Words offer perspective that can affect our mood and help us to see things differently. Something once considered difficult or tedious can be reframed as challenging or even exciting. For example: changing "I have to do this" to "I want to do this" can reduce stress and open our mind to new possibilities.
The same can be said when managing data. Changing the words “data management software” to “just in time memory” (JIT) can introduce a new paradigm where data is seen as both a conservation of history, and a source of sustainability for the future.
When you consider the value of maintaining a comprehensive organizational memory as a JIT Memory we begin to move past the dusty discussion of "information management" to something that clearly defines the charity and underlines the possibilities that will help it to succeed.
The past defines us
Our past defines us, shapes who we have become and hints at where we might go. Organizations should treasure their past records for the history they offer of what has been learned through previous experiences and interactions.
Introducing data policies to manage organizational memory helps a charity to understand the potential found in every individual they come in contact with; including past and current staff members, volunteer advocates, donors and funders. Those charities who have 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 donors is not a lot to expect; but for most organizations this is a monumental challenge. Individuals view each entry, not as part of a global memory, but as items of personal ownership. The "merge and purge" clean-up activity can result in wasted staff hours and duplicate entries, made even more exhausting by the number of times this activity is repeated.
The present inspires us
It is inspiring when a charity manages its existing resources effectively. Working in an organized environment creates calm. Time can be employed productively to focus on new opportunities, whether aimed at program or development activity. On the other hand, chaos breeds stress and stress is counterproductive to a high performance team. When chaos is the norm, staff changes become more frequent as failure to perform is the outcome.
To maintain the momentum and potential of a highly productive staff, organization and training becomes essential. 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. Training is necessary to sustain a charity’s knowledge base and prevent it from being undermined by incompetence. The assumption that tools and methods can be figured out through trial and error is not reasonable, and puts both the knowledge-base and the charity at risk.
“Education is never neutral or disinterested. It is always organized 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
Adopting a position that staff members are "too busy" to attend training or that the "cost is too high," fails to make effective use of an organization's human resources. Small, volunteer-run charities with annual budgets less than $50,000 may be excused (given their focus on survival) but once demand for dollars increases, it's time for a different paradigm.
Implementing knowledge management as a model
First and foremost, a leader is required to pilot a "knowledge management" project. This is not a job for mid-management 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 form of change is that staff members will be part of the process, offering what they know and have learned to build the system. Birthing something new, then documenting and integrating it into the mainstream takes time and endurance. These benefits need to be understood and embraced. Once accepted, the move to effective knowledge management becomes "normal" and results in a full understanding of the value of information and every addition to the knowledge model, including:
The future awaits
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 unproductive, (caused by disorganization and lack of priorities) it is time to take the plunge and evaluate all areas of information management and assemble what the group needs to move back to productive mode.
The solution can be simple to implement. The challenge may be found in enforcing methods with non-compliant staff. But be assured, non-compliance disappears as new staff members are hired and old ones leave. The key is maintaining an effective system throughout staff and board change. Including knowledge management processes into a charity’s charter ensures that no one person can erode its benefits. Let the organizational memory, maintained through solid knowledge management, sustain your charity through times of change, and lead into a well-supported, growth-oriented future.
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.