In the aftermath of SG50, the number of organisations (along with the amount of funds) doing heritage projects has taken a nosedive. As a result, we’ve been exploring projects for new clients, some of whom are VWOs (volunteer welfare organisations).

While these organisations are interested in doing some kind of history, many are reluctant (or unable) to put aside substantial resources (money & manpower) to a project, especially when heritage is not their core function. This got me thinking: how important is documenting, writing and exhibiting history to small organisations like VWOs where funds are limited, and every dollar and cent needs to be accounted for?

After a couple days of mulling about this, my conclusion was: “Of course, it’s important”, but the bigger question of “when” is equally critical.

A history project in the early years of an organisation is unnecessary. At this time, all resources and attention should be concentrated on getting the basics right, and getting the right infrastructure, manpower and talent, and processes to fulfill an organisation’s core function. Yet, an entity that intends to stay around for a while should have a historical mindset and start saving documents, photographs or even small items related to milestone events.

Ten or 20 years down, when the organisation has established some longevity, is a good time for a history project. This project can benefit an organisation both internally, and in terms of public relations and brand.

Internally, a history project can be inspirational if done well. Many VWOs and organisations were started by passionate people with idealistic aims who worked hard to build things up from scratch. Often times, people working in such organisations forget about its noble origins and aims. They are too busy trying to hit their KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) or get caught up in daily office politics. Understanding the history will help staff see the bigger picture and story that their organisation stands for.

Having a documented corporate history is also helpful in running an effective organisation. Most agencies refine products and processes through trial and error. If staff are more aware of what their predecessors did, what worked and what did not, they would be able to better innovate rather than constantly trying to reinvent the wheel.

In terms of public relations and branding, somehow people seem to trust older organisations better than they do younger ones. I remember when I was working in an office more than a decade ago, I didn’t talk to new staff unless they stayed for more than a week! My justification (albeit weak) was that our turnover at the time was so high, that I felt it was not worth the trouble of making friends unless they were going to stay for a while. (I know it’s bad, and I’ve since stopped this habit.)

Anyway, a history project could definitely be used as a PR and branding project to help boost public image. Again if we bring in stories of the people in the organisation – their passion and noble aims – this would help the general public connect with the organisations. Indirectly, this helps with recruiting volunteers and fund-raising which are important outcomes for a VWO.

So yes, my opinion is a history project (at the appropriate time) would be a worthwhile investment for VWOs. Once we’ve settled that, we move on to other questions: what kind of history project? Who should be involved in the project? Ah…these are all interesting questions in themselves. Look out for subsequent posts where I’ll take up these questions in more detail.

~ Stephanie

In the Workroom: Should VWOs do history?
Tagged on: