Future-Proofing Your Org:
Guarding Against the Ravages of Staff Turnover

GUEST-BLOG-ICONToday’s blog post is written by Rachel Hands, Senior Manager, Client Administration, Patron Technology.

If you’re like most nonprofits, turnover is a significant concern for you. Your staff’s knowledge is one of your most valuable assets (even/especially if you’re the only staff member), and you stand to lose a ton of time and effort if that knowledge goes away when someone gets sick, moves across the country, or decides to pursue a new career path.

If you’re among the many who haven’t yet created a robust internal documentation system to protect your organization against the impact of turnover (not to mention the impact of just forgetting things), we’ve got a few tips for documenting your org’s processes so that new folks (and those who just need a refresher) can hit the ground running:

Decide what to document. Think about the tasks you and your colleagues do on a daily/weekly/monthly basis, and what documentation you might already have. (The beginning or end of a season is a good time for this step.) This can be overwhelming if you aren’t sure where to start, so here are a few general suggestions:

  • Narrow down your options first by defining a few large-scale projects, like “subscription renewals” or “end-of-year Annual Appeal”, then work your way down to the details for doing specific tasks within each project.
  • As you’re writing, assume the person reading the instructions will be doing the task for the first time. Be as explicit and specific as possible.
  • You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, though – throughout your instructions, include information about where the reader can find other resources, such as (to take a totally random example) your CRM system’s help materials.
  • Remember to let the reader know who’s involved in each project. When does the board need to approve budgets or pricing? When does the Artistic Director need to be brought into a conversation?
    • Any time you refer to another person in your documentation, use titles, not names, even if it feels needlessly formal. “Taylor” might not be there the next time someone needs these instructions, but “the Board Chair” will be there forever.
  • (Bonus tip: random kittens are always appreciated.)

Decide how to document it. Now, think about some practical questions. Where is this document going to live? What tool(s) are you going to use to create the content? There are lots of options out there, but whatever you choose, I recommend making it easily editable, searchable, and accessible in the cloud.

  • Find out what free tools are available: Google docs are great for most uses, or consider using a project management app like Trello.
  • Accessible means accessible (and editable) by more than one person. Even if you’re the only staff member, make sure others can get to this documentation! If you don’t have staff available, give your board members access.
  • Whatever platform you use, make sure it lets you include images. A picture is worth way more than a thousand words, and a video is even better. (I like Jing for free video screencasting.)

redesigned help tab_no SF border

Decide when to document it. For most people, this is the really tough part. There are roughly a million other blog posts and books about Finding Time to Do That Thing You Should Do, so I won’t get too deeply into that here. (I can go on about this at length, though, and if you’d like to talk more about it, I definitely want to hear from you in the comments!)

I will say that for me, it’s important to schedule time for it, and treat that time as if it were a meeting with another human. That means that you’re accountable for the task you’ve blocked out time for, and if you don’t get to it, you reschedule it for a more realistic time, like you would a meeting with a colleague. (This mindset can backfire on you: if my Google calendar told me it was time to jump off a cliff, I PROBABLY WOULD.)

If you can make the documentation itself part of your routine – “at the end of the season, we review and adjust our documentation” with specific tasks assigned to specific roles within your organizations (remember – titles, not names!), you’ll be even better off.

Once you get over that hurdle, I’d be willing to bet you’ll find that time well spent.

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3 responses to “Future-Proofing Your Org:
Guarding Against the Ravages of Staff Turnover

  1. The accessibility and habitual upkeep of resources like this is such an important point, Rachel. Part of the challenge is having a documentation resource that is also memorable – in a place visible to all members of the team, even if that place is everyone’s browser bookmarks toolbar.

    1. Absolutely! Visibility is key, which means thinking about where people are likely to look for this help when they need it, and what keywords they’d be likely to search for in a given topic. And folks often tend to overlook the value of browser tools like the bookmarks toolbar and folders, or setting multiple “home” tabs.

  2. Love those tools, especially if you can keep them organized and focused! We each see them what, 20 or 30 times a day?

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