Organizational Memory Challenges Faced by Non-Profit Organizations

Organizational Memory Challenges Faced by Non-Profit Organizations

Kimiz Dalkir (McGill University, Canada)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 19
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-540-5.ch012
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Research on how organizational memories can be created, preserved and made available for future reuse in NPOs is presented. An initial review of the existing literature on organizational memory research is summarized. Particular emphasis is placed on the technologies used to support organizational memories and cultural considerations, particularly with respect to incentives. Three case studies are then be described to illustrate the particular challenges faced by the NPO sector: the Second Start school for students with behavioral problems, La Centrale, an artist-run centre, and Oxfam Quebec, an international aid organization. The chapter concludes with a proposed typology that can be used to characterize organizational memory models and systems that are best suited to different types of NPOs, which will vary with respect to main features such as organizational maturity, size and complexity.
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Traditionally, knowledge management (KM) and organizational memory (OM) research has focused on the private sector, likely owing to the field’s roots in business management (Beazley, Boenisch & Harden, 2003). However, non-profit organizations (NPOs) have many of the same concerns and management issues as do profit-making firms, such as high turnover and the need for sound OM practices to ensure knowledge continuity and transfer to future knowledge workers. Nonprofits are also involved in knowledge work and have a clear need for a comprehensive strategy to manage the creation, storage, and dissemination of knowledge. Knowledge management practitioners have realized that one cannot easily adopt a “one size fits all” approach to complex and varied organizational settings. Previous research (Dalkir and Lemieux, 2005) has shown that while KM and OM remedies can be simply scaled down for smaller for-profit organizations, the same was not true of non-profit organizations. While the matter of resources plays a major role, this was not the only parameter that differed. One of the major differences lies with the culture of the organization and this variable is certainly very different in non-profit settings (Lettieri et al, 2004). In addition, the non-profit sector faces more barriers in terms of obtaining sustainable sources of funding for the implementation of OM initiatives, particularly in terms of technology and dedicated OM team members.

Both theory and research emphasize the important role non-profit organizations play by connecting and networking people and mobilizing them for collective action (Backman and Smith 2000; Putnam 2000). NPOs thus generate a great deal of “social capital” which is defined as the value produced from the trust, norms and social networks that enable a group of participants to act together more effectively to pursue shared objectives (Coleman, 1988; Putnam, 1993). Central to this concept of social capital is the interdependence of nonprofits with other institutions and their communities. Nonprofits’ value to society is not based solely on their products and services but also their ability to engage people—board members, volunteers, staff, members, and residents—in activities that are vital to the common good.

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