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  • Sharron Batsch


Chaos or Control: Does the Charity Have an Obligation to its Donors and Staff?

Commentary For many years, we have written articles about common issues affecting charities. Our commentaries and remarks have come from experience working directly with charities and their staff.

A frequent question has been, 'What is Your Legacy?'. The legacy we were referring to is the information development staff gain through contact with a charity's valued donors. The lack of shared knowledge or legacy impacts new staff members as staff come and go.

We wrote an article titled 'Charities Cause Fund Development to Fail' 2014, which looked at how the charity can offer a more effective environment for development staff.

The principles supported the idea that a charity is responsible for creating an environment where staff can achieve their goals, hence the charity's goals. The recommendations include common sense methods like the physical organization of all electronic tools used by staff. We referred to this collection as a Knowledge Management System (KMS), a simple folder environment defined by function to house the tools required by development staff. Time becomes an issue when information is disorganized as lengthy searches squander it.

When the charity defines a system to capture and retain valuable tools, staff members can find what they need when needed. As one senior manager remarked, “It is a place for everything and everything in its place.” When left to each staff member to make their own storage decisions, chaos results.

Decisions on how a shared KMS is managed and updated, it is necessary that the charity’s team oversee this important asset.

Obligations Looking at the risks charity incurs with no standards for information management, we have concluded that the charity has an obligation. This obligation to its donors to ensure staff members have a high performance environment to meet their objectives and that the knowledge the charity acquires to succeed is safe and not subject to gratuitous changes. A further obligation falls to its staff to ensure they have the skills required to do their job. 1. The Art of Organization and Time Management: The EaseKMS folder is accessible from the main menu. This is where all electronic tools can be accessed. We tout the 15-Second Rule when accessing documents or files, as we have used a KMS in our office for over 30 years. Some files in these folders can be linked to a donor through their Communications Tab found in the @EASE master record, providing easy access to information. 2. Intelligence: The donor’s Profile records gifts and transactions. Profile fields store relevant information about both donors and funders. In short contact memos, Dickens records past, present and future actions. When only donations are retained, we view the Profile as empty. Aside from gifts, a donor’s record may be empty when there are no rules or expectations for data capture. When staff leave, they leave with what they have learned tucked away in their memory, which is no longer accessible. 3. Obligation to Learn: Donor management software and various office applications are required to manage campaigns and communications. Our mantra is ‘Guessing is Not a Strategy’, which has repeatedly proven true. A statement of Obligation by staff to engage in learning is important as skills determine both effectiveness and efficiency. Training is often viewed as a cost, but we can assure you that guessing is costlier. Staff turnover can be considered a deterrent to training, but what if training resulted in more time for staff to engage with donors? What if these connections improved the number of charitable dollars? Would this positively impact staff salaries and job satisfaction? 4. Accountability: Thorough job descriptions and performance reviews are important to maintain a high performance team where everyone knows their roles and how they impact the team's and the charity's success. Developing a Knowledge Culture is an imminent part of that success. A charity is a knowledge-driven environment. Staff cannot sit down with a donor and confidently discuss the donor’s support and areas of interest if no one has taken the time to record it. When you cannot summon the donor's confidence, try to solicit a consequential gift.

Summation A statement of Charity Obligations may be needed in a competitive environment. A charity that wants to thrive needs to site its Obligations to its donors and staff.

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