Manual: There’s No Manual for This

Writing a manual, whether it be for processes or training, can be a daunting task to begin — not to mention finish. But, keeping in mind the “whys” behind your manual can help keep you on track.

For us at The University of Georgia, there were quite a few reasons we desperately needed a manual: the need for transparency and consistent messaging, new development leadership, new policies, and staff growth. We really needed one document that could be referred to as the “Bible of Prospect Management” at UGA.

So, we created a manual to document the ever-increasing number of processes and procedures for prospect management, while also including minor references to other important areas like advancement research and gift accounting. The end result was a one-stop-shop for development officers to access almost everything they would need to know to manage their portfolios.

Of course, getting to the end result required hard work and trial and error. Even though we knew our “whys,” we still had to go through the actual process of making a manual — and there was no manual for that! So, we’re sharing our process with you to hopefully simplify any similarly journeys you may take.

Make it happen!

How and where do you even start putting together a manual? The hardest part of any project is actually starting it, especially if it is one that isn’t all that exciting. Take a deep breath, start making notes and jot down ideas of topics. What we did is group our process into four steps: gather, organize, outline and compile.

You do what works for you, but having a process to follow allows you to get a win after each stage (and who doesn't love a win?).  

  1. Gathering

    Gathering may be the easiest stage of the manual-building process, because whether you realize it or not, you and your co-workers have been gathering information every day about what needs to be in your manual. Every phone call you get from a development officer, every email you answer, and every face-to-face conversation you have with a team member will all become important points in your manual.

  2. Organizing

    Now that you have gathered countless tidbits of information about prospect management at your institution, it is time to organize. There are numerous ways to organize the information you’ve collected, but perhaps the most intuitive one is to group topics and questions by theme. Try sorting all the content about entering contact reports together, all the content about portfolio size and composition together, and so on. Organizing your information in this way will help you begin to make sense of the jumbled mess of topics you’ve assembled.

  3. Outlining

    After your information is organized, it is now time to outline. This outline will be the basis for your table of contents, so at this point, you should begin building your actual manual document. Arrange, rearrange and rearrange some more (and don’t forget to save!). Once you’ve been able to outline your information, you’ll finally begin to see your manual taking shape. Hooray — all that work wasn’t for nothing after all!

  4. Compiling

    Have you ever finished a huge project and been so relieved to be done, only to realize you actually forgot one crucial step? And then you realize that tiny step you didn’t complete messed up everything that was supposed to come after it, so you have to go back and re-do all your work? That’s basically what the compiling process is like. As soon as you think you’ve written everything you needed to include in the manual, you will remember something you left out or think of something you hadn’t thought of before. Frustrating, but true.

    As much work as this is, though, it is important to include every single piece of information you can identify. Remember, rules aren’t any good if nobody knows what they are. And, after all, isn’t the entire point of your manual to make sure everyone knows the rules? If you don’t put this stuff down on paper, no one will.

Include everything!

So, what needs to be included? If you haven’t gotten the point yet, you need to make your manual comprehensive. Our manual is 60-plus pages and it continues to grow as we add new policies and directions. Understand, though — this will never be the No. 1 pick for your monthly book club; no one will read this cover to cover, and that is OK (you know it’s awesome!).

Include the ability to jump around to the topic of need at that moment. This should be a reference guide for people — the go-to place for quick answers instead of emailing or calling you when they could help themselves first.

Despite what doctors say, you do need an appendix!

Once we wrote our manual, we realized nobody was actually going to read it. We knew it was important to make sure all our policies were recorded, but we also knew that our diabolical plan to get fundraisers to follow the rules was never going to work unless we made the information easy for them to process.

Since development officers are generally very visual learners, we thought adding pictures would be the way to go. We were right! By using the Snipping Tool already on our computers, we were able to take screenshots of the exact things in our database to which our fundraisers would need to pay attention. We added an appendix to our manual as a place to house these images. We also added an FAQ section as an appendix so we could have a quick reference for the most commonly discussed issues. The appendix serves as a great resource for existing fundraisers and a great training resource for new fundraisers who are unfamiliar with our database system.

Get the word out!

Once you have your final (final for now, anyway) document, the key to getting the word out and ensuring a successful implementation is to bombard everyone with reminders that it exists. You almost want them to be so sick of hearing you say “manual” that they roll their eyes at you every time you mention it. From our experience, you can’t just send it out once and assume everyone will read it. Let’s be honest, we all know they won’t.

Some strategies we used were emailing it, placing reminders in our monthly division newsletter, mentioning it during meetings with development officers, hosting it on our website and having leadership reinforce our messaging.

Learn from our mistakes!

We’re Holly and Laura. We made lots of mistakes. Let us help you learn from our mistakes!

As with any project, you’re going to run into some bumps along the way to completion. While we can’t guarantee you’ll be able to create your own manual without any trouble, we do want to share what we learned in hopes that you might make fewer, different mistakes.

  1. Create one document. Don’t try to splice different documents together and hope every piece does what you want it to, because it likely won’t. Creating the manual in one document from the beginning will minimize so many frustrations.

  2. Save. Save. Save.

  3. Save your formatting for the end. We found that if we tried to format sections as they were completed, the formatting didn’t always stick like we needed it to or we wouldn’t remember exactly how we formatted the previous section. If we had saved all formatting for the end, we would have saved ourselves a lot of frustration.

    Utilize the Heading options under Styles in Word; these correspond with the Table of Contents builder and are a life (and time) saver when it comes to formatting.

  4. Use Word’s Table of Contents builder to ensure the user is able to click from the table of contents in your manual to the specific desired section.

In conclusion, putting together a comprehensive policies and procedures manual may seem like a lot of work (and is!). But, by approaching your manual systematically and gleaning help from your peers who have already been through the process, it will be a lot easier than you think. Good luck, and happy writing!


Laura Wilkerson is a donor relations coordinator at UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Holly Weimer is a prospect management specialist at the University of Georgia.

Check out the Apra Body of Knowledge (BOK) for more ideas on processes to put in place and document. Much like manuals, the BOK was created so you don't have to reinvent the wheel, but rather can build your skills using collective, documented knowledge.

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