Database Planning is the most important step in setting up CiviCRM.
Careful planning can save you hundreds of hours of work. In order to successfully configure CiviCRM for your needs, you need a plan that - at a minimum - includes Data Fields/Types and Work Processes:
Data Fields and Types
- List all the fields you will want in the database, along with the type of data that is stored there.
Example: "Zip Code - Numeric"
You will need to organize your contacts, and categorise them into subsets. No matter how well your plan this, you will have to create new categories as your organisation (and how you use your CRM) evolves.
You can use either groups or tags or custom fields to categorise your contacts. Get yourself familiar with these, so you are able to choose the best option for your situation. Tags are the simplest form of categorization. Groups can be used for mailing lists and can be restricted via access control, or used to grant access. Custom fields can be used to store arbitrary data about your contacts.
- List all the ways you will use the data. Include use cases including who and how the data will be used.
Example 1:Record Number: Each new record will automatically be given a unique Record Number. This will not be used to search for records but for identification purposes, i.e. to differentiate between two people with identical names.
Use Case: This number will be used to check for duplicates when exporting or importing data and occasionally by the administrator.
Example 2:Volunteer Type: Every contact who is a volunteer will be assigned one of four volunteer types - New, Active, Inactive or Past.
New=Never volunteered before;
Active=Completed at least one volunteer assignment;
Inactive=Has not volunteered in the last 12 months;
Past=Volunteered in the past but no longer available/interested in volunteering.
Use case: The primary use of this field is to assist the Volunteer Coordinator (VC) in finding and recruiting volunteers. When volunteers are needed, the VC will search Active volunteers and send out requests to this group. On a regular basis, Inactive volunteers will be contacted asking them to become Active again. The VC will assign a status to every past/present volunteer. A monthly search will be done showing those who have not volunteered in the last 12 months and those will be given the "Inactive" status. Any volunteer who informs the VC that they are no longer interested/available for the foreseeable future will be given the "Past" status.
If you are not an experienced database planner, you need good advice.
Civicrm professional services (planning or training or technical support):
Professional companies working with CiviCRM
Database Planning resources:
TechSoup Database Section