A quick guide to Microsoft SQL Server for charities

Microsoft SQL Server is relational database software offering tools for data storage, management, analysis and reporting. Many organisations use it to support a wide variety of data-related tasks such as transaction processing and business intelligence.

Microsoft’s offering is one of three market-leading database servers, alongside Oracle and IBM’s. They all fall into the category of relational database management systems, or RDBMS, which are built on top of SQL – a programming language used by IT administrators to manage and query data in a database.

Eligible charities can get donated versions of SQL Server from the Charity Digital Exchange platform.

Read on to learn about the benefits, the available SQL Server editions and licensing requirements.

Why charities are using SQL Server

Organisations may decide to go with a SQL database system when:

  • They do more with data than just the basics, such as manging direct debits and gift aid (which can be managed by a traditional CRM system such as Salesforce), and need to support more heavy-duty data processing such as online transactions or managing large numbers of beneficiaries or supporters.
  • They want to manage complex relationships between data across many different departments of the charity where information needs to be easily cross-referenced and not siloed. A SQL server’s table format makes it easier to query and retrieve the right data, as many different records can be linked together and accessed efficiently.
  • They have multiple users working on the same data at once. SQL databases have a good amount of  data integrity – you only need to change the data in one of the tables, and it will then update itself, with less room for errors.
  • They need to analyse or report on data straight out of the box without any add-on software, or want to ask complex questions linking data together, for greater visibility into their supporters and beneficiaries and improved decision-making about where and how to invest in services.
  • They are managing senstive data and must ensure it is kept private and secure. Authorisation and privilege control features in an RDBMS allow the database administrator to restrict access to certain data sets to only authorised users, and grant privileges to individual users based on the types of tasks they need to perform.

Reasons to choose Windows SQL Server

Organisations choose Microsoft’s SQL offering for a number of reasons:

  • Microsoft SQL Server is tightly integrated with the Windows Server security settings. This allows for a quick installation on your existing server.
  • By running it on top of Windows Server, charities can make the most of investments they’ve already made into Windows Servers and Office 365, with full integration. Common code underlying the Microsoft platform means your data workloads can seamlessly and consistently run on-premise, in the cloud or in a hybrid environment, moving easily from one environment to the other.
  • It is available as donated software for UK charities on the Charity Digital Exchange programme.

SQL Server editions

Microsoft offers SQL Server through the Charity Digital Exchange in the Standard and Enterprise editions. Standard Edition is most suitable for medium-size charities and organisations. Enterprise Edition is most suitable for larger organisations.

  • Standard Edition offers basic database, reporting, and analytics capabilities. Microsoft offers this edition under the server/CAL and core-based licensing models.
  • Enterprise Edition contains all of the basic features of Standard Edition plus tools for analysing business and financial data, mission-critical applications, and data warehousing features. Microsoft offers this edition only under the core-based licensing model.

For more information on SQL Server editions, see the basic summary, full comparison, and new feature comparison.

How to get it

Below are some of the major licensing requirements for SQL Server.

  • Installing this product requires you to download the software from the Volume Licensing Service Centre and enter a license key. The license key allows you to install the product on as many computers as you have received licenses for.
  • The core-based licensing products offered by Charity Digital Exchange provide licenses for two cores. SQL Server with core-based licensing requires a minimum of four core licenses to function. In order to use these products, you will need to obtain enough copies to cover the cores in the processors you plan to use with SQL Server.
  • The server/CAL licensing products offered by Charity Digital Exchange provide a single server license for a physical, virtual, or cloud-based server. SQL Server with server/CAL licensing requires each user or device that accesses the licensed server to have a client access license (CAL). It is most appropriate for administrators who know the exact number of users and devices that will connect to the server.

For more information on licensing, including details on licensing virtual machines, see the SQL Server 2016 Licensing Datasheet, or see this Charity Digital post for an overview of Microsoft Server licensing.


Visit the Charity Digital Exchange Microsoft SQL Server catalogue page to find out if your organisation is eligible for Charity Digital Exchange, and for more information on the capabilities and technical requirements.