Disorganized systems cause teams to lose hours searching for digital files. With more of us working remotely than ever before, now is a good time to strengthen your systems and processes for managing the digital assets that drive your audience engagement.

When organizations transitioned to fully remote work in response to COVID-19, many learned that their critical files are siloed in a range of disconnected, miscellaneous systems (including personal drives, email, physical hard drives, and shared systems like Dropbox).

This tangle of systems—together with a lack of policies and procedures on file storage and retention—means that it’s easy to squander valuable time finding the right assets that support your audience outreach. Such a jumble also leads to inconsistent branding and asset usage across your organization, which risks damaging your brand over time.

For many nonprofits, a key to greater efficiency lies in improved Digital Asset Management (DAM)

Digital Asset Management (DAM) is your organization’s ability to categorize and organize its digital files, so that they can be clearly found and used by all relevant stakeholders. It includes not just your technology platforms, but also the processes and policies that govern how assets are managed and used by your community.

As you might expect, DAM solutions run along a continuum, based on organizations’ size and needs. Small nonprofits with relatively few assets may be able to improve their digital file management by making more strategic, consistent use of existing systems like Dropbox or Google Drive. Meanwhile, many organizations benefit by exploring how mid-tier DAM systems help them categorize assets in ways that make their file searches quick and painless. These systems also help nonprofits control and customize user access for diverse groups within your organization, as well as stakeholders beyond it (e.g. contractors, partner organizations, members, volunteers, etc.).

A continuum of DAM solutions:

How do you move to a new DAM—or improve the one you already have?

If you’re serious about improving your team’s usage of digital assets, we typically recommend a three-step process to new and existing clients:

Step 1: Gather requirements

What is your team (or organization) most interested in achieving with a DAM solution, and why? Depending on who you ask, team members will have varied responses to this question. You will want to get colleagues together and deeply understand their current processes and needs, in order to identify a solution that serves them well.

We have created a detailed questionnaire as a resource to help you guide these conversations and articulate your DAM requirements—you can download it here. 

Step 2: Evaluate vendors

Once you know your requirements, you’re ready to explore the wide world of DAM solutions and assess which ones meet your needs and budget. Key factors here include:

  • Usability. You’ll want a solution that makes the day-to-day work of finding files as easy as possible. Many vendors offer a trial so you can assess how intuitive their system is.
  • Cost. By and large, two factors drive DAM software costs: (1) how much storage space you need; and (2) the number of users accessing your system (including staff, contractors, affiliates, and external stakeholders). Watch our recorded DAM webinar and download our requirements questionnaire for support in answering these questions.
  • Vendor onboarding and support. Will your organization want hands-on support from the vendor to customize and set up a new DAM system? Or do you already have a dedicated team member who knows their way around asset management, and will facilitate this process for you? If it’s the former, make sure to share your expectations with vendors, and learn what support you should expect after signing a contract.
  • Features. Many DAM platforms offer very advanced features that your organization will most likely never use. Look back to your requirements: if a set of features aren’t there, you probably don’t want to pay very much for them.

Step 3: Plan for implementation

  • Plan your rollout. It’s never too early to get buy-in within your organization, letting relevant stakeholders know that a significant change is coming. Better yet, actively engage them in your vendor selection process! 
  • Consider starting small, and making iterative enhancements. Instead of immediately rolling out a new DAM platform across their entire organization, many nonprofit clients have found it easier to start with a single team or department that’s highly motivated to improve their capabilities. This approach allows you to learn from trial and error, and make iterative improvements to the utility and functionality of the solution that eventually makes its way to other departments. Sequencing the work in this way can also be budget-friendly.

Strong taxonomy and clear governance are critical to the effectiveness of your DAM 

Even if your organization has extremely well-organized Google Drive folders, team members will still struggle to find the assets they need if there are thousands of images, videos and digital files to choose from. This is where taxonomy becomes very important. 

Taxonomy describes the metadata (or tags) that get appended to your digital files, categorizing them so that they can be easily found through searching and filtering. For example, an image of a program officer conducting a field visit in a remote forest can be categorized any number of ways:

  • Topic: Deforestation; climate change
  • Location: Name of country or state featured in the image
  • Creator: Person who uploaded the image
  • Date: When the image was taken (or when it was uploaded)
  • Setting: Program site
  • Environment: Forest; natural environment
  • Person: Name of program officer featured in the image
  • Orientation: Portrait or landscape 
  • File size

Your team may already have formal or informal taxonomies in place that you can draw upon in order to inform the development of a DAM taxonomy. Common places to look include:

  • Website menus
  • Project names across teams
  • Names of marketing campaigns
  • Social media hashtags

DAM is a capability, not a software

Governance provides the rules and guidelines to guide asset use. For example: Who gets to upload your files? How do they get categorized (and by whom)? How are they meant to be used (and NOT used)? Every step should be documented, so that team members have clarity on what to do, and there is consistency across the system.  

When organizations don’t use a new DAM platform well, the benefits of their investment fizzle over time. Ultimately, the true value of your DAM lies not in the power of the specific technical platform where digital assets are stored, but in the consistent steps that people take to find, edit and deploy them. And in the people who grow able to access these files. Strong governance processes support all of these pieces, and is thus a critical support to the effectiveness of your DAM investment.