To develop a filing system, which is part of your overall records management system, first you will sort your documents into major categories that fit with your foundation's operations. Foundations sort their documents in different ways; some foundations, for example, sort according to the following categories:
- Founding Documents
- Legal and Accounting Records
- Board Records
- Program Records
- Personnel Records
- Foundation Financial Records
- Historical Records (to create a Foundation Archive)
The goal is to sort all the documents you need to keep, and want to keep, into major categories like these, which will become the main organizing principles for your files.
Second, consider how you want to organize the documents within
each of these major categories. Decide whether some of the categories might benefit from a set of subtopics. For example, the file Board Records could be organized into subtopics such as: Board Meeting Minutes, Board Lists, and Board Planning.
Then, consider ways of organizing the documents within each of these subtopics:
- By year
- By program area (if your foundation has more than one)
- Grants by region or by neighborhood
- Color-coded system
Different ways of organizing documents have different advantages. For example, organizing alphabetically might make retrieval
easier in some cases, but organizing by year might make for a smoother transition when purging and archiving
materials. In addition, different file categories might call for different ways of organizing. You might decide "Grantee Records" is best organized alphabetically by organization while "Grantseeker Records" is easier to use if organized by program focus area.
Finally, establish a separate, well-labeled file and location (even if it's a cardboard box) for each of your document categories (Founding Documents, Board Records, etc.):
- Attach a simple cover sheet to each file, listing its contents and the date you created it. Dating your files will help you purge and archive them later;
- To quickly locate documents you use often, photocopy them onto color paper;
- Make file names consistent between hard copy (paper) and electronic (computer) versions;
- Explain your filing system in writing, save the explanation in your administrative files, and hang it on your wall. That way, trustees and staff can refer to it when filing and retrieving documents.