Indeed, as noted below, version 3.0 and later is much, much improved. You should take reviews from before fall 2009 with a grain of salt.
civiCRM is an endless struggle or impossible on cheap shared hosting. But you really should not be running mission critical functions like your organizations web site on $5 a month hosting. Learned the hard way. (Moving up to $15 a month or so is sufficient at least for my organizations demands.)
Many of the features in civiCRM are really nicely implemented. It also makes some very complex things (sending a finely customized mailing or setting up registration for a paid event, for example) really easy and quick. It is not a simple program, but the complexity it has is complexity you really need to be employing if you are running a non-profit.
CiviCRM is not quite RaisersEdge, but it's definitely more in that direction than a simple database.
Lastly, while civiCRM has improved, this is indeed a big program (yes bigger than Joomla itself) and requires that much more technical attention. It's probably still true that it isn't for the faint of heart. But then, neither is making your non-profit successful! And yes, the support community is strong and pretty committed to helping you figure things out that you need.