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Knowledge Management in NGOs

1 April 2017

Nurit Lin

The abbreviation NGO stands for Non-Governmental Organizations. These organization share a common sector, yet are composed of different types of organizations, associations, social businesses and other foundations. The NGO’s also vary as to their size, activities, distribution and budget. Thus, one can find that the term "association" refers to both a young, small organization whose activity is limited to local initiatives and a veteran, multi-branched organization with vast resources deeply embedded into government offices. Nevertheless, when referring to Knowledge Management in NGO’s, these various bodies still share a significant common denominator. It is therefore both possible and beneficial to discuss some characteristics, needs and challenges shared by all NGO’s. Hereby are some central ones:

  • Knowledge development: organizations which run social programs, provide services, or are involved in unique matters are knowledge intensive by definition, since knowledge is at the core of their activities. These organizations hold professional knowledge as their main asset and resource since it provides them with competitive edge and often justifies their existence. Therefore, many organizations might deal with the need to collect and focus the knowledge and its practical implications, developing a setup methodology and instilling practical tools for operating, activation and assessing.

  • Working with volunteers: NGO’s are typically based on volunteers in various aspects of their work. This fact as well as the mobility which characterizes these volunteers' activity (compared to paid workers) raises many challenges in terms of Knowledge Management:

  1. How can we turn the accumulated experience to an organizational asset despite the rapid overturn?

  2. How can we retain and retrieve organizational knowledge?

  3. How best can we cope with the need to provide sufficient training, professional knowledge and complex tools for volunteers manning knowledge-endowed positions?

  • Shared worlds of content: NGO’s face challenges and similar professional practices derived from their type of activity. Transverse inter-organizational Knowledge Management regarding these issues can lead to mutual enhancement and more efficient resource utilization. These worlds of content include: fundraising, working with municipal and government organizations, inter-organizational cooperation, etc.

  • Difficulties in allocating resources for Knowledge Management processes: the lack of financial security and stability may stem from solely relying on fundraising and investments may often set difficulties in long-term Knowledge Management processes or expensive KM technologies and infrastructure.


On the other hand, there are some shared elements which might actually encourage and ease Knowledge Management in NGO’s:

  • Trust: the organizations are usually characterized by a culture and ethos of trust, sense of camaraderie and identification with the shared cause. These are all vital for establishing a culture of Knowledge Management and contribute to the motivation and will to share knowledge and experience.

  • Flexibility: the manner in which these organizations are founded and evolve often leads to a flexible and dynamic organizational structure and role-definition which allow much personal/group initiatives. This tendency can enable Knowledge Management processes to be easily implemented and driven quickly and informally, free of bureaucracy and formality which characterizes the business and government organizations.

  • Innovation: The aforementioned characteristics of organizational culture and structure as well as the workers and volunteers' motivation result in these organizations being characterized by a relatively high level of innovation.


In recent years, it is apparent that part of the internal and external processes in NGO’s which lead to import of managerial practices from the world of business includes the incorporation of Knowledge Management in these organizations. The unique characteristics of this sector, its challenges, ethos and goals indicate that in terms of Knowledge Management simply implementing KM methodologies and practices as-is from the corporate world is an insufficient solution. Unique solutions and methods must be designed and formulated for this sector.

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