Last week, I wrapped up a two-part series that contrasted two real life, real time volunteer stories. My hope in sharing the stories was to illustrate the need for Christian non-profit leadership to take a hard and honest look at current organizational systems and practices. I wanted to encourage us all to approach the challenges and obstacles that have become cliché in the non-profit sector with a fresh insight through a lens of stewardship and discipleship.
Keeping that in mind, I want to talk about another aspect of organizational volunteer strategy that is often overlooked, yet is crucial to stewarding volunteer resources well. Were you able to relate to the volunteer situation in part one of the series? Even though she was still with the organization, she gave very little notice that she was no longer willing to take charge of organizing the crucial annual fundraising event. Suddenly the organization was left in a lurch because only the executive director had the same comprehensive scope of knowledge required to execute the event. How many times have you faced a similar situation in your organization? How many times have you been left with a large hole that you couldn’t patch due to the loss of a volunteer with special knowledge or skill? How many times have smaller fires erupted just because the right person with the right knowledge within your organization wasn’t around when a question, issue, or challenging scenario arose? What could we do better to prevent, or at least significantly reduce, the occurrence of these scenarios?
This challenge is not exclusive to the non-profit sector. In fact, it is such an issue in the corporate world that there are entire companies dedicated to the solution of knowledge management, such as Mind Xtract. While Mind Xtract is specific to the oil & gas industry, the concept of knowledge management is rooted in solid principles of stewardship. Much like household finances cannot be stewarded well without a budget that gives every dollar a job, organizational resources are not being stewarded well if there is no plan in place, no system in action to retrieve, archive, and transfer the special knowledge of its human capital (employees or volunteer force) into a format that provides lasting operational value.
So, what can be done? Most faith based non-profits aren’t in a financial position to enlist the services of a third party or to buy expensive knowledge management software. You may have to boot-strap your knowledge management initially. Start old-school (well, kind of) and low budget (it will cost you time): ask your key volunteers to meet with you individually for an hour. Get their permission to record the meeting, and interview them about how they organize projects, what their processes are for certain tasks, the why behind these things, and the results they have produced. Use the recordings to produce documents that transfer the knowledge for new volunteers and appropriate staff members to learn from. Archive them until you need them. But whatever you do, make the effort and take the time to steward well the wealth of information and experience at your fingertips in the form of your volunteer force.
I would love to hear your ideas and feedback on this issue. Is your organization already addressing this issue? Do you already have a system in place that is working well? Click on the FB link to join us in a private FB group for Christian non-profit leaders to discuss this and more.