How is Knowledge Management Unique for Nonprofits?

In general, the principles of knowledge management are the same in the nonprofit sector as those for other sectors. The real differences are in the crucial practical details.

For example, let’s visualize a nonprofit organization that has a web site; on that web site, visitors can make donations, register and pay for events, subscribe to the organization’s newsletters, and buy merchandise with the nonprofit’s logo on it.

In such a scenario, it’s crucial for the nonprofit to understand its stakeholders’ interests and needs, by capturing information that is coming in via the web site and organizing it in a constituent relationship management system, and by cross-referencing it with existing records. Likewise, financial transactions that are taking place via the web site will need to be shared with the nonprofit’s accounting system, in a manner that is secure and private.

The importance of sharing of knowledge across different software platforms in order to serve stakeholders more effectively is well understood by virtually every KM expert. However, it’s unrealistic to expect that a KM expert whose practice is centered on large military, corporate, or university clients to understand or have first hand experience with all of the following:

  • The needs of a very small organization.
  • The needs of an organization that has a bottom line other than shareholder value.
  • The culture of a nonprofit organization.
  • The operations of a nonprofit organization.

If you’ve ever been approached by a software vendor who used language like “your corporate headquarters,” “customer retention,” or “quarterly sales projections,” then you will probably understand what we mean. Chances are very good that their products and services are quite solid, but these vendors have not done their homework about the vocabulary or the operations of your nonprofit organization. The nonprofit sector is just another market among many to such vendors, and they have not hand-tailored their offerings to serve you. Whenever possible, we recommend that you seek vendors and software options that are dedicated to serving the specific needs of nonprofit organizations.