I'm looking for a way of sharing a database of contacts amongst a group of not-very-tech-savvy staff & volunteers in a non-profit.

The setup and storage of data can be technical/complex as a one-off, but day-to-day use needs to be simple. Ideally free, or a small setup cost (don't have resources to pay monthly fees, as seems to be the case with all the cloud-based CRMs I can find).

The sharing needs to be over the internet (people are in different places), e.g. via Dropbox (happy to accept occasional collisions, as modifying will be infrequent, provided it doesn't break the database), but do not want to manage a server or require logging into VPNs, etc due to the technical abilities of the people accessing the information, and keeping on-going maintenance efforts to a minimum.

Apart from the basic name & contact details, it needs customisable fields (drop-down/enumerator, and arbitrary text as a bare minimum). Also need to be able to sort or search by those fields. Think things like the person within the organisation responsible for the contact, membership type, etc.

Some specifics for our organisation (though will certainly appreciate more general answers that apply to different scales/applications):

  • About 10-20 staff/volunteers need to access the database (database content will probably be maintained by 2-3 of them)
  • About 100-200 active contacts in the database at any one time (contacts will change year to year, may want to keep a few years history too)
  • Desktop/web-apps are preferable, most users will be on on Windows or Mac
  • Offline access is not necessary
  • Wouldn't it be way easier to just use free software like google (gmail) or iCloud? Both provide an easy-to-use interface, and can easily be managed by a few people (although this is easier in gmail). I would consider this, instead of diving into custom software of all kinds.
    – YVbakker
    Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 13:58
  • @YVbakker, if you can explain how it'd work, please answer with details. As far as I'm aware Google charge $5/month/account for GAFYD that allows contact sharing, and I don't know of any contact sharing within iCloud. Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 23:43

1 Answer 1


Google Docs Spreadsheet

Take a look at Google Docs spreadsheet. Here is a (very simple) example I've just set up: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1uuHm-AUWX_drwzmF5RrnH338L9FRznumk9SqjBRFKAs/edit?usp=sharing

  • Cost: As far as I know, Goole Docs is for free als long as you don't need additional storage.
  • Usage: You can use it via any recent Browser (Chrome, Firefox, IE, Opera ...)
  • Sharing: Many people can view / edit it in parallel. You can either share it with other google accounts or via link.
  • Access Rights: You can modify the access rights on cell / column / sheet level.
  • Community: See webapps.stackexchange.com for quite a lot of more information.

Other ideas

If it's only about having a way to contact all people, you might also consider

  • Mailman: Email lists where people can subscribe by themselfs (you can choose if you have to accept them or if people get accepted automatically). I use this for a study group of 6 people and I have seen this for much bigger open source projects (I think debian uses it).
  • MediaWiki: The software behind wikipedia. With this you can also share more information. The requirements are extremely low (only a webserver and a MySQL database) and it might be very useful for a nonprofit organization. You can customize that quite a lot, e. g. this example. People can have their contact information in their own profile page and add a category to it (e.g. "person"). So you can see all people within the category "person".

Disclaimer: I don't have any experience with the following, but it might be worth to take a look at it.

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