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New Database Project? To Ensure Success, Start Here

You would not think of hiring a staff member or volunteer for your organization without writing a carefully crafted job description. The same approach is needed when launching your database development project. Write a requirements document, sometimes called a “software requirements specification”, before

People brainstorming ideas

beginning your project. Your database developer will rely on this to create your database, so make sure it has everything needed to guarantee success. A solid requirements document is the first step to ensuring the success of your project.

What do you need your database to do? Perhaps you want to store a list of donors and their contact information. Do you need to record when and how they donate? The dates and the amounts? Their preferred contact method and their spouse’s name? If so, write that down. Describe the information you want to store about volunteers, grantors, board members and staff. Databases are all about the details, so be as specific as you can. What about your core mission? What information would you like to have on tap and how should it be displayed? Do you want photos, graphs, or dashboards of some kind?

Think not only about your own needs but also those of any stakeholders in your organization. Consider board members, volunteers, donors and sponsors – anyone who has a share in your organization’s mission and vision. What do they need to know to stay informed? How do you measure success? What information will inform your choices, plans and spending decisions?

Plan, Write, Discuss

A solid requirements document is the first step to ensuring the success of your project.

When you have all that down, examine things from another perspective. You’ve thought about what should go into the database, now consider what should come out of it. Think about what you’d like to have generated by the database in the form of reports, forms and lists. Do you need itemized information summarized by month, quarter or year? Do you need to report on activities by donors, sponsors, or other funding sources? This is important because some information coming out of the database can only be had if the information going in is designed to obtain it. Let your database developer know in advance the kinds of outputs the application must produce.

Finally, consider the automations you’ll need. Automations go above and beyond merely storing or printing out data. They are the magic ingredient that gives your database that extra bit of power only a computer can provide. By automations, I mean:

  • Buttons that generate an email message or perform some other task.

  • Something that activates the comparison, sorting or categorization of information.

  • Number crunching, averaging or trend analysis.

  • A workflow triggered by something and then continued until finished.

All database projects should begin with a solidly constructed requirements document. Like a set of building plans for house, it will provide a framework for the architecture of the database. A good developer will ask questions and build on the initial document you’ve created until everything is clearly defined. Only then will they begin to put together a plan for the construction of your very important asset: your database.

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I'm Jennifer.

I am a retired office administrator with a love of organizing information. I volunteer for nonprofits setting up their databases.

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