The website KnowHow NonProfit which I helped to build, finally disappeared this week. It launched in 2008 and merged into NCVO in 2012. NCVO launched a new website this week, finally putting KnowHow to rest. A 14-year footprint is pretty good going for a website. It made me reflect on what it was like to build something new and how our knowledge sharing as a sector has changed over the years.
KnowHow was an innovative project by Cass CCE (now Bayes Business School CCE), led by Professor Ian Bruce and funded by the Lottery for three years. It launched in 2008 at a time when digital was coming into its own. Across the sector there was lots of useful information online but it was hard to know where to start or what was up-to-date. There were lot of umbrella organisation writing about the same topics. It was quite overwhelming, especially as the sophistication of search engines and our own searching skills were still developing.
KnowHow aimed to bring it all together, not replicate it. It collated, signposted and filled the gaps so people running small charities could be confident they could find information to help them. A hub for the sector.
I was part of a team of four, working with the agency Text Matters to build and launch the site. Coming up with a taxonomy for the site to reflect the things charities did, was one of the most challenging tasks of my career. It took months. Nothing else existed which we could base this on. I had a huge spreadsheet and endless print-outs to manage the categories and spent hours tweaking the naming of sections so they were clear and descriptive.
I managed the content. We researched what was already out there and the gaps that needed filling. Experts from CCE and across the sector were commissioned to write new information and I edited it all together. It had a friendly and accessible tone of voice. We had a persona of a helpful, knowledgeable friend you could always turn to. We were writing for Joan in Preston, running a small organisation with no HR team or fundraising strategy.
We had four months to build a basic site and another four I think to get it all done. It was a stressful but exciting time and I learnt a lot about running a charity from CCE colleagues, especially governance and strategy which helped me a lot later as a consultant.
We also had a storytelling section to help illustrate common issues faced by small charities in a fun way. A working group of charity experts, led by Adah Kay imagined a small town, Millcaster, which had lots of charities based there. It was a soap opera, like The Archers but with charities rather than farming. A storytelling expert who wrote for The Bill also helped us build a system so we could remember who was married or related to who and where they all worked. A brilliant illustrator bought each episode to life with paper cut-outs she made and photographed, much like 1970s Paddington Bear. It was a lovely, creative thing to work on. Here’s an episode of Millcaster Tales I wrote about Mark, returning to work after an accident.
Promotion and development
We toured the country on the charity conference circuit telling people about KnowHow. We mixed digital marketing (SEO, newsletters, very early days of Twitter) with in-person promotion to help people find KnowHow. We had merch including tote bags (think we were really early to do these too) and USB sticks. I still have some somewhere.
It was an exciting time to be working in digital as new ways of information sharing were growing. As the team grew, we added a forum, wiki how-to platform and later a portfolio of online courses as a StudyZone. All really innovative at the time. All needed lots of effort to encourage people to use them, the team worked very hard to make them work. I think I had three or four log-ins at one point to try and get discussions going!
Every time we saw the traffic growing, we celebrated. It’s a very different experience to build and launch something new. The websites I had worked on before were only 10 years old themselves but a new channel for established organisations with communities around them. KnowHow was totally new. Building traffic and waiting for the search engines to rate KnowHow was a long game.
In 2012, the site merged into NCVO and became its information site. Over 10 years, the site evolved but was still called KnowHow and with a knowhow URL.
It takes so much work to maintain a substantial information site like this. Keeping up with legislation, sector trends and best practice is time consuming. It’s costly and it is hard to make an income from it. Other sites which launched around the same time as KnowHow, folded once their funding ran out. We were really lucky to move into NCVO where there was a plan to keep it fresh.
When I left in 2012, traffic was growing fast and we had lots of positive feedback about how it helped people run their organisations. Since I wrote about its demise on LinkedIn this week, I’ve had lots of people contact me to say how useful KnowHow had been to them. As a web content manager, it is like gold to get actual feedback from people, especially so long after working on the project, so this was wonderful!
KnowHow was my first baby before I had real ones. I was very proud of what we all did to build it and how it grew over the years. So many brilliant people worked on it. In 2008 we would never have thought it would last for 14 years.
Knowledge sharing in the sector
The new NCVO website has a help and guidance section which still has echoes of KnowHow in it. But uses headings reflecting what charities need to know now. We didn’t talk about impact or digital so prominently in 2008.
Online courses are now a pretty standard way of learning, thanks to Zoom and the pandemic. Many sector sites share templates, checklists, codes of best practice, self-assessment toolkits and draft policies and job descriptions. There are countless blogs from people sharing what they have learnt, to help others.
As a sector we have always been generous with our learning to help others, like our fictional Joan, do the best they can for their cause.
What I do now
Since I left KnowHow, I have become a consultant. I use my knowledge of information sharing, digital content and how charities work to help organisations with different projects – from comms strategies to recruitment and digital reviews.
I also started Radio Lento from scratch with my partner, reliving the experience of building an audience from nothing. Last month we reached 200,000 downloads. A big celebration milestone.
Do get in touch if I can help your organisation. I have space for new projects from September onwards.
I was able to illustrate this post with screenshots from the site thanks to the amazing Wayback Machine.