If you won the lottery and left your job tomorrow, would your org be able to pick up where you left off?
If you’re thinking NOPE, then this one’s for you. Let’s get into it.
When we talk about doing mission-driven work, we hardly ever talk about documenting it. That’s cause when you’re already so busy, this can be a drag! To some, documentation is the grunt work of event-planning with all the thrill of watching paint dry.
Writing this post, I was skeptical that this would even make for an interesting topic.
But we can’t just ignore this topic! Drudgery aside, documentation is key to how we make a lasting impact at work.
Plus, I’m in documentation purgatory right now. So I can personally attest, this task is so worth your while to do early. 😇
Sure. But do I really need to document for my role?
Great question. Who among us needs to be doing this?
As a database admin, there’s no escape for me. But ultimately, you want to ask yourself that question I posed earlier: if you needed to leave work tomorrow for whatever reason, could someone feasibly step in & carry your work forward?
And if the answer is no, what would they need in order to make that happen? That’s your documentation goal.
Keep an eye out for a post or two about the specific things your org should be documenting. For now, here are examples of instances where not having documentation can get messy:
- Social Media. A toast to all the comms folks in my nonprofit Facebook groups, who need to jump through hoops just to gain access to a social profile…all because the last gal didn’t document the credentials. 🥂
- Fundraising & events. Any sort of stewardship or cultivation process that needs to be scaled – like gala-planning or donor acknowledgements – must live in written form somewhere. Otherwise, it basically doesn’t exist.
- Tech Implementations. With how expensive these are, you’d think this would be high priority. But honestly, documentation is rarely ever that. So when your consultant/data admin finally does leave, they take that knowledge of those systems with them.
psst! Technical documentation can be a daunting task, especially if you don’t know where to start! That’s why I put together an easy System Documentation Checklist that you can grab here.
5 Reasons To Start Documenting Your Work Today
1. It’s a written testament to all you’ve accomplished.
Did you build out an entire Salesforce database with fields & objects? Or maybe you’re the star who set up all of your org’s social media profiles finally! That stuff took effort, so think of your documentation as the “evidence” that it all really did happen.
2. It’s the bridge between your work and the organization.
My team may not understand exactly how fields work in Salesforce, or even where to find them. And probably best to keep it that way!
But they can wrap their heads around a spreadsheet. Which means they have a reference point if they ever need to try understanding what’s in our database, or need to hand that knowledge off to someone else.
3. It’s intellectual property that, ethically speaking, can’t just live in your brain.
None of us should relish the idea of being the sole owners for our work. Whether we’re documenting a thank-you letter process or a 5-year strategic plan, those contributions belong to our orgs.
That means it’s our ethical responsibility to package that knowledge in a way that our orgs can really own. Otherwise, we’re neglecting a major part of the job.
4. Documentation helps you recall the stuff you’re bound to forget.
Remember the pensieve from Dumbledore’s office, where we got to relive the fun memories of Barty Crouch’s trial and Snape’s childhood?
Think of documentation as your own nonprofit pensieve: a way for you to not play the guessing game when someone inevitably has a question about something. Which is bound to happen, even for that stuff you’d least expect.
5. It’s a real, impressive skill.
Like I said earlier, most of us aren’t diving into documentation. Which can only mean one thing: most of us are probably terrible at it!
Be the person who is good at documenting their org’s processes and building institutional knowledge. You become a true a gem for your nonprofit, and the bees knees wherever you decide to interview next.