The Database Matrix - Part 3

Choosing the Right Database for your Engagement Programs

Hands down, the most frequent question that I get asked is “what is the best database”?

It’s a question that I continue to struggle to respond to. The answer depends on a number of key criteria such as the engagement priorities of your organization; if and how the database connects to other systems (e.g. financial systems); and how much capacity your organization has to manage, customize and fully integrate the system.

 

There are a number of database tools out there. It does not take long to become completely overwhelmed by the suite of options. However, after nearly a decade of paying close attention to the database conversation, I have begun to notice a few trends in systems groups are choosing. To help break it down, I have grouped the type of organizations that I have worked with, and alongside, into four general categories, or personas, and matched databases to which these organization types seem to migrate to. 

Group Persona

Engagement Priorities / Capacities

Case Study

Database Trends

The Organizer

Engagement High - Continuously seeking ways to identify and engage more supporters, the success of which is tied to their organizational theory of change.

High Capacity - Significant capacity to manage and customize database solutions.

EcologyOttawa-Logo.png

NationBuilder

Salesforce (customized)

Salsa Labs

The Member/Donor Developer

Engagement Moderate - Engagement important to organization but is not inherently critical to their organizational theory of change.

High Capacity - Significant capacity to manage and customize database solutions.

BruceTrail-logo.png

Raiser’s Edge

Salesforce (customized)

GiftWorks

Sumac

The Grassroots Group

Engagement High - Continuously seeking ways to identify and engage increasing numbers of supporters, the success of which is tied to their organizational theory of change.

Low to No Staff Capacity - little capacity for management beyond volunteers and/or part-time staff.

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NationBuilder

Salesforce (free version)

The Stewardship Group

Engagement Moderate - Engagement important to organization but is not inherently critical to their organizational theory of change.


Low to No Staff Capacity - little capacity for management beyond volunteers and/or part-time staff.

Mailchimp

Excel

Through this analysis, it has emerged that the vast majority of database systems are best tailored for mid to high capacity organizations, leaving little option for the low to no capacity groups. Organizations with robust membership and donor systems - and where mobilization is not a priority to a theory of change - seem to migrate to Raiser’s Edge or similar systems, which require a greater degree of capacity to manage. A customized Salesforce system is also a common choice, particularly with organizations with greater capacity and where engagement is central to programs and activities.   

Database options are limited for lower capacity organizations -- i.e. those with 1-3 staff members or those run by volunteers. For many of those lower capacity teams, NationBuilder has become the database of choice. It is cost-effective and combines website hosting and management alongside contact management. NationBuilder has also integrates some unique toolsets (their goals and pathways tools for example), which allow users to integrate and track their engagement pyramid. This makes it one of the more robust tools for organizations where mobilization and engagement tracking are of utmost importance. 

Part 1 - The Database Matrix

Part 2 - Why use a database anyway?

Part 3 - Choosing the right database for your engagement programs

Part 4 - Before deciding on a new database...

Part 5 - Setting up for success: integration, staff buy-in, training.

Part 6 - But we are volunteer run with little capacity - what do we do?

Part 7 - Your database and communication workflows


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