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5 Keys to Effective Knowledge Transfer for Nonprofits

Lori Halley 06 June 2008 2 comments

Effective communication – and more precisely, the effective transfer or exchange of knowledge –  is vital to any nonprofit organization. It lies at the root of everything a nonprofit does – from pitching your cause to donors and funding agencies, to delivering services to members and clients; and from seeking public support and the ear of decision-makers, to collaborating with other organizations in projects of common interest.  
5 keys knowledge transfer modelWhether the movement of information is one-way (knowledge transfer) or a two-way flow (knowledge exchange), an organization's ability to pursue its core mission can depend in large part on effective communication. 

Effective Knowledge Transfer and Exchange for Nonprofit Organizations: A Framework, from Imagine Canada (formerly the Canadian Centre for Philanthropy), provides a framework to help nonprofits plan, conduct, and evaluate their efforts at knowledge transfer and exchange.
There are 5 elements key to an effective transfer or exchange of knowledge, the report suggests: Audience, Message, Method, Messenger, and Evaluation:


"Tailoring the knowledge transfer and exchange strategy to the audience’s needs, knowledge, and the sorts of practices they face on a daily basis is critical in an effective knowledge transfer and exchange activity."
Targeting a very specific audience will make it easier for you to address the specific problems faced by that audience, and for your message to make a real connection with them. In defining your target audience, too, keep the intended outcome in mind: Which people are actually in a position to act on your information? And who may be able to influence those actors in their decision-making?


"How research or any type of findings are packaged and presented can impact how readily the knowledge is put into practice."
It can be easy to forget, in our passion for a cause, that others may not start out with the same level of engagement or the background information needed to grasp a complex message. Your message should be easy to take in, easy to understand, and easy to repeat: clear, concise, and memorable. Grab your audience with something that commands attention – a slogan, perhaps,  or a compelling human-interest story – and give them the information that is most useful to them, then follow up to ensure that your message won't be forgotten.


"The choice of method for transferring and exchanging knowledge will depend on the audience and the message [but] knowledge is most effectively exchanged when using multiple methods…"
Think back to your school days, and which teaching style was most likely to keep your attention long enough to learn something – an open class discussion, or a traditional front-of-room lecture from your teacher?  While it isn't always practical to set up a knowledge exchange, especially if  you're communicating with a large and diverse group (the "general public," for example), a two-way flow of information is widely accepted to be most effective.  

Consider how you might use the interactive possibilities of the Internet and Web 2.0 tools, to get past some of those communication barriers – in combination with the other delivery methods tailored to your particular audience and message, such as reports, newsletters, fact sheets, etc., both electronic and print.


"The messenger is the person, group, or organization that delivers the information to the audience. In order to enhance the transfer of knowledge, it is important that the messenger be seen as a credible expert on the information being presented. "
Find a spokesperson or facilitator who is familiar to your audience; ideally, someone who is perceived as a colleague or fellow member of the community. While celebrity endorsements have power in marketing, studies suggest that most people are more open to a transfer or exchange of knowledge with a respected peer.

To identify an appropriate messenger, the report suggests that you ask yourself what knowledge and skills are required for the presentation, who has those requirements and is available, what his/her credentials are, and how those might best be highlighted to the audience.


"Evaluation explains the effects [on the recipients or the environment] that are expected as a result of transferring or exchanging knowledge."

The evaluation tools and techniques you choose will depend in large part on the message, the method of delivery, and the outcome that you want to measure. These might include knowledge or skills tests, observations notes, evaluation forms, even anecdotal reports collected after a presentation, workshop, training session, meeting or other communications event.

Consider the different ways you might measure the success of a specific process (e.g. delivering a workshop), compared to evaluating a larger-scale outcome (e.g. changes in awareness or attitude) or tangible results (e.g. impacts on decision making). What are the realistic, achievable objectives of your knowledge transfer efforts? What changes in knowledge, or attitudes, or skills are you looking for, and how might they be measured?
Effective Knowledge Transfer and Exchange for Nonprofit Organizations: A Framework provides 10 printable tools – logs and evaluation forms – that you can use to get started, or adapt to suit the needs of your own organization.

Download a copy of the full report as a PDF file from Imagine Canada's online reference library: 

Effective knowledge transfer & exchange for nonprofit organizations : a framework (PDF)
Fataneh Zarinpoush, Shirley Von Sychowski, Julie Sperling.
Toronto : Imagine Canada, 2007. 

Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Friday, 06 June 2008 at 8:13 PM


  • Rebecca Muller said:

    Friday, 06 June 2008 at 6:41 PM

    I think this spans across many industries, not just nonprofits. But you've really hit the nail on the head here with the real-world examples. Communication is key in everything we do and stopping to think about "how' we interact or want to be engaged with - especially from non-profits really does go a long way.

    Obviously this is only one part of the equation, but this sure sounds like a must read report.

  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Sunday, 08 June 2008 at 7:03 AM

    And this post really touches on only one aspect of the report, too, Rebecca! It goes on to spell out in great detail how you might apply these 5 keys to different knowledge-transfer situations: for example, training sessions. Useful stuff for business as well as nonprofits, you're quite right.

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