Estimated reading time: 5 minutes, 20 seconds

NorthStarDb is designed and priced to help small and mid-sized organizations get started with a good database for very little cost. It is also designed to provide the core features that organizations need to manage constituent information and do fundraising. NorthStarDb is primarily designed for use on desktop machines and local area networks. This allows the organization to maintain control for their data and assure its security.  

NorthStarDb is designed to manage contact and donor information regarding persons, companies, families, households, contacts, donors, payments, pledges, and other data to keep all the core data in one place. Many non-profits use this kind of ability to support fundraising efforts. The flexibility of NorthStarDb’s design allows it to meet a number of other constituent management and contact management needs, as well. The FileMaker platform can scale from a single machine runtime (NorthStarDb Limited) to up to 200 users in a networked setting using FileMaker Pro and FileMaker Server. In terms of data storage, it can scale from a few to millions of contacts. The product’s limitations are mostly due to the hard drive and the performance of the computer(s) and network NorthStarDb runs on. 

In Use
NorthStarDb is a traditional desktop database program. It comes pre-configured with all the fields that are needed to capture almost any standard contact or payment information. Recording name and address information, basic payments, and the like can happen almost immediately. NorthStarDb has a group of standard reports that utilize information regarding persons, companies, families, households, contacts, donors, payments, pledges as mentioned above.

Technology Employed
NorthStarDb is a FileMaker based database solution that is installed on a local machine or shared over a local area network.  The product runs on both Microsoft Windows and Apple OS X machines, so NorthStarDb may be a good choice for ether platform or organizations that use both. NorthStarDb can be installed locally on one machinewith FileMaker licenses shared, using FileMaker peer sharing to allow up to 4 users on a local area network.  FileMaker Server can allow for up to 200 users.

Ease of Use, Configuration, and Deployment 
Installation can be as easy as copying the NorthStarDb files into a directory. For multi-user configuration using FileMaker peer sharing, each network user that will be accessing NorthStarDb requires a copy of FileMaker. FileMaker has a unique auto-discovery feature that makes setup and use easier than many networked database systems.  For organizations with more than a few users accessing NorthStarDb, FileMaker Server is strongly suggested.  

Setup for best use requires setting up the names for what are called “tags” and “titles.” These are virtual field names that allow customization of information like fund raising campaigns, skills, donor levels, and relationships that a contact or donor brings to the organization. Setting up tags and titles for donations is probably the hardest part of setting up NorthStarDb. It’s not necessarily technically difficult, but it requires thinking through the organization’s procedures and determining what information should be captured outside of basic donor demographics and naming and recording different donation types or campaigns. Getting the setup of tags and titles 'right' is the core to later being able to find records and do reports based on clients who have those characteristics.

Recap
NorthStarDb runs on both Windows and Apple machines so NorthStarDb may be a good choice for ether platform or both.  The FileMaker platform can scale from a single runtime user to up to 200 users in a networked setting using FileMaker Pro and FileMaker Server. In terms of data storage, it can scale from a few to millions of contacts, and it is basically only limited by the size of the hard drive and the performance of the computer(s) and network it runs on.

 NorthStarDb can get an organization started with a good database for very little or no cost. When shared over a network the total cost of FileMaker and NorthStarDb licenses is higher but still comparable or lower than other database options.  It offers just about everything many organizations need in one package, such as built-in reports and all the fields needed for name and address data. Its structure also allows custom setup to enter and store data about contacts, interests, activities, donations, and more. Data can be exported to various standard formats for use with word processor, spreadsheet, or other data systems.

Many organizations are using NorthStarDb without any real support or assistance. Other organizations need more help to get good use out of their database. The organizations who are most happy with NorthStarDb tend to be those with ether an “accidental techie” (Someone who enjoys and is good at database and technology) or that have some level of support that understands FileMaker.

The company feels that compared to other database systems, NorthStarDb and FileMaker are as easy to use as they come. The value of any database system directly reflects the effort put into using it. 

Advantages / Disadvantages: 
  • User defined identifiers to structure data in meaningful ways for later 
  • Support for fund-raising, including single payments, recurring payments, pledges, and recording income from sales.
  • Ease of use: based on FileMaker, the ease of use market leader in database products.
  • For those who are especially interested in keeping their data in-house.  
  • The FileMaker platform can scale from a single  user on a single machine to up to 200 users in a networked setting
Disadvantages: 
  • Doesn’t work well when accessed via VPN
  • While the NorthStarDb runtime is free, FileMaker Pro and FileMakerServer, along with consulting and support, are not free. 
  • FileMaker itself has become more powerful and competent as a database platform over the years. With Folks who have felt like they “knew” FileMaker from older versions of FileMaker find the new FileMaker platform and data models daunting.  

My Opinion
NorthStarDb doesn’t seem to have a lot of the “bells and whistles” that many other of these types of products tout.  That said, it provides a straight-forward tool to support the functions of a variety of nonprofit organizations.  It is cost-effective, although it’s important to remember that there are costs beyond the free download.  The fact that it’s built for FileMaker means that many professionals will already have familiarity with its interface and capabilities, allowing for a gentler learning curve than many other database solutions.
  Last modified on Monday, 09 September 2013
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