A Free Database May Sound Appealing, But Can You Afford It?

If your nonprofit organization is having trouble managing data or your current database is just not cutting it anymore, generally speaking you have two options:

  • get licensed ready made software, or
  • develop a custom system using OpenSource, Access, FileMaker, or open source components.

Let’s say you’re leaning towards a custom made system because resources are limited and a custom made system doesn’t cost anything upfront. The problem is: free up front will cost more in the long run.

Have you considered, for instance, who is going to develop the system for you? Hiring a consultant or developer will cost more than you think. They charge high hourly rates and who knows how long it will take until it’s completed and running smoothly. Maybe the organization’s Chairman has a nephew who is studying programming and will develop it for free. Sounds like a good deal, right? Well, not so fast. You still need to consider who will handle ongoing support.

Let’s face it, no matter how great the system seems when it is created, it is going to require ongoing maintenance and support. Consider, for instance:

  • How you will get your data from it’s current format into your new, custom system?
  • Who will iron out all of the glitches?
  • How you will update the system as technology evolves (e.g. email security becomes more restrictive, Internet protocols evolve, and operating systems change)?
  • How you will make necessary enhancements to the software?
  • How will you get your data out of the custom software if you decide to change systems?

With ready made systems, support is really a non-issue since glitches have already been ironed out, updates are done by the software supplier, and support is included. With a custom database, however, the only support you have is the chairman’s nephew. How quickly do you think you will be able to get in touch with him when you need him? And what happens when he moves away or loses interest? In many cases, the support for custom made systems is insufficient, disappears over time or is completely non-existent. In the end, you will have to hire a consultant or developer to handle ongoing support.

Before you consider a custom made database, therefore, consider the cost of it’s creation, maintenance and support. In the end, “free” software is not really free. Unfortunately, some non-profits have had to learn that the hard way, but you don’t have to be one of them. Do your research and if you are concerned about maintenance and support, consider a ready made database system. You can easily find one that does everything your organization needs, saves you a lot of headaches and costs less in the long run.

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