Your nonprofit’s beginning may well be a lot like Idealware’s. For the first year or so, I wrote every article, researched every report, and conducted every conversation. There was no need to ensure that anyone else could use Idealware’s growing base of knowledge because I was the entire organization. Ten years and six more staff members later, it’s become a whole different situation. Together, we’ve built a huge body of information that we need to be able to use quickly and easily to create even more great resources. Knowledge management has become an important part of Idealware’s evolution. 

The term “knowledge management” doesn’t mean a lot by itself, but it describes a powerful concept. Idealware has generated hundreds of articles and reports; created tens of thousands of PowerPoint training slides; and built relationships with myriad nonprofit technology experts, staff members, consultants, vendors, and funders. Most of that information is in some system, but is it the right one? Is the knowledge and content itself actually findable for staff members who don’t know exactly the right word or acronym to search for?

As Idealware’s Director of Partnerships and Knowledge, it’s my job to develop a system that can get institutional knowledge out of people’s heads, document that knowledge, and centralize the information in a way that makes sense to anyone who needs it.

That said, there’s no single “knowledge management system” or technology that is going to solve our problems. (Speaking of knowledge, we have an article on that: Instead, we’re looking at a combination of systems, processes, and good old fashioned documentation to make sure we capture the highest priority information. We’re still working to define our strategy, and to get everyone’s input, but for us, our system’s likely to include:

  • Better ways to know what articles, training, and working materials we have for any given topic. The discovery process will probably include looking at how widely our knowledge covers nonprofit needs, the depth of the content, gaps in our information, and how up to date each resource is. We’ll also need to think through whether Salesforce is the best way to track this information or spreadsheets will do the job.
  • A more systematized process for how staff should track contacts, experts, consultants, vendors, and more through our Salesforce system.
  • A new centralized slide management system that will let us tag, track, and version each of our tens of thousands of PowerPoint slides. This will likely be the biggest effort in our 2015 knowledge management plan—but it will save untold hours finding and customizing training curriculum.
  • Documenting—probably through Word documents—the substantial knowledge we’ve gained about what’s important to particular audiences. For instance, what technology challenges do legal organizations face? What about food pantries or libraries? How does the funding infrastructure in those areas support Idealware training and reports?
  • Thinking through naming and tagging conventions for our file share.

Like I said, there’s not a ton of fancy technology needed to accomplish this. For the most part, it’s about making sure that the information is captured, tagged, and named effectively so everyone can find it.

As with any technology or process, we also need to make sure that it’s right-sized for our organization and that we have buy-in from all our staff. We need to make sure the processes to capture information are quick and easy, and everyone knows why it’s important and will ultimately help them.

Idealware might have started with me, but I don’t want it to end with me. We’re at the right point in our development to start thinking about what it takes to build a sustainable organization. For us, knowledge management is one big and important step.