Best-practice information storage and management

There is no magic formula or template for the perfect file storage system. The secret is to figure out a system that works for your organisation. Here are nine best-practice tips to optimise file management.
Best-practice information storage and management

Most organisations have thousands of images, documents, and videos that need to be stored securely and accessed easily by multiple teams and individuals. By organising files well you can reduce the amount of time used to retrieve them or time lost in managing different versions.

1. Decide on a shared location that is not your local PC

Saving everything to a folder on local computers can create major problems. Among of the most common examples are:

  • Inability access or collaborate on documents stored on a colleague’s PC
  • Lack of file backup, so if a computer crashes or fails data may be lost irretrievably.

Files should be saved on a server, network drive or shared cloud storage such as Microsoft 365 or Google Workspace. 
If you are using Microsoft 365, it is best practice to keep your files in Teams or SharePoint for organisational use and OneDrive for personal storage. 

Office 365 provides an array of ways to find the documents you need quickly. Whether the document is shared by a colleague or stored in OneDrive, you can find it with minimum time and effort.

2. Group by category

One of the most effective ways to organise files is by category. The tricky part is figuring out which categories make sense in your not-for profit and to make sure you use appropriate language that is understood by everyone who will use the system.

Here are a few different categories to consider:

  • Departments – organise folders by department or business function, such as Marketing, Finance, HR, IT, etc.
  • Donors, clients or members – create separate folders named for each donor, client or member (depending on your organisation’s needs) with subfolders for all project details
  • Products and services – if your business focuses on products and services instead of individuals or teams, you may want to organise your folders by product and/or service.

Consult widely with team on the structure (you can even run a short survey to test the naming conventions you are considering) and make sure the everyone agrees on the categories to ensure it’s endorsed throughout the organisation.

3. Group by date

Many not-for-profit activities are ongoing so organising by date makes it easy to identify current and past versions. Think ahead to a few years from now to make sure someone new to the organisation could easily find the files your colleagues are creating now.

These examples show how you could structure your files by date on Windows and Mac PC:

Example 1

Example 2

To ensures files remain in chronological order use a consistent naming convention for the file names. Options we have seen work include:

  • Adding the version number or release date to the end of the filename – e.g. 'Annual Report 1 Jul 2021'
  • Most cloud storage systems, such as Office 365’s Sharepoint, have 'major and minor' version functionality. 'Minor' iterations of a file are saved with a decimal, e.g. 5.1 and 'major' iterations, such as a file submitted for review, are saved as a whole number, e.g. 6.0. Turning on this feature will help files stay in chronological order
  • Using YYYYMMDD or YYMMDD format at the beginning of the file name.

4. Group by file format

If your organisation has large amounts of a particular file type, for example image files or videos, consider creating a folder structure based on their format, e.g .jpg or .pdf.

5. Use subfolders

When folders are divided into subfolders, you can find data more quickly. For example, you could have a folder named ‘2019 Finances’, then a subfolder called ‘Invoices’ containing invoices for each month. Ensure subfolders are organised consistently.

Most organisations suffer from too few subfolders, rather than too many. If you find people are putting 40-plus files into a single folder, they need to add a subfolder. If there are only a handful of files, a single folder will suffice. 

6. Name files descriptively

It is best practice to use descriptive file names so that staff will know a file’s contents before opening it. Avoid using abbreviations because they could confuse you or your colleagues. You may think that you will remember an abbreviation, but there is a good chance you won’t in a few months or years. 

Name files in a consistent, detailed and descriptive fashion. Instead of naming a file 'client presentation,' name it 'new_client_presentation_version_1.' That way you can readily identify the correct file you need and searching for a file is more likely to bring deliver the right one.

7. Use shortcuts

It could take a while to access a file or folder buried several levels down in a file hierarchy. To save some time, create shortcuts to the items you use frequently. A shortcut is a link that you can place in any location to gain instant access to a particular file, folder or program on your hard disk or on a network just by double-clicking. The actual file, folder, or program remains stored in its original location, and you place an icon representing the shortcut in a convenient location, such as in a folder or on the desktop.

8. Document the process

After developing a definitive way of organising your files, the last step should be to document this process and share the documented process widely and regularly within the organisation. This will guarantee consistency in the future.

9. Maintenance is key

Organising files is a continuous process. Make time to audit your own and your organisation’s files regularly to remove or archive those that are no longer needed.

Tips to manage files correctly

  • Don’t use your desktop as your ‘all purpose’ filing area: it isn’t backed up, isn’t a shared storage area and encourages poor filing structure.
  • Skip the downloads folder. Instead, store files where they belong or delete them.
  • File immediately. Don’t wait for files to pile up to file them. Do it as soon as you create or receive a file.
  •  As you organise your data in folders, think minimal. Only create new folders when necessary.
  • Search is powerful. If you can’t find a file you are looking for, consider the search feature. It will be helpful if your files and folders are named correctly.
  • Don’t give up. It takes a little time and effort to adapt to something new. 
     

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