Why centralising knowledge can help your charity. What knowledge management tools to use. How to rollout your new tool across the organisation.
Where does your charity’s knowledge live? Is it dispersed across multiple tools, trapped in PDFs and Word files, and living in co-workers’ heads?
Scattered, inaccessible knowledge is the reality for most charities today. We all know how frustrating it is when we can’t find that grant template or report we need. And how disruptive it is when we have to wait two hours for a colleague to reply to our policy question. We waste time and become less productive.
This is where centralising knowledge comes in.
Centralising knowledge means having all organisational information accessible in one place. Instead of switching between multiple tools and searching different locations, employees can find everything together, including:
- HR and payroll information
- Charity policies
- Fundraising docs
- Team workspaces (a dedicated area in the tool for teams to work openly together)
And any other important information staff may need.
On top of saving precious time, you can achieve the following benefits from centralising you charity's knowledge:
- Better communication - because everyone is accessing the same information
- Streamlined processes - due to less switching between tools
- Smarter and faster decisions - because information is at everyone’s fingertips
- More innovation - because teams are aligned and more able to think creatively
- Reduced risk - because maintenance and security processes happen automatically.
About knowledge management tools
Tools that manage knowledge and simplify work
Digital tools for managing knowledge have been around since the 1990s. Today, the most common umbrella terms for these digital platforms are ‘Knowledge Management System’ and ‘Knowledge Management Tool’ (KM tool).
The purpose of a knowledge management system is to get the right knowledge to the right people, at the right time. Used correctly, a knowledge management system should become your company’s single source of truth. That’s easier to achieve with the latest KM tool technology because:
- The data is stored in the cloud so is always up-to-date
- The KM tool/s are easier to use so more employees can share knowledge
Over the past five years, KM tools have become more user-centric and collaborative. Now, you’ll find features like:
- Real-time collaborative editing - so multiple people can review and edit a document at the same time
- User permissions - so administrators can control who can view, edit, and publish
- Open and closed workspaces - so teams can work together while keeping sensitive information private
- Template libraries - so you can quickly start structuring knowledge and documentation
It’s much faster and smoother than saving a new version of a file every time you update it.
You can also use modern KM tools for more than creating and accessing documents. You can use them to do things like:
- Run projects
- Host databases
- Automate repetitive tasks
- Onboard new staff members
This is why so many KM tools claim they can replace several of your current tools.
The key knowledge management tools serving non-profits
There are hundreds of tools to choose from.
According to the software review site G2, these are the top three KM tools for small businesses*:
- Notion - offers 50% off its Team Plan to non-profits
- ClickUp - contact email@example.com to enquire about a discount
- Confluence - offers 75% off for eligible non-profits
Many KM tools, including those above, are free to try. So if you’re unsure what’s right for your charity, select a few free plans and try them out.
*‘Small businesses’ is a proxy filter for charities as G2 does not have a non-profit filter.
How to choose the right KM tool for your charity
1. Understand which features you'll need
Today’s KM tools offer a lot of powerful features. You may not need every feature, but you will need the following:
Good user experience
If you want your team to use your system, it needs to be accessible and easy to use. So check that the tool works well across all key devices—desktop, tablet, and smartphone.
Powerful search functionality
Tracking down internal information can be time consuming. This is why your KM tool needs good search functionality. Your employees should be able to type what they are looking for into the tool’s search bar and instantly receive the relevant link.
Your charity probably already uses a range of digital tools. If you’re going to centralise all your information, your KM tool needs to integrate with these tools. Examples may include:
- Google Drive
- Microsoft Teams
These integrations are important because they let you automatically import or convert existing files into your tool. This is the fastest way of getting all your information in one place.
2. Focus on your goals and needs
Choose a KM tool based on three key criteria:
- How well it can help you achieve your organisation’s goals
- How well it can support your staff and/or volunteers’ needs
- How well it has helped other charities
Here’s a framework to help you answer each of these.
A. Define your goals
Why do you want to centralise knowledge? Maybe you want to increase efficiency by reducing the number of repetitive questions to HR? Or boost collaboration and culture by encouraging more team members to share their expertise? List these goals, then keep them in your mind when comparing the tools. They will help you focus on your priorities.
B. Talk to your employees and volunteers
If everyone in your charity is going to use and love your KMS, the tool needs to be so intuitive they don’t think twice about using it. For that to happen, you need to do some user research and uncover your team’s pain points. You can do this by running 1:1 interviews or sending out a short survey. Invite your co-workers to describe the last time they needed to find some information. What was difficult, and why? The better you understand your team’s challenges, the easier it will be to find the right solution.
C. Ask other charities for advice
You don’t need to start from scratch. More charities are starting to experiment with modern KM tools and share their learnings. This shared Guide from Carefree is a fantastic example. If you’re part of any charity communities, consider asking what tools people have tried and what pros and cons they have found.
How to roll out your new KMS
When it comes to digital tools, you cannot rely on the “build it, and they will come” strategy. After all, change is hard. So once you’ve identified the right KM tool, you need to create a rollout plan.
Here are a few things to consider.
Don’t do everything at once - launch with one team first
Trying to migrate everything at once is a recipe for stress. Instead, begin by running a trial with your most tech-confident colleagues. These folks are more likely to be open to new software. If you get them on board first, they can help you convince and train the rest of the organisation. A trial is also a great way to test the tool before committing to a full switch.
Put your marketing hat on - communicate the value
'What’s in it for me?' This is the question you need to answer for every team member when you introduce your new tool. Maybe it’s the hours they can save because everything is easy to find. Or perhaps its the clarity they will gain from not switching between multiple tools. Whatever the benefits are, make them the centre of your pitch. And keep repeating them.
Steal with pride - borrow and share best practices
Most new tools have steep learning curves at the start. So take advantage of the tool’s built-in templates and help centre guides and share them with everyone. Then follow up with some in-depth online training workshops. Be sure to record the sessions so people can revisit them afterwards. You can also contact Carefree via their service recipe.
Remember: perfect is the enemy of done. Start small and use your trial project to prove its value to the rest of the charity first.
Image attribution: Carefree's use of Notion, reused from Shared Digital Guides