Nonprofit Peeps, Time to Go Paperless
The amount of paper we use as a sector is pretty embarrassing. We print out everything, and for certain occasions, such as monthly board meetings, entire forests are destroyed in terms of agenda, minutes, budget reports, draft grant proposals, strategic plans, baby pictures, recipe cards, etc. Sometimes I see those emails that say “Please think about the environment before printing out this email.” Emails, however, are about the only things we do not print out. We must stop the madness!
In the age of technology, we really have very little reason to use paper. Most meeting rooms have a projector and screen, data can be instantly emailed, and many people bring their own pads of paper or have electronic tablets for note-taking. Printing, then, is the continuance of years of archaic traditions. But really, just because people used to wear codpieces, does that mean we should continue to wear them? Of course not! Printing out stuff is the equivalent of wearing codpieces, which, while appropriate at Renaissance festivals and some night clubs on Capitol Hill, is just generally silly.
We also perpetuate the silly and inefficient tradition of printing because we don’t want to hurt people’s feelings. For board meetings, for example, we spend hours preparing packages. When our packages are heavy and well-collated, we feel confident and competent. Even more impressive is when different sizes of paper are used, such as that sexy 8x17 budget-to-actuals. These things take time to put together. We like it when people say, “Hey, that’s a great package you got there.” To have people leave them behind would be insulting, like that one time I made my dad a birthday card only to find it in the recycling later. First of all, Dad, that’s hurtful. And second, you can’t recycle dried macaroni.
We don’t want to hurt people’s feelings, and that’s why most of us take home stacks and stacks of paper, throwing them into the backseats of our cars, where they stay until our partners yell at us for the squalid conditions of the vehicles. We all know deep down that we’re not going to read the handouts we take. No one is going to read the handouts they take! Even when someone says something like “Could you email me that Powerpoint?” - the likelihood of them actually reading it later is approximately 5%. The one and only time people probably glance at most documents is during the actual meeting.
For the sake of the environment, let’s change our ridiculous paper abusing habits. Not only that, each year, dozens of people are sent to the emergency room because of paper-related injuries. Backs are broken by picking up stacks of board meeting packets. Hundreds of people get papercuts, which become infected, resulting in gangrene and amputation.
So let’s all knock it off. Let’s email things out in advance. Let’s put the agenda, reports, and drafts onto the screen and review them together. Printing should not be the default, but the exception. And when things do need to be printed out, let’s do it smartly. Can we use both sides? Can we use the backside of scrap papers? These are habits we must all ingrain within our organizations. Being thoughtless about paper should be looked down upon the way we now glare at those degenerates who forget their reusable cloth bags when going grocery shopping. For the worst offenders, like people who print multi-page single-sided documents where the last page has only one line, we should mark them with some sort of symbol so that all shall know of their shame and thoughtlessness. They should have to wear a codpiece.
Vu Le is the Executive Director of the Vietnamese Friendship Association (VFA), an SVP Investee. His column, “Staff, Retreat!” documents the fun of nonprofit work. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.