Words offer a new perspective when we view our work and the use of our time. They can affect our mood and move something once considered difficult or tedious to be challenging even exciting. Changing ‘I have to’ to ‘ I want to’ reduces stress and opens our mind …. Moving from ‘data management software’ to ‘Knowledge Management System ’ suddenly introduces us to a new paradigm where we are involved in conservation, exploration and sustainability.
When you, as a charity, consider the value of maintaining a more comprehensive organizational memory as a Knowledge Management approach we begin to move past the dusty discussion of information management to something that clearly defines the charity and underlines the possibilities that help it prevail.
The Past Defines Us
Our past defines us. It molds who we have become and hints at where we might go. Organizations should treasure their past as this establishes where they have been, the challenges they have faced and how they have arrived. It records what has been learned through past experiences and interactions. When you consider how many businesses today run on this form of information alone, it takes it well beyond being a simple asset to a strategic resource, one which offers extraordinary wealth to the tune of many thousands of dollars and sometimes millions. This wealth is not simply legal tender, but the wealth of knowledge which impacts staff time, learned skills, innovation and opportunities. It helps to mitigate the impact of economic fluctuations.
To introduce tactics and policies to manage this intellectual wealth, the charity needs to understand the potential found in everyone they touch and those who touch them. This would include past and current staff members, board members, volunteers, contacts, advocates, donors and funders.
Knowledgeable agents representing the charity can engage with donors and prospective supporters with well-informed, meaningful rapport. Those charities who offer little clarity of past interactions struggle to be credible and are often exposed for their management flaws and lack of coherence.
A task as simple as maintaining one complete list of the names, addresses and contact information of those who help a charity meet its goals is not a lot to expect but for most organizations this is a monumental challenge as they view each entry not as part of a global memory but as items of personal ownership. It can be exhausting just to consider the merge and purge activity resulting in wasted staff hours. What’s more exhausting is the number of times this activity is repeated.
The Present Inspires Us
Who could not be inspired when staff members know the value their charity brings to a community. That pride is augmented when the charity is well managed retaining its resources to support its staff and any new initiatives they bring forward. Working in an organized environment creates calm. Time can be employed productively to focus on new opportunities whether programs or development activity.
Chaos breeds stress and stress is counterproductive to any team much less a team aiming to evolve as high performance. When chaos is the norm, staff changes become more frequent as failure to perform is the outcome. When chaos is the norm, fund raising goals are not met and access to qualified employees is not viable.
To maintain the momentum and potential of highly productive staff, organization is essential. Further to organization falls the essential of training. The term ‘to train’ implies the building of skills and a level of proficiency necessary to support the needs of an organization and the positions held by staff. We view training as a function of the education process that is necessary to sustain the charity’s knowledge base and prevent it from being undermined by incompetence. The assumption that tools and methods can be figured out through a trial and error process is not reasonable and puts both the knowledge-base and the charity at risk. A conversation suggested that training was expensive, the retort came with a question; ‘’Do you pay people to do things wrong?”
“Education is never neutral or disinterested. It is always organised according to a set of articulated principles, and it methodology reflects a number of believers, from highly pragmatic ones to the conviction that knowledge is an end in itself.” Thyssen Museum Madrid Spain
The position that staff members are too busy to attend to offerings like training or that the cost is too high, supports the contention that charities are not interested in utilizing human resources at their most effective. This may apply to a volunteer run charity with annual budgets less than $50,000 annually but once demand for dollars increases it’s time for a different paradigm. A charity has already made its big commitment which is to its clients. With respect to that commitment, the time has also arrived to ensure it can meet those commitments to remain sustainable by providing staff members with the necessary skills. The key is to capture what is learned making it shareable and extending its value.
Implementing a Knowledge Management as a Charity Model
First and foremost a leader is required to pilot the project. This is not a job for mid-management ranks but rather the top of the pyramid. Change for any organization is often difficult because people need to modify their habits and embrace new methods. A leader committed to a full implementation is a must.
The benefit to this change is that staff members will be part of the process offering what they know and have learned to build a knowledge-based system. Birthing anything new, then documenting and integrating it into the mainstream takes time and endurance. The benefits need to be understood and embraced. By including the best of what staff have to offer they can be recognized for their contribution.
The outcome offers a massive improvement over the current situation and once accepted becomes ‘how we do things here’. This attitude transposes into a full understanding of the value of information and every addition to the knowledge model from the capture of donor information, research data, basic job ‘how to’ instruction sets and much more. We now have a knowledge culture in bloom!
New employees are introduced to an abundant knowledge-base, supported by well-defined job descriptions allowing them to successfully assimilate into the charity’s culture. Should adoption of the charity’s methods be inconsistent, adjustments can be recommended or ultimately a staff removal if a lack of compliance becomes a recurring issue.
The Future Awaits You
No business, whether for-profit or not-for-profit can afford the cost of an ineffective workplace. It’s fine to be busy, but when busy simply means activities caused by disorganization and a lack of priorities, it is time to take the plunge and evaluate all areas of information management and assemble what the charity needs to move back to a productive mode.
The solution is simple to implement. What can be a challenge is enforcing methods with non-compliant staff but be assured, non-compliance disappears as new staff members are hired and old ones leave. The final challenge is maintaining an effective system throughout staff and board change. We have suggested writing requirements into the charity’s charter as a good start so that no one person can erode its benefits through questionable abilities. The assumption that a title or level of education is indicative of the type of habits that grow an organization has been proven wrong time and again. Let your organization have its own voice to expound on its expectations, then see who can stay and who must go. Remember, the future awaits you and the opportunities are boundless!