirements Gathering Stage

Requirements Gathering Essentials This article is a good starting point for the requirements gathering process. The author advocates not choosing a particular method but using the method that best works for your needs.
Recommended Requirements Gathering Processes This article is written from an engineering perspective but requirements gathering is generally the same for any project.
Requirements Analysis This is an introduction to requirements gathering with lots of links to related material.
Vision and Scope Document This Word template is a good starting place to get ideas. It can be modified and shared.

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Evaluation Stage

A Few Good Tools: Low-Cost Constituent Databases This article lists some pros and cons of some packaged database tools and open-source databases.
Web-based Apps vs Client-Server Software.pdf This PDF lists some pros and cons of client-server and web-based databases.
Choosing a CMS This article is part three of a three-part series. It lists information on working with vendors, choosing the right contact management system (CMS), and, most importantly, knowing what organizational needs to identify to know what CMS to choose.

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Decision Stage

Selecting a Database Consultant This article lists questions to ask a potential database consultant and the skills to look for when hiring one.
Consultants: It's Like Going to the Doctor This brief article recommends that organizations be aware of their needs and alternatives and not desperately hand everything over to a consultant and simply follow everything he or she may recommend.
Put it in Writing: What Do You Need from a Provider? This article advises what you should have in place before you get help from a vendor: organizational background, project description, project needs, etc.
Defining the Consulting Project This article lists suggestions for things to have in place before an organization even interviews a consultant: scope and requirements of the project, a budget, support resources, etc.
Writing a Contract This article lists what should be included in a consultant's contract (should you hire one): description of the project, scope of the consultant's work, consulting fees, time schedule, etc.
Managing a Consultant This article suggests what to do after a consultant is hired: assign one point person to communicate with the consultant, get staff trained and have access to documentation, etc.

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Case Studies

Case Studies: Strategic Database Outsourcing
Case Study: Database Planning at MPHSC
A Tale of Two Databases

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