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DIY Engagement Benchmarking Survey Section 7: Operational Documentation

Resources for internal documentation of all your key business processes.

Your website goes down because nobody remembered to pay the renewal fee for your domain. Nobody remembered because your domain registrar sent the electronic invoice to a staff member who’s no longer at your organization, and none of your current staff even know who your domain registrar is. Has this ever happened to you?

The contact information for your direct mail vendor, for your landlord, for your internet provider – where are they? The password to your Google Analytics account, your stock account number for stock gifts, your EIN number, or the combination to your storage unit where all of your financial paper files from the last 15 years of operation live…who on your staff is responsible for this stuff? In a perfect world – the world you want to live in – all of this information is stored in a place that is known and accessible by multiple staff. Ideally your CRM or database.

A CRM with good permissioning functionality is the best place to store your important passwords and logins and vendor contacts, as you can control and provide appropriate access to the right staff and everyone knows where to look. For important policy and process documentation (How do financial deposits get made? How and to whom do employees report grievances? Who’s our CPA and when is our next audit scheduled?), a staff and board wiki, or at least a policies and procedures folder on your server, is both practical on a day-to-day basis but also a lifesaver in cases of organizational emergency (IRS audit, anyone?) or when a key staff member moves to Tahiti on short notice.

Feeling like you don’t have good, organized, accessible documentation of key business processes, vendor relationships, service logins, etc? Don’t despair. NOW is the perfect time to get started!

Step 1: Identify the staff members who hold critical business operation information (in their heads, in their Outlook calendar or contacts lists, on sticky notes).

Step 2: Agree on and publicize the location where you plan to store the critical business operation information, and who will have access.

Step 3: Start collecting and documenting! It’s often useful to think about the information that’s necessary to run your organization on a daily, weekly, monthly, and annual basis. If the staff members doing the documenting imagine that they’re moving to Tahiti next month, and expect everyone else to carry on without their help, that’s the right frame of mind for ensuring the important details get captured.

Step 4: Establish a schedule for reviewing and updating this information. Annually is usually good for financial, HR process and procedures, and critical logins and passwords. However, prior to starting a major project (like building a new website) can also be the perfect time to make sure that all of the information required to successfully complete the project is gathered in the right place and up-to-date.

There are resources out there to help you, and we’ve listed a few below. When we talk about engagement, we’re often talking about engaging with your supporters, activists, decision-makers, etc. But it’s hard to prioritize relationship-building with these folks when you’re regularly (or even occasionally) in crisis over misplaced logins, unknown vendor contact information, or forgotten basic processes that keep your organization afloat. And if you rely on a single staff person to manage all this stuff with no documentation or contingency plan, that’s kind of like not backing up your server or your CRM. And you’ve got that covered, right? Right?

RESOURCES:

Nonprofit Operations Manual Template, Aspiration

Three Very Important Manuals for Nonprofit Organizations, Heather Carpenter

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