Nonprofit project management can, at times, be an uphill battle or even feel like you are inside an oxymoron. It can be tricky to implement process into an environment that has several layers of stakeholders; a board of directors, national staff and chapter staff. And an evolving budget determined by the approval of government grants or exist only with successful fundraising efforts. Although it may seem daunting, nonprofit organizations, that are historically understaffed, can benefit greatly from basic project management.
In the last year and a half while working with Charity Dynamics, I have had the privilege of working with several national non-profit organizations like Easter Seals, Save the Children and the ALS Association. Here are five tricks I use to project manage non-profits, slip in some process and empower my clients and their organizations to achieve success.
Know the players and the roles
There are always different levels of stakeholders and these layers will become intertwined, they will intersect and they will become blurred. The trick is to not only identify your stakeholders, but identify when they will be part of the conversation. I have client engagements where the milestones have to align with monthly leadership meetings. In that meeting, all deliverables are approved and the project moves forward. If I miss a monthly leadership meeting, my project timeline is in jeopardy. Do large decisions happen at quarterly meetings? Can you join that conversation? Is there only final approval with the board of directors? How often do they meet and what is their approval process? Knowing the answers to these questions will influence your project timeline and help keep all the parties accountable for big decisions.
Process plans made to order
When working with nonprofit development or marketing departments, listening to their needs and determining a process that works for them is ultimately going to be beneficial for all parties. If you have a team that only responds to phone meetings, plan to have strong, agenda driven project status calls. If your team responds well to project management software, utilize Basecamp or Asana to communicate progress and deliverables. Be open to finessing your process to work for the client. Hold a mini-training session to discuss how all communication will be managed during the project. Trying to force a plan that is only ignored will leave both sides frustrated.
Timelines are a team effort
I have found that all clients are more willing to follow and successfully meet deadlines if they are part of the conversation when you build the timeline. By identifying their team’s internal deadlines, for example; receiving new branding guidelines from their marketing department, adding that date to a shared calendar creates team bond – you are all working toward the same goals. The more clients feel it’s a joint effort they more ownership they feel and will assist with the movement of the timeline. These are groups that traditionally thrive in teamwork scenarios.
Your project is part of a bigger picture
The more you understand the role your project plays in the larger organizational picture – the more you can anticipate scope creep and obstacles. Don’t work on a project in a vacuum! If you are working on an event fundraising and communication plan, how does this particular event factor into overall fundraising revenue goals for the year? If you are managing an end of year giving campaign, what percentage of total revenue does the end of the year campaign represent? If you are aware of the desired outcome of a specific project, you can be strategic with milestones and anticipate changes you may have to make either with deadlines, deliverables or scope.
Retrospective on all projects is a must
While it goes without saying that completing a retrospective at the conclusion of projects is an important step in PM process, it often becomes the clients ROI and is often necessary in order to move forward with more work. All non-profits have budget restraints that can range from proving why then need a grant for research to justifying the marketing behind fundraising events. Performing a retrospective can help identify successful process management and in some cases, illustrate how performing certain steps in a project saved money and gave the organization greater ROI.
Finding balance is a key to working with non-profits. These organizations are filled with individuals that are passionate about their cause, that are driven to succeed by personal connections and are looking for a partnership to help them reach their goals. To be a successful project manager, you have to have open communication and be willing to adjust and modify your process throughout the project duration.