Microsoft Access for Your Nonprofit - The Pros and Cons
When selecting the development platform for their nonprofit's database, many choose Microsoft Access. It's easy to see why. Access has been around for years, accumulating a large group of loyal developers who love its powerful Visual Basic coding language, flexible report generator and solid relational database
foundation. The fact that it’s a Microsoft product adds to its appeal. And most importantly to nonprofits, the price is unbeatable: it comes bundled free with many Microsoft Office configurations along with the ever-popular programs Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.
“Think ahead before adopting Microsoft Access for your nonprofit. It has benefits but is showing its age.”
Newer Software Means Better Features
What’s not to love? Since its inception in the 1990’s Access has aged. Microsoft has made no significant changes to the platform in years, leaving many to wonder when it will be discontinued entirely. The pool of qualified and experienced developers who truly know Access is shrinking. If a multiple user scenario is required, all users must log on to the same wired network. And, it compares poorly with more recently introduced database platforms that offer more modern features. These benefits, for example, can’t be had with Access:
Internet (browser-based) log on.
Multiple people using the database at the same time from any location.
The ability to run on any type of computer (PC or Mac).
Built-in security levels based on user permissions.
Another limitation of Access is the need to develop for the right version of access that the nonprofit organization has installed. Some run “32-bit” Access and some run “64-bit”. The database application must match the user’s software installation, or an error condition results. Some nonprofits will have users who use one and some the other, which creates the need to develop applications that will run on both 32-bit and 64-bit systems. Complicating this issue is that most nonprofits don’t know which version they have installed and may not realize there is a problem until their software doesn’t run on a new computer. The benefits offered by newer database platforms are game changers for organizations whose volunteers and staff often work outside of a central office. Staff members working from home and participants serving as “virtual” volunteers may need to be able to access the database from their own, sometimes very distant, locations. In that situation, Microsoft Access will limit the growth of the organization instead of nurture it. Overall, Access represents a reliable choice for nonprofits who have found a developer who truly understands the product and have no budget for a more modern platform. Think ahead before adopting Microsoft Access for your nonprofit. It has benefits but is showing its age. Decision makers should be cautious about the long-term effect of adopting an aging technology that may limit them now and in the future.