The Legacy Book

You are an #NPO unicorn. A jack of all trades and (hopefully) a master of one or two. Some days that feels awesome. Some days that feels awful. But hey, there's always tomorrow right?


Writing your Legacy: Literally

Well...maybe not. As surreal as it may be to think about in the moment, there is always the chance that something awful may happen to you: a car accident, a sudden death in the family, an illness that takes you out of the office for a long period of time. What happens to your organization while you are gone? For many of us who are a communication/ volunteer/ fundraising department of one the answer is - who knows?

Unless there is another employee who is trained to perform your functions in your absence, it could spell short-term chaos for your organization. If you aren't able to return or train someone to take over for you, short-term chaos has the potential to turn into long-term struggle.

The good news is that there is a solution that will make you even more of an #NPO rockstar in your boss' eyes, and you can start it today.


The Legacy Book

Recently the non-profit that I work for instigated a "Legacy Book" policy. At the beginning of 2017 every staff member who played a key role at the organization (read: everyone) was tasked with creating a document detailing all of the tasks and duties they performed as part of their role.

Creating a "Communications Legacy Book" for my #NPO quickly taught me that it is called a "Legacy Book" for a reason. After all, as a nonprofit unicorn I do ALL THINGS! and they are usually happening ALL AT ONCE! How on earth could I create an all inclusive, detailed document quickly? The answer was simple: don't. There is a better way and it won't leave your brain feeling like it just made best friends with the front of a semi- truck.


Start With a List

I will shamelessly preface this with the acknowledgment that Google Docs may have saved my sanity during this process.

To begin the Legacy Book for my position, I made a list of every major, minor, and not-really-mine-but-I-do-it-anyway task that I perform during a calendar year. Once I felt that I had a pretty solid outline of everything that I did, I started organizing the tasks into categories. From there it was a simple matter to start jotting down quick notes about quirky database software, which vendors were best for creating posters or flyers, and where the best pictures live on the network server. Whenever I had an odd minute or two between meetings, I would look for a task I hadn't elaborated on yet and add anything I could think of.

This is where Google Docs became a lifesaver. Because I had created my original list in Google Docs and formatted the document so that each task was a heading, I was able to use the document outline function to quickly and easily jump to any section in my growing Legacy Book. As of October of 2017, the document was 24 pages of small print and still counting, so the outline feature came in VERY handy. At the same time, I could access the document not only from my work, but also from phone on the go. It was easy to add new tasks and notes as I thought of them instead of having to wait until I got back to the office.

As the document become more substantial I began to turn the shorthand notes under each task into actual sentences. It was easy, because I had already done all the hard work of roughing out what needed to be said. By this point it was just a matter of framing my notes so that anyone who picked up the book would understand it. Here are a few of the things I included in my legacy book:

Major/minor tasks assigned to your role

Contacts for vendors, partner organizations, press, etc.

File pathways for when documents live on a server

Instructions about general software or filing quirks

A copy of accounts and logins (not publicly accessible!)

Invoices for common & uncommon purchases (these frequently include vendor contact information and can be extremely helpful.

Event notes (especially the cranky ones!)


Maybe You Shouldn’t Share That

Because my Legacy Book lived on Google Docs, I made a point of NOT including any sensitive information directly in the document. For example, I did not include a list of login information for the various programs and software I use on a regular basis. Instead, I provided the administrative staff at my office with an updated copy of my logins and directed whoever inherits the book to speak with the admin staff to gain access. If I kick the bucket tomorrow, my organization will still be able to post to Twitter but there won't be any pornography on the website if the book falls into the wrong hands.


The Legacy Continues

At the end of the year, I am the proud creator of 26 pages of organized information about tasks, events, important documents and where they live... and I am not done yet. Another lesson I have learned from this project is that every Legacy Book is a working draft - never a completed project. Every time my job changes, a new task is added to my list or one goes away, I will need to update the document. And if I'm honest, I should probably review it semi-regularly because there will always be something else that I missed.

Regardless, I feel confident that the next person who takes on my role won't experience the same moments of panic and frustration that I first did while they try to figure it out. They'll find all new ones.


Blog Contributor: Erin Wood, Communications Manager at Gateway Greening