What’s in your filing cabinet?

For whatever reason, I seem to get stuck bringing order to paper chaos in a workplace. While I probably could push this task to the bottom of my to-do list, my problem is I know what lurks in most central donor files. And it’s not pretty.

As fundraisers we may talk the talk, but we certainly don’t walk the walk when it comes to proper management of our donor files and paper documents. We’ve all heard the statement before “A donor has a right to see their file.” My question to you is: Which file will you show them? The official donor file in your central files that no one has updated in the last 3-5 years? Or the donor file that the current Development Officer created when they were assigned to the donor which contains their handwritten notes, the 5 drafts of a funding proposal and a photocopy of a standard thank you letter? Or would it be the donor file that the former Development Officer created and left in their desk drawer before they moved on to the next great thing? The file that includes those pledge reminders that should have been mailed out months ago but clearly weren’t because said Development Officer was out looking for the next great thing.

I think I’ve seen it all.

I’ve seen no less than 10 copies of a document interspersed within a file, only to discover that the original is no where to be found. I’ve seen emails printed every single time a response occurred, resulting in email replies printed multiple times. I’ve seen personnel paperwork in filing cabinets that were not locked and accessible to anyone (and yes, that means I inadvertently discovered a co-workers salary and vacation entitlement). While paper purging I’ve come across annual reports dating back to 1997, newspaper clippings for defunct companies, newsletters from the 1980’s and even a pair of 3D glasses.

Some of the more interesting things I've found while reviewing paper files.
Some of the more interesting things I’ve found while reviewing paper files – and yes that is a cassette tape in the photo.

I have to ask: Why do we insist on photocopying multiple copies of documents, haphazardly stuffing them in a file folder, shoving the file in a cabinet and never reviewing it ever again?

Based on my experience culling files (and emptying multiple 5 drawer lateral filing cabinets in the process), here is some advice I hope those with a penchant for paper will take into consideration:

1. Documents older than 7 years can probably be safely shredded. The exception to this rule is if the documents relate to a donor that has either an auspicious or drama-filled history with the organization.

2. If a company has gone out of business, it’s probably safe to chuck the multiple newspaper clippings exalting their earlier business successes. In fact the entire file could probably be shredded.

3. If a donor has passed away and they did not make a bequest, it’s probably safe to shred their file.

4. If someone, at sometime, carefully photocopied everything in 2006, 2007 and 2008 but this careful documentation didn’t continue after that date, you have to question the point of keeping the incomplete set of documents. What is the value of those documents if the most recent correspondence hasn’t been retained or filed? Very little – feel free to shred it.

5. Email correspondence was typically printed off and filed back in the day. Sadly, every single time a reply was generated, the email was printed. Ugh. Thankfully this practice seems to have died off. Feel free to shred these old email communications – the multitude of subsequent emails have all but rendered these early correspondences quaint and useless.

6. Photocopies of cheques are probably being kept by those who process the gifts. That copy should be sufficient. Don’t feel compelled to photocopy pledge forms, cheques or tax receipts. It’s redundant and a security concern.

7. When standard correspondence is mailed, and this mailing is documented within your donor database, there is no need to photocopy it and file it.

8. A master copy of a formal correspondence such as a donor agreement should be saved. Multiple photocopies are not necessary.

9. If you are unsure about whether to keep or shred a document, keep it, but promise me you will revisit it in a year`s time to reevaluate its value.

10. If you are going to keep donor files, come up with a process for what is kept and what isn’t. And please, for the sake of everyone’s sanity – review the files on an annual basis.

So, what is in your filing cabinet?

One thought on “What’s in your filing cabinet?

  1. Yellowing paper was an indicator for me to cull materials.
    I love finding marketing communication materials to archive.
    At the National Ballet every staff member is given an archive box and when filled an appointment made with the archivist.
    Great read Liz !

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