Understanding Relational Databases & Nonprofit Use Cases

July 25, 2023

What is a relational database?

A relational database is a type of database management system (DBMS) that organizes information into tables (similar to a spreadsheet). Unlike basic spreadsheets however, relational databases are designed to:

  • Handle large volumes of data without lag time

  • Easily scale to accommodate growing data needs

  • Manage increasingly complex relationships between data tables

  • Enforce data integrity (avoiding duplication or inconsistencies that can result from manual data entry and formulas)

In addition, many relational databases (e.g. MySQL and PostgreSQL) are completely open-source. This means that they are free to use! You only need a cloud host, such as Microsoft Azure, AWS, etc.

What are the use cases for nonprofits?

When it comes to applications for relational databases in the nonprofit sector, the sky’s the limit! Here are some top uses cases we’ve helped implement over the years:

  1. Program Management: ability to track and manage program-related data, including participant information, ticket sales, attendance records, CFRE eligibility, evaluations, and more. By organizing this data in a relational database, nonprofits can monitor their program effectiveness, measure impact, and make data-driven decisions to improve program delivery and outcomes over time.
  2. Donor Management: any nonprofit that accepts donations needs to be able to effectively track donor information. Coveted data points such as donation history, communication preferences, and engagement levels can be stored within a relational database, allowing nonprofits to track interactions, send personalized communications, and analyze donor behavior to optimize fundraising efforts.
  3. Reporting & Analytics: custom queries and reports are used to extract insights from data and analyze fundraising performance, donor retention rates, volunteer engagement metrics, program outcomes, and other key performance indicators (KPIs). This information helps nonprofits to evaluate their progress, identify trends, and make data-informed decisions to drive organizational growth.
  4. Communication & Outreach: nonprofits can use relational databases to segment their audiences based on specific criteria and send targeted communications, such as newsletters, event invitations, or fundraising appeals. By integrating databases with communication tools, nonprofits can automate and personalize communication workflows, ensuring effective and efficient engagement with their stakeholders.
  5. Volunteer Management: nonprofits often rely on volunteers for their programs and initiatives. Relational databases can help maintain volunteer profiles, track volunteer availability and schedule shifts, communicate updates and opportunities, and manage volunteer engagement. They also enable the tracking of volunteer hours, recognizing contributions, and building long-term relationships.
  6. Grant & Compliance Management: any nonprofit that receives grants or needs to comply with specific regulations can use relational databases to manage grant-related data and compliance requirements. They can track grant applications, deadlines, reporting obligations, and other compliance-related information. Relational databases provide a centralized platform to maintain grant-related documents, monitor progress, and ensure adherence to grant guidelines and reporting requirements.

While these are the most requested use cases we’ve encountered, more specific use cases may arise depending on your organization’s mission, size, and operational needs.

If you are part of a growing organization looking to streamline your data management processes on a budget, a relational database may be the perfect tool for you. Get in touch with us today to learn more about the benefits and implementation process!