A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

I just spent the last week drawing pictures. And although you’ll never see them displayed in a famous art museum, they are still of significant value. Using a series of squares, diamonds, and arrows, I drew out a process flow chart to document a new responsibility I’ve recently taken on. And in my opinion, there is no better time to document a process than when you’re first learning it.

I’ll be using the flow chart to create even more documentation - for every step of the process, simultaneously as I learn it. Writing it down helps me define and absorb the information, and putting it on paper (so to speak) gives me a place to go when I need to refresh my memory. I was even able to identify a gap in the process, where information was not moving through to the next step. I simply added a new step and now it flows more smoothly.

I make the ‘procedures manual’ recommendation to our customers every chance I get, because the need to document is no less important in the world of fund development than it is in any other sector of the business world. It may even be more critical, considering the ongoing responsibility to protect and steward the relationships your organization has with life-long donors.

Too many of our customer organizations describe the same unfortunate scenario: there has been 100% turnover in their staff and no one has a clue how to continue the work of their predecessors. No one wrote anything down before they left (including, sometimes, the password to the fundraising database!) and they have no idea where to start. Well, there’s no place like the beginning and no time like the present.

If you’ve never created a procedures manual, you might be tempted to start with a process that is simply too large to handle, like gift-processing. Instead of tackling it all at once, consider breaking it up into smaller processes with a narrower focus, like gift entry and gift acknowledgment. Identify everyone who plays any role in the process and map it all out in chronological order. There are templates out there to help you, right inside your Microsoft Office products, and more information in the logical places on the web (eHow, Wikipedia, etc.).

Once you get your drawing down on paper (or on the screen), take each step and break it down even further. Write up a list of procedures for that step and then pull together any related resources (like email templates, screenshots, forms, contact information, etc.). You’ll be well on your way to building your procedures manual in no time.

And if you are an experienced process diagrammer with some tips to recommend, please do so freely here. The best ideas are shared.