Why should we care about filing? It uses up paper, takes up space, and eats up valuable staff time.

But filing isn’t just about all that paper that we can’t seem to stop generating. It’s about having the information you need at your fingertips when you need it

Why file paper copies:

Until everyone in your office is comfortable going paperless, or your boss gets religion and insists on it, you need to provide information in a way that everyone who needs it can use it. If my 60-year-old colleague just isn’t comfortable finding information in the computer; if she needs that piece of paper with the moves tracking in front of her then I’m going to provide it. What’s more important-dragging your best donor prospecter into the 21st century kicking and screaming, or making sure she’s got the tools she needs to make prospect calls?

How to do it:

Have filing protocols: what types of documents get filed both hard and electronically. What types of files do you file only one way or the other (for instance handwritten donor notes– do you scan?) Do you have separate sections for small, major, and institutional donors, or everything alphabetical in one big cabinet (or set of cabinets)? Whose name do you use in two-surname couples? Remember, your electronic filing protocols should be identical– you don’t want to have to learn two systems. If you make a new folder each year for an institutional donor in the filing cabinet, make a matching one in the computer.  If the Smith-Joneses are filed under Mr. Smith’s name in the hard files, that’s how it should be in the computer too. And then make a placeholder file under the other name to direct people to the main one.

Why do you need paper copies, much less a “protocol” What is this, Buckingham Palace?

Trust me, they don’t lose stuff at Buckingham Palace. This isn’t something you shunt off on the intern-of-the-month. Train the people filing so they know where stuff goes. Have one go-to person if there’s a question. Don’t just drop a bunch of papers on the newbie’s desk and say “file them.” I guarantee you will have duplicate files, misfiles, and lost files. (In fact that’s what inspired this post. I was going through a client’s files to remove “dead” folders–literally, people who had died–and found that about 10% of the folders were dupes, misplaced, and incorrectly labeled.) This goes for documents on the computer too–make sure people are filing things all according to the same protocols.  Train them.

When should you file:

Every. Damn. Day.  People who say “oh I know where everything is” don’t. And if they do, well, great for them, but what if someone else needs that file? Further, never remove an entire folder from the file cabinet. Take the documents that you need, but leave the folder in place. Removed folders have a way of migrating from the top of the cabinet, to someone’s desk, to their briefcase, to home, where it will languish forever.  Next time someone says, hey, did Dr. Smith ever respond to the president’s note about his dog? the file won’t be there, and no one will know where it went.

Too much paper. We’re trying to save the earth, not to mention cut expenses

  • Go back to the protocols and decide what you don’t need paper copies of (for instance, you don’t need to copy standard proposal addenda. Just staple a form listing what standard addenda were included with the packet).
  • Make everything double sided that you can.
  • Copy thank you letters onto the backs of check copies or acceptance letters. This also has the advantage of never separating the thank you letter from the gift or gift notification.

Why can’t everyone just do what feels right to them?

Well, my box office manager is in Spain this week. If I can’t find something, do I call him in Spain? Or do I wait a week to find out where he put it?

Or do I just have ironclad rules, so that anyone who knows them can find what they need.