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A Lightning BOLT! Knowledge Management Plan for Charities

Hilborn Charity eNews

Publication date: Nov 19, 2020  |  author/source: Sharron Batsch

For years I have written about and discussed issues concerning data management and how it affects a charity. My concern has been the retention of quality donor data and how it was being captured for past, present and future use. I even wrote a book!

Staff change exerts pressure on a system when there has been a failure to maintain the custody of the charity’s knowledge-base. Different people bring different skills to an organization. Managing data may be well out of a manager’s purview in their desire to be effective; senior managers need to understand the significant role software plays to control the flow of charitable dollars and all the supporting data related to donors and funders. Is there a solution?

Lightning Bolt an Epiphany!

The answer comes when a charity embraces an Information Management Plan, or as we call it a Knowledge Plan. Policies and procedures support the Knowledge Plan, and well-defined job descriptions ensure its compliance through performance reviews. It addresses an organized system, so that information of all forms is accessible and accurate. It offers consistency and continuity, regardless of staff change.

Why call it a Knowledge Plan?

Charities received data in the form of donations, talking points with donors, research on funding organizations and more. Data when consolidated creates context giving the charity information. When information transforms itself into actionable items to be used strategically, it becomes knowledge. Our economy is knowledge-driven, and successful non-profits are as well; hence we define a Knowledge Plan.

The Knowledge Plan

The Knowledge Plan describes how the charity handles the information which supports its charitable fundraising. No single individual would be able to change how a charity manages donors, funders and advocates.

The Knowledge Plan addresses donor management, grant management, media and advocate management, document management, fundraising and event management, job descriptions, performance reviews and receipting. It looks at every type of gift or transaction to determine how it is recorded as it affects the ability of the charity to service its donors, hosts, sponsors, advocates, clients and volunteers.

Short Game vs Long Game

When the management of a charity’s data is consigned to receipting services or to the newest staff member with little consideration as to how it affects the operation of the charity, the result is chaos. These are charities running a short game. But it is the long game that sustains a charity.

The Benefits

If more charitable dollars, greater productivity, effective donor stewardship, time to achieve goals, reduced stress and maintaining quality staff is a charity’s goal, implementing a Knowledge Plan is the only answer.

Can’t or Can What is Your Mantra

We have heard it said, “it can’t work”. The “can’t people” have spoken their truth “when you can’t, you can’t”. However, for the charity who says “can”, their staff will enjoy the benefits of a balanced work/private life, less stress, greater job satisfaction and better salaries as the charity flourishes.

Plan First Culture

The outcome is a Knowledge Plan yielding a “plan first” culture. Change is motivated by those who understand the information and knowledge a charity uses to support its programs. New staff members are introduced to a culture reinforced by training; with job descriptions to define how they will contribute to an ever-growing knowledge-base.

We have yet to speak with anyone who tells us their charity has enough dollars for its programs. Let your charity invest in its internal operations to the benefit of all who support it.

Sharron Batsch is the developer of @EASE Fund Development Software and the author of From Chaos to Control, Build a High Performance Team Using Knowledge Management. She has worked with a wide variety of charities for over 25 years as both a consultant and volunteer fundraiser and event chair. Her work helps define how charities can best use the data they collect and create. She specializes in information management for the not-for-profit community.

Old Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard Syndrome

We have written about the issue of a fundraiser’s legacy many times over 30 years and our belief is little has changed.

Successfully acquiring donations is the ultimate goal of all organizations but what about all the other information that provides the charity with its wealth. What about its ability to build relationships?

We equate information with wealth, once it has been collected. It is what a charity knows about its donors that support relationships; this becomes knowledge that remains regardless of staff turnover.

When you look into a database only to find donations recorded, we need to ask “Does the charity and its fundraisers understand the job?” “Where is all the other information on donors?” In essence, this question is profoundly linked to the ability of a charity to succeed much less to sustain itself.

To understand our perspective, think of a beautiful house. From the outside, it looks perfect. Now, open the front door and what do you see? Could it be a hoarder’s delight with things everywhere? Is this how your charity might function? It looks good from the outside but the internal workings are chaotic and the donor database is mostly empty, much like Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard.

What would happen if everyone left your fund development department, never to return? This is what happened with one charity and then a high-value donor came knocking with an important question about a project he was funding. The answer was enlightening. You may wonder what he thought when no one could give him a reasonable response.

In our recent interview with Ralph Young, a past Chancellor of the U of A, successful businessman and philanthropist, he related just this situation about a gift he had given for a specific project. The development team had all resigned. When he connected with the development office, no one could provide details about the project or its progress. Where did the information go? Who is ultimately responsible to ensure good methods are employed?

We believe it is the charity, which needs to define its expectations so that all staff understands how they contribute over the long term, and where staff change won’t expose the charity to risk due to the loss of data, information, and knowledge. Remember, good intentions are not enough when you are managing thousands of dollars of donor goodwill. Good people come and go but the charity needs to be sustainable regardless of this reality.

What do we mean by content? A charity needs to understand and know its supporters. Consider foundations that could provide grants. ‘Need to Know’ information includes gifting criteria, the names of staff members who accept grant proposals, dates or time frames proposals are accepted and the history of outstanding requests, declines, and awards.  When placed in a donor management system versus binders, access is accurate and accessible and staff can react in a timely manner. How long would it take your charity to assemble a list of its grants over the last 18 months including requests, declines and awarded? Would your response be two or three minutes, two or three hours, maybe a week?

Consider corporate donors and what the charity needs to know about them. This might include their giving criteria, the contact information of staff members who can help the charity, when dates proposals are due, what sort of support the organization could offer, and their type of business.  These tidbits offer the charity an entrepreneurial advantage.

Private donor information, depending on how well they are known to the charity, might include information on family members, specific interests they have in supporting the charity, family pets, relationships in the community, plus, plus, plus. Not all private individuals will have data but as the relationship grows so does the charity’s knowledge about the donor. A well- defined coding system is preferable for accurate access through the donor management system used by the charity.

In our many years working with the charitable sector, we have found the amount of information housed in a useful form is almost non-existent, even though the tools are present to easily capture this data. In a recent conversation with a fundraiser, they commented that how each person on their team captured donor data was determined by the team member, not the charity. This equates to an inconsistent approach if the data was collected at all and a recipe for failure.

Content is wealth. It supports relationships by offering talking points that turn into touchpoints with donors. New staff can familiarize themselves with donors based on what is known about them and why they support a charity.

If every staff member did what they wanted, you would find Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard or vacant databases with little to offer. The outcome is often donors who feel more like a money source and less like a lifelong contributor.

The charitable sector manages billions of dollars annually. In Canada, CRA has some oversight, but what about oversight related to how the charity runs internally. A chaotic environment, often run by untrained staff who are responsible for donor management practices, puts the charity and its funding dollars at risk. What if a charity could say to prospective donors the following?

  1. We have an annual training budget and all staff engaged with fund development are required to be fully trained which ensures data is recorded correctly.
  2. We have an organizational strategy for all electronic tools, to access our resources in seconds, not minutes or hours.
  3. Senior managers all participate in adding to our organizational history.
  4. Fund development managers can all use the donor management software and collaborate with data entry to ensure all campaigns and appeals are properly defined.
  5. We have specific policies and practices for all forms of data management, which we adhere to allowing, for corrective actions where needed.
  6. We invest in continuous improvement but all within the context of our current methods of information management.
  7. Our investment in these methods has continued to improve our productivity and our charitable dollars.
  8. Staff change will no longer put us at risk as our methods and policies have enabled us to continue to work regardless of change.
  9. We have developed a high-performance work environment to achieve our goals and maintain high-performance staff.
  10. We have more time to invest in building relationships with our valued donors, so we are a true donor-centered organization.

Change starts at the top. We challenge executive directors to invest in change which can be implemented quickly and show instant results. Write these changes into the charity’s bylaws so that no one can ignore them, so chaos doesn’t return in the future.

As a final note, don’t say you don’t have time. Everyone has time for their priorities which affects their business. May HOW become your mantra not CAN’T!

Introduction to NPI Non Profit Intelligence

Introduction to NPI and why Knowledge and Skills impact a charities ability to keep staff, raise funds and become sustainable

The Knowledge Driven Charity Behoves Donor-Centric Fundraising

temples baganDonor-centric fundraising is all the rage. It makes a great deal of sense. Know who your donors are and why they are motivated to support a charity; ensure their gifts are allocated as requested; do the appropriate stewardship to show the charity understands their giving goals with supporting information. The final piece is the donor’s interest in how the charity runs. Is it efficient? Does it use its time and resources effectively? Is it able to meet its funding goals and are donor dollars well used?

We think this sounds wonderful until we look into how the charity is functioning at a more in depth level. Experience has shown us that many charities use their donor management system for receipting and usually this is tasked to a single individual. Fund development staff is often several steps away from any meaningful interaction with the data other than report requests.

This begs the question, how does a charity employ a donor centric approach to working with its donors under these conditions? A further observation has to do with staff turnover and the effect on information retention, pertaining to interactions with donors which would be used for future fundraising and stewardship support.

Running a charity begins at the top. It is incumbent on senior management to employ a methodology that ensures the best possible care of all types of information a charity needs to support a donor-centric approach to its valued donors. People can and do give their money anywhere they choose to, so what is the best way to influence donors and ensure their interest remains strongly attached to a specific charity? What would you like donors to know about how the charity functions in support of both its goals and those who support them?

Let’s begin with the Knowledge Driven Charity.  First and foremost it will address the capture of important data.  Standards exist which include everything from how to search to ensure a donor record is new to prevent duplication, to how the information is recorded to give maximum benefit to the donor and a fundraising team. Next is the gift and where it is positioned to show donor support. Values like ‘designated’ in the fund field provide little information, so how can the data recorded by appeal or campaign, be entered for maximum effect? This pertains not only to the charity but for the donor as well.

How charity staff work is equally important to a Knowledge Driven Charity. Taking too long to perform a task, being unable to access reports, not knowing how to pull a reasonable export, these are a result of training or the lack thereof. The idea training is expensive is a misconception. What is expensive is guessing how things work and making poor decisions on how to achieve work with charity data.

The Knowledge Driven Charity documents a non-profits’ best practices, describing for staff how to perform jobs recorded in easy to follow and maintain, point form. There is skilled labour in this marketplace so why let these skills leave without an appropriate capture. The time saved by staff and the recognition gained those by those who share their knowledge is of great value to an organization whether for profit or not.

Here’s an example. An engineer firm sent out field managers to check certain aspects of their jobs. One such manager had a check list. He used this list before every trip to ensure he had all the right tools to do whatever was necessary. The other field operatives did not and subsequently wasted company time with trips back and forth to the office to pick up what they forgot.  The solution was simple, the check list was now a company resource and the expectation was that all field managers used it to ensure no more unneeded trips, wasted time and more importantly unneeded cost. In the world of a charity, this might be a word processing skill or who to create a report or how to properly build an in memory campaign. Time is expensive and when it is wasted there is a consequence which impacts productive actions sidelined by waste.

Naysayers will tell you a knowledge approach would be difficult to implement, hard to maintain, too costly for a charity to consider. Our position is that it is not difficult because staff members become the champions of an improved workplace as stress is reduced and productivity soars.  A culture of Plan First is the rally cry. Time is freed up and accountability sets in as ones actions will affect another. ‘Too costly’ is what the charity is currently experiencing through costs associated with busy time.

Write these new methods into the documents that define the charity. Include in all job descriptions specific requirements with consequences to address any laxness that undermines the team.

Implement the Knowledge Driven Charity. Identify the charity’s commitment and share it with donors and funders. Be prepared for the Reaction and for the Results!

Is your Special Event Boom or Bust?



First and foremost a special event needs to be enjoyable. To that end it needs the right venue, the right food, the right environment, the right audience and the right price.  Consider your goals when approaching each of these and a good rule of thumb is based on whether you would enjoy what is being offered and better yet, if you would go back to experience it again!

  What is the objective?
It’s important to understand what the event wants to achieve. There are many activities competing for attendees and dollars these days. Consider carefully how to ensure that event guests understand the charity’s needs and enable them to contribute financially.

I recently attended two similar fundraising events with slightly different outcomes. Let’s take a closer look at what made one of them far more successful than the other.

The first event was to fund activities in central Africa. I arrived to a room teaming with guests. The event featured silent auction tables and a bountiful buffet. The key to this event and its outcome was the auctioneer, a city media celebrity with a great knack for entertaining people who made sure the auction was a success.

Connect your guests to the mission
Rather than building complacence after a heavy meal, the auctioneer stepped up to the microphone and announced the live auction.  Attendees could “purchase” beds for a hospital, goats and chickens, there was a rather large donation needed for a health related area on the table.  The Beds were about $100.00 each so he started with a request for 40 beds … as one hand went up after another, he counted … 40 Beds done.  Next, came the request for a goat, kid and chicken, 50 sets for families. The price $65.00 … so let’s see those hands once more.  As the hands went up volunteers passed each contributor a form to complete which would be used to make a payment over the course of the evening.

This approach was very successful. Rather than wasting dollars on frippery at the silent auction table, people could see that what they were purchasing was directly assisting the charity’s goal to provide this community with what it needed.

The second event was for a charity working in North Africa.  This event was less successful but had just as much potential. The charity was looking for money to help support children to attend one full school year. Desks, books, a uniform and medical help were required. At no time, were these items offered through a live auction. The event, although nice to attend, forgot the time old truth – you need to ask!

Investing in a personality who will make ‘the ask’, works. Depending on the age of the audience you may find people who no longer want to collect unessential things through auction purchases but rather have discretionary income to purchase an item of value to the charity in question. Forty dollars for a desk is an easy ask, or a full package for one child for a mere $275.00.

When hosting your next event be sure to consider your goals. Look at what you hope to achieve and how you can frame your ‘ask’ to encourage guests can give. Purchasing something of value gives donors the feeling they have made a difference.

In Conclusion
Be sure you record what guests have spent and follow up with them. It’s always nice to be informed about those who have been generous by recording the amounts gifted in your donor management software. Having the full giving history is definitely an advantage when engaging with your charity’s supporters.

Side Note: When you go to a restaurant your server will often ask how you liked your meal. We would like to suggest a better question being ‘Would you come back?’. I think this is equally relevant for a special event hosted by a charity.



Fascinating, Exciting, Defining: Past, Present and Future

Who Can I Turn ToWords 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

Defining Priorities

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!

Sharron Batsch

High Performance: Moving From Chaos to Control


Camel at rest in Petra

How important is the information your charity uses to sustain itself?  The information we refer to is found in donor gifts and interactions, funding research and grants, sponsorships and planned gifts.

This information is an asset. We can add to this asset by including all the tools that an organization builds to perform its fundraising activities. These tools take time to create, they reflect the organization and they are built at a cost thereby having value. When we hear that information is dull we wonder who is dull, could it be the person who doesn’t understand its value?

How can information be dull when it tells you so many things that enable a charity to react in a timely manner; address a donor at a critical time; enter into discussions that result in a major gift or build a planned giving program with committed donors?

This information is hardly dull it is a charity’s lifeline.

When information is not well tended it gets lost, it’s incomplete, it results in a charity looking less than credible, and it puts the charity at risk.

No matter how important staff members may think they are to a charity, they do change. They move to new jobs and what do they leave behind? In many cases, very little is left for new staff to work with and this loss is a setback to the charity. How many setbacks has your charity experienced? We suggest you look at staff changes in the fund development department and see how it has impacted over the years.

If you took everyone out of your fund development department today, how credibly would your organization be able to continue its fundraising activities? We use the word credibly because the loss or inaccessibility of information also pays a toll.

Story: The new fund development manager came from a high tech company. She met with a key donor for the first time. They discussed the donor’s interest in the charity. She asked if he would be attending the Christmas gala … I always attend came the response. Would you be interested in being a sponsor? … I am already a sponsor was the answer.

For an asset that is called dull … we begin to understand dull is not the right word … essential and valuable is a better way to look at it.

The next question is “whose responsibility is it to manage this information”? We think it is the charity’s responsibility backed up by some very well defined job descriptions that ensure staff members know what is expected of them and how those expectations address the charity’s most valuable asset, its capture and retention.

Dull is not the right word; under-estimated would be more accurate.

From Chaos to Control moving your charity to a High Performance Organization