After six years with Idealware, I finally used up the last of the storage space in my Gmail account. Digging through years of archived messages, I kept asking myself, “Why the heck did I keep that!” What was I planning on doing with 3,000 digests from Progressive Exchange?

I—like many of you, I suspect—held on to all these miscellaneous emails because I convinced myself that I was going to need to search through them for some future article or research project. Maybe I assumed that in the event of societal collapse, my email account would be the last surviving repository of human knowledge and that the other survivors really needed to know those 10 Tips to Maximize Your Facebook Page”?

Coincidentally, I’ve been working on a research project to identify best practices for email retention policies—how long to keep your conversations before sending them to The Great Recycle Bin in The Sky. One of the many reasons people don’t want to adopt these policies is that same problem I have—they think that their emails are the end-all, be-all fount of institutional knowledge. But if these old email threads are so essential to your organization’s work, what are they doing in your email account? Is only thing preserving these sacred texts for future generations is your (probably terrible) password?

Dramatic pose of a character from Indiana Jones

http://indianajones.wikia.com/wiki/File:Knight.png

(Sorry, I get dramatic after my fifth cup of coffee.)

Look, if everything your organization needs to know about a past project, or a major donor, or that big grant you’ve been milking for the past three years lives in one person’s email account, what do you think happens when that person retires? Or gets hit by a bus? Do you really expect someone to go in, reset your password, and try to search through years and years of email sorted in an organization scheme that reads like the Dewey Decimal System on ‘shrooms?

So, save us all the hassle and start storing your knowledge someplace that doesn’t need a world-class grave robber (and terrible professor, tbh) to uncover. All that information from filing your 990 last year?—save it as a .PDF and keep it on your organization’s file server. I’d name the folder “Tax Records”, or “990 Filings,” but you do you. Those emails with donors? Those should go in your donor management system, CRM, or what have you, as part of that donor’s record. (Don’t have one of those yet? We have a free report on that topic: A Consumers Guide to Low-Cost Donor Management Systems.)