A Tale of Two Intranets

Tale of two intranets

An intranet – an internal internet – is a very useful tool for any organization. Having a centralized file-sharing system is key to collaboration. Many nonprofits today use a shared network drive on their office network (LAN) as a basic sort of intranet. However, nonprofits often struggle with keeping that shared space from getting full of clutter: multiple versions of the same documents, a crazy confusing folder tree, running out of space or simply not being able to find what you need. Everyone agrees it’s probably time to clean up the mess but it’s a herculean task that’s easier to put off in favor of more pressing needs.

Often, the best recipe for success is to actually have two intranets: one that is web-based and carefully curated, and one that is allowed to run with little oversight. There are many platforms you could choose to use for each of these, but perhaps one of the simplest is a private section of your own website, plus that shared network drive you’ve already been using.

Your Content Management System (CMS)

One of the biggest stumbling blocks to have only a single, shared drive intranet is that highly important documents such as the employee handbook are stored alongside your marketing team’s powerpoint work-in-progress. Sure, you can create folders to keep them separate but even the HR department is going to have draft documents of their own making it harder to find that one really important file that everyone needs to be able to find. What you should use instead is a CMS or other web-based system which has tools for search, locking down edit permissions, linking documents together, adding rich descriptions including images and video and categorization. It can also really help to create a table of contents page as the landing page for your intranet so that it’s easy for folks to get oriented.

Most modern CMS’s have tools available for making folders or sections of a website private, and accessible only by those with a login. It may seem a little strange at first to think of putting your internal and important documents in the same place as your public website documents, but that’s part of what makes a quality CMS so great. It’s also easier for your staff to adopt this practice since they won’t have to learn yet another platform to begin using it. Drupal, Joomla, Plone, and many others are all capable of creating private, password protected folders and documents. If you do not have a CMS with robust permission and workflow settings, you may consider using a cloud-hosted collaboration suite such as Podio or Redbooth. Read more about these tools on this great article from ThinkShout.

In addition to having an internal website, it must be someone’s job to police the content which gets added there. It takes some work, but the idea is to never allow this space to become cluttered with disused or duplicate files. Key documents should be very easy to find and not allowed to be edited, moved, renamed or deleted. Documents which haven’t been updated or accessed in some time might need to be considered for removal. The goal should be to create a resource that is curated and canonical for your organization.

Your Shared Drive

Although it’s hard to actively police and clean up the content, a shared network drive does give your staff an easy place to store quick turnaround documents or documents only in a draft stage that few others need to access. The benefit here is that these short lifespan document do not clutter your canonical document library. Only if a particular document is finalized and seems to have a life beyond the staff meeting you created it for, would it get pushed up to the CMS. Think of your shared drive as a sort of sandbox and your CMS as the “real” intranet.The shared drive is also a good place to archive files and again to keep that CMS as clean as possible.

No doubt that you could through careful partitioning or permissions settings achieve both kinds of intranets within a single platform but that’s not generally achievable or cost effective for most nonprofits. Instead, leverage your existing IT infrastructure and the CMS you already have is probably the best bet. In any case, creating a strong separation between your key organizational documents and your works-in-progress collaboration space is the best formula for success.

Sam Knox

About Sam Knox

Sam has ten years experience in nonprofit consulting, including project management on website and CRM projects. He specializes in Salesforce administration, data analysis, email marketing, and end user training. He resides in Seattle, Washington.


  1. Susan Kenna Wright

    One file management tip I love for shared drives is to always keep the most recent version of a document on the most easily accessible folder and to have a folder in that called “Drafts” or “Archive” or “Old Versions”. This way, users arrive at the best version first and have to take additional steps to get to old versions. The alternative is to have a folder for “Final Versions” but you shouldn’t make users go past old versions to get to the best or final versions.

  2. New generation of intranets (like Bitrix24 and its clones) have intranet, document management, collaboration, HR, task and projects even in free editions. It’s really strange that many intranets still don’t offer Dropbox-like file sharing and synching.

  3. Thanks Sam, for the thoughtful article. I have also seen people use Salesforce for their intranet, using various license types to have a collaboration space as well.

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