We take a look at some of the best methods for digitally storing documents and provide some tips for streamlining the process
There are many reasons to store paper documents at your charity’s offices or an external storage facility. HMRC requires you to keep legal and financial documentation, such as invoices, contracts, and bank statements, for six years. If you offer a service that requires you to keep medical records, best practice is to retain them for ten years after the last patient interaction. You may also have documents that relate to donors, service users, volunteers, or research grant recipients that need to be stored safely.
The reasons to go paperless are compelling: costs are lower, security is greater, and any action to reduce the environmental impact of our organisations has become a moral imperative.
We have also seen an acceleration of the trend towards using document management tools to work collaboratively. Early results from the CharityComms 2020 salary and workplace culture survey indicate that more than 50% of respondents would prefer to work 1-3 days from home in the future. The ability to co-create documents in a live environment and digitally archive them is becoming fundamental to the way charities operate.
Document management functions
Your requirements will vary according to your internal processes, but might include:
Your document management system should integrate seamlessly with other software that you may be using, such as MS Office or your CRM.
Document archives must be easy to create and navigate with adequate storage space for your needs.
Support with GDPR compliance
According to GDPR legislation, records should not be kept for longer than necessary. Time limits may be set legally, in the case of financial documentation, or via your internal policies. Ideally, a document management system should allow for access to timestamping data or even automatic deletion of documents after a specified period.
The ability to encrypt files containing sensitive information for sharing internally and externally may be of particular importance to your work. Secure storage of archived documents is vital for all charities.
An easily overlooked point, but there can be significant advantages to using systems that your staff are familiar with, such as reduced training requirements and increased compliance.
Microsoft Sharepoint is likely to be the go-to solution for larger charities. One of the most appealing features is the ability to create ‘document libraries’. They allow for collaborative creation of documents, offline syncing with One Drive, and metadata tagging so that you can label your files in a number of ways.
Sharepoint also allows you to create document retention policies, so you can auto-delete old files in line with GDPR requirements. The downside of Sharepoint is that it is a complex system, so investment in training for new users is essential.
Dropbox is one of the most familiar names in cloud storage and might suit small charities where affordability and ease of use are the key decision-making criteria. At £2 per terabyte of storage, it even outperforms Sharepoint on value. However, Dropbox has limited functionality for document management in comparison to other familiar names like Google Drive.
For charities with large amounts of paper documentation to be digitised and passed through specific workflows that might include approvals or e-signatures and require secure external sharing, eFileCabinet is a good fit. It includes OCR technology which means it can read scanned documents – it even uses OCR with AI to auto-organise documents according to their contents.
For charities dealing with politically sensitive material, MasterControl specialises in security. Access is restricted to registered users, a dual password system is in place for document approval and password expiration, encryption, and certification are built-in, along with account lockout to prevent unauthorised access to files.
As you begin your search for the right document management and storage tool, think about how documents are created, how they flow through the organisation and outside of it, what your storage capacity requirements are, and which document management and storage systems are familiar to staff.