Managing records in a charity

 15 May 2012

Mark Thompson is the records manager at the British Red Cross. He is responsible for all records that need to be retained for legal or business reasons.

The records profession is changing, becoming more aligned to technical systems.
The records profession is changing, becoming more aligned to technical systems.

The job of a records manager

“I provide advice and guidance by email or phone. For example, one of the local offices wanted advice on the retention period for documents concerning the protection of vulnerable adults. I advised them to keep these for 10 years.”

Mark describes his role as:

  • managing all the charity’s records
  • researching and reviewing retention periods
  • classification
  • advising on retention, storage and destruction of records.

“We keep fundraising, legal, financial and administrative records – as well as records of our international humanitarian work and the work of our local offices around the UK.”

Each record needs to be kept for a specific period of time, known as the retention period. This is three to five years for the charity’s business records, longer for other documents, such as legal contracts.

Moving from paper records to digital

At present, the British Red Cross manages all its records on paper. Mark estimates that there are 5,000 boxes of paper records stored off-site. More are kept in an on-site storeroom.

“The profession is changing, becoming more aligned to technical systems."

Each storage box can hold five lever arch files or 20 paper files. Storing all these paper records securely involves a cost, in terms of both time and money.

It would be more efficient to store records electronically. This will be possible when a new system, which Mark is currently helping to develop, is introduced.

“Working with the knowledge manager and the IT department, I’m developing and testing a new information management system. This uses SharePoint 2010, with an additional records management element that complies with the latest European standards.”

As part of this project – which has a wider aim of improving the flow of information within the organisation – Mark plans to introduce an automated process for creating records and for removing them at the end of their retention period.

“At the moment I’m spending 70 per cent of my time on the SharePoint project.  I’m grateful for the opportunity to do this.”

A career in records management

Mark started his career in records management with a local authority. While there, he enrolled on a Masters in records management at Aberystwyth University. The course was taught by distance learning, with short on-site courses.

“When I went up to Aberystwyth there were 30 archivists and five records managers. The historical aspect of archives attracts people – it’s an extension of a history degree.”

Looking at roles in his profession, Mark outlined the different between an archivist and a records manager:

“A records manager looks after semi-current records that are no longer kept in the office, but need to be retained for a certain period of time because they contain information which could still be relevant.

"An archivist deals with records that have reached the end of their retention period, but that need to be kept for historical reasons.

“The profession is changing, becoming more aligned to technical systems. In my view, it’s not a job for archivists who’ve taken a module in records management.

"In future, the people who’ll do well in records management will be people confident with new technology and interested in how organisations work.”

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