As I am asked this question regularly, I thought it would be useful to give my thoughts in this blog. So, the short answer to this is yes, you can use Access for your fundraising database, but that doesn’t mean you necessarily should. As I have blogged before, if you want a fundraising database then my initial response would always be that you should look to see if an existing fundraising package could meet your requirements, and frankly, I would be surprised if one couldn’t for the vast majority of charities and NFP organisations.
But if you are determined to develop your own fundraising database, then yes, Microsoft Access can of course do the job – as can other similar development platforms such as Filemaker and MySQL.
And as much as many people (love to) criticise Access, it isn’t that bad a development platform, it can be simple to create a comparatively simple database and if you only need to use it within one office for a few people then it can do the job. There are some templates available on the web which can get you started, there is a book which might help you, written some years ago by Peter Flory on how to build a fundraising database in Access or similar systems, and because it is so widely used, a benefit of Access if that if you have a bespoke database developed by one person then, in theory, someone else could help you change/further develop it at a later date. Indeed, there are many independent Access developers who do regular work with charities. That said, it is never easy picking up someone else’s program unless it is extremely well documented, both within the code and outside.
But be aware of its key shortcomings too: it isn’t really suitable for large volumes of data (even tens of thousands of records can affect system performance), it isn’t automatically web-enabled (so you can’t access it from home or remote offices just like that) and of course it still requires all the design and development work which any bespoke system would. So it isn’t free!
So I repeat, yes you can use Access for a fundraising database but please consider all the other options first.