Friday, March 06, 2009

Random stuff: Nonprofit database projects

Unless you're contemplating a database project--or are in the middle of one, this post is going to be kind of boring or esoteric. But I've seen way too many failed nonprofit database project to ignore. Below is my abbreviated step-by step guide for nonprofit database project. (At the bottom of this post is a link to a longer version.) This post is aimed at nonprofit organizations but probably also applies to for-profit and government organizations.

While you really need to do EVERYTHING right to have a successful database implementation, here are the basics.

Picking a database:
  • If at all possible, DO NOT decide on a totally custom database. DO NOT start from scratch. Use an existing product that is somewhat customizable. Don't hire a firm or and individual to create one from scratch. If you decide on a custom database, you will pay. You will pay in time, money, success and usability.
  • Pick a database that meets your organization's needs. Look at a number of options. Do not just pick one because it is low cost or because your executive director knows someone or because someone else uses it. This means starting by determining your needs and your wants. (Don't forget to specify reporting needs.
  • Get a demonstration with some of the potential day to day users in the room.
  • Don't pick a database because it "looks nice."
  • Don't pick a database because "everyone else uses it." (But do consider the benefits of having other users to call for help/suggestion/moral support.
  • Check vendor references. Check vendor references. Check vendor references.

  • The contract needs to include deliverable, the payments need to be tied to deliverable, and the needs to be a time-line.
  • Assign an internal project manager and give them enough time to manage the project.
  • Document all meetings and phone calls with the vendor. Share this with the vendor.
  • Your overall budget needs to include:
    • Cost of the vendor contract--set up and annual fees
    • Your costs of data conversion
    • An internal project manager (maybe part time, maybe full time
    • Cost of training your staff (both the cost of the training and to cost of their time
    • Cost of time your staff takes to get proficient with the database.
More Resources:

MS Word document: Nonprofit Project Management

Techsoup database articles:

The Minnesota Chapter of the Project Management Institute (Project Management Coaching)

Basecamp (team project management tool)

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