I had a great time collaborating with Rachael Stark (the uber librarian) on the Annkissam white paper about knowledge management for nonprofits. One of our challenges in writing it was our recognition that many nonprofit professionals might be in a lot of organizational pain without realizing that the pain might be addressed by a knowledge management strategy. We then had fun coming up with typical scenarios that anyone would recognize as problems, and that we knew to be knowledge management challenges. By articulating them, we might be able to meet nonprofit professionals where they were and offer them assistance.
We were well into the creation of the white paper, when I realized that I had been unconsciously influenced by a pamphlet that a friend of mine gave me long ago. He was a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, and this pamphlet asked some simple questions to help problem drinkers decide whether A.A. was for them.
Here are the scenarios that Rachael and I offered in our white paper on knowledge management for nonprofits. If you are a nonprofit professional, you can decide for yourself whether KM is for you:
- When a staff member gets sick, takes a leave, retires, resigns, or goes on vacation, then other employees are unable to locate crucial information.
- The executive director (or another top-level staff member) is scheduled to retire, but his/her most crucial organizational knowledge is not written down, and there is no strategy in place for conveying it to his/her successor.
- Project teams generate multiple versions of key documents, but it’s hard to gather all the changes in one place. No one knows for sure which version is the final one, and the wrong version may be used by accident.
- Staff members don’t know which colleague to approach with questions on a specific topic.
- No one in the nonprofit organization is certain about the history or current status of its relationship with a specific project, funder, or partner.
- Manuals of policies and procedures exist, but staff members have difficulty finding the relevant passage in them when they have a specific question that urgently needs to be answered.
- Staff members don’t know about existing resources and reports that could help them make good strategic decisions.
- Standard information that is needed for a routine operation must be gathered by hand from disparate paper and electronic sources each time it is needed.
- The organization has scaled up to national operations. Now that the staff members are geographically distant from each other, they have difficulty sharing or obtaining
information from their colleagues.
- Staff members feel frustrated, rushed and overworked because information is hard to find, or because they are never confident they have the right version.
- It is difficult to determine whether the nonprofit organization is meeting its mission fully, partially, or not at all.
- If the nonprofit organization is meeting its mission, it is difficult to ascertain what factors are making this possible, and what factors are extraneous.
Alcoholics Anonymous is a great organization, and one of the bits of A.A. wisdom my friend taught me is that success in helping people happens through “attraction, not promotion.” It is only when people are in enough pain that they are able to hear that help is available and willing to try doing things differently. Perhaps we can hypothesize, in a limited way, that as with recovery from alcoholism, so with adoption of a knowledge management strategy within a nonprofit organization.