Revised with new information as of June 1, 2005

Importing Information Into
Your Main Database From
Another Database

This information is designed especially for small mission-based organizations (nonprofits, non-governmental organizations or NGOs, civil society organizations, public sector agencies, etc.) with very limited staffing and funds.

Just because your fund raising consultant uses a Macintosh and you have an IBM clone, or just because she uses one kind of database program and you use another, doesn't mean you can't import information from her database -- or just about any other database -- into your own.

And you don't need the latest versions of database software to import and export information that almost any other database can read. Exporting is easier than importing, however.

There's several ways one can go about importing data into a database (exporting data from a database is so easy that it is not explained here; consult your database software support materials). But there are certain rules that aren't covered in software manuals regarding importing information. The following is from my own learnings, as well as from others with whom I've talked about such things (yes, people -- and not just techies -- do talk about such things...)

I think the following works best for importing data into a "customer" database (one that tracks a targeted audience, volunteers, donors, subscribers, etc. -- PEOPLE), no matter what kind of computerized database you have. But please note that some database packages may not need all of these steps.

The most important rule regarding importing information into a database, is:
If you are importing information into your customer/people database, copy the database and all files associated with this database into a separate folder or directory, and work with the copy. Then, when you are done importing information and know that everything worked out okay, replace your database original with the copy you've been working from. This will reduce the chance of people getting error messages while using the database, and it's less likely that your database will crash in the middle of your work. It will also prevent you from losing your precious original data.

The second most important rule is:
Don't do any other projects or leave in the middle of importing data or checking for duplicate records. Otherwise, you might find yourself lost when trying to find the place where you left off.

For the purposes of these directions, the database to which you are importing is called Database A; the database from which you are getting information is Database B.


  1. Ask the person preparing Database B to save (export) the data as an Excel file (.xls), a .dbf file (d-base), a .txt file (text), or, if its an option, into the format of Database A.


  2. When you receive Database B, if its in .txt or .ascii, open the document using a word processing program and put the data into tables (on Microsoft Word, for instance, do this by highlighting the data and choosing "convert tables to text" from under the table menu). Although database fields can be separated by quotes or commas, it is much easier to work with data when it is in tables.


  3. Go through the information and eliminate all of the fields and other information you don't need or want to import. Also, make sure the cells are wide enough so that each field's information appears on one line; otherwise, the database will often have trouble reading the cell; to get enough space to allow this, set up your page for a 8 1/2" X 14" page in landscape (wide) format.

    If you are still working with the data as a text or word-processing file (MS Word, ClarisWorks, WordPerfect, etc.), I strongly urge you to copy the cells from the word processing document and paste them into a spreadsheet document, such as Microsoft Excel, at this point.


  4. Again, make sure the column width is enough for all information in each field to be visible.


  5. Make sure that Database B has similar field names to Database A.


  6. Add any fields you might need, and fill these new fields in with information. For instance, if you were receiving these names from a mailing list used by the local Public Television station, you could create a "referred by" column and automatically fill the column with the words "Local PBS stations".


  7. When you are done, save this information in a database format that your database software can read. If you aren't sure, open your database, choose the Save As function, and see what options it gives you; usually what a database can be "saved as" is also what it can pull information from.

    NOTE 1: If you are using Microsoft Excel and need to save your data in d-base, you will need to highlight all of the cells that have information and choose "set database". Then, choose "Save As" and choose .dbf or d-base; then close this document.

    NOTE 2: If Database B is actually a joined database file of different databases, you will need to do the EXTRA STEP below before proceeding.

  8. Open your database and choose "Import". A screen will appear that will guide you through the importing process. These screens will usually ask you if you want the imported information:

    NOTE: What if I don't want the database B information to overwrite database A? (meaning that you believe your address information is correct and you don't think or are not sure the database B has the correct address information). You will need to do this extra step:

    EXTRA STEP: After step #6, import database A information into database B (yes, that's backwards from what you are ultimately intending to do), so you can overwrite any incorrect information with your own; then, go ahead to step #7


  9. After you have made your choices per the last step, choose which fields of information you want to import and match up these fields from database B to database A. It is usually most important that you capture:

  10. Tell the software which field information to use to determine to decide if an importing record is a new person or if it is a person already on the database; usually, these three fields are used for such a determination:
  11. Tell the database to start the importing. It may take several minutes. When it's done, double check to see that the information was imported okay (for instance, for some databases, each new record should get a unique number).


  12. You now need to delete duplicate records that could have occurred (use the directions in the document Regular Database Maintenance) during this importing session, to make sure that you don't have both a Joe Smith from Acme Systems, Inc. and a Joseph Smith from Acme Systems, Inc. on your database files.

Also see These tip sheets may also help you:  
Return to Index of Coyote Communications' Database Tip Sheets


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