Do you ever feel like your nonprofit organization juggles too much at once?
From coordinating volunteers, finding and satisfying donors, planning events, and reporting to board members, you barely have time to actually act on your mission and do good in your community.
Unfortunately, that overwhelmed feeling is all too common in the nonprofit world. There really is so much to do, and usually, too few people to do it. Enter nonprofit project management: a proven way to streamline, measure, organize, and prioritize work within your organization.
Here’s what you need to know about project management in nonprofits, plus strategies that will help you succeed.
What is project management (and why does it matter for nonprofits)?
Project management is an approach to workflow organization that breaks work down into discrete units (projects) and then plans and oversees project completion.
Organizations using project management typically appoint a project manager, a professional who oversees planning, scheduling, budgeting, and executing a project.
Just about anything can be a project — like designing a new fundraising campaign, pulling off a big donor event, executing a community event, or launching a new website.
Anything that has a distinct start and end and results in a deliverable of some type (physical or digital) can be a project. Projects typically run through a predictable project management lifecycle (more on that below).
Project management delivers value and clarity for nonprofit organizations and agencies, just like it does in for-profit businesses. Whether your goal is profit or social good, you still need to get work done efficiently, so you still need a system or methodology for organizing and understanding that work.
In other words, you still need project management.
The stages of project management for nonprofits
Project management consists of five phases: conception, planning, launch, monitoring, and conclusion.
During the conception stage, your nonprofit organization is formulating the idea or concept of the project. What will it be? What will it do? And most importantly, is it possible for us to do it, given budget, time, and personnel constraints?
You won’t map out the project in extreme detail here. Instead, think of the conception stage as the broad strokes that form the foundation.
If you use a project initiation document (PID) or a project charter, you’ll start building it here. These documents lay out the big-picture requirements, objectives, and scope of the project, along with the key project stakeholders.
Once stakeholders agree on the project charter or PID, it’s time to enter into the planning phase. Here, you’ll take those broad strokes and develop them into a detailed action plan.
Project planning is where project managers are vital. They gather information from team members on how to accomplish the project goals and build out detailed project workflows. Then they turn those workflows into schedules, working budgets, and more.
The goal here is to turn big general ideas into specific ones, then break those down into smaller chunks of work. This is where you’ll determine project milestones. You’ll also gather materials for projects involving physical outputs and secure team member and volunteer commitments.
Once you’ve fully planned your project, it’s time to turn those plans into action. The launch phase (also called the initiation or execution phase) is where the sausage gets made. People complete tasks as assigned according to the project schedule, working toward internal milestones and eventual project completion.
The project manager’s responsibilities shift here. Planning and architecting are done (so far as they can ever be fully done), and now it’s time for the project manager to shepherd the team along toward its goals.
Project managers usually take on the burden of knowing where each piece of the project is, helping it flow according to the project schedule.
Project managers are also problem solvers here. When schedule conflicts or interpersonal disagreements threaten the project, the PM is usually the first responder (prior to getting higher-ups involved).
This crucial stage is sometimes omitted (or absorbed into the execution phase), but the responsibilities are different enough that it makes sense to think of it as a separate phase.
Once the project is fully out of the launch phase, the project manager’s role shifts a bit more. Now the focus is on how well the team is doing as it works toward meeting milestones and accomplishing project goals.
During this phase, the PM will monitor progress using key performance indicators (KPIs), watching for adherence to the schedule. If the parameters of the project change, the PM may need to make adjustments to the schedule, the due date, or the personnel involved.
Problem-solving and clear communication (including with project stakeholders, not just the project team) are key habits of successful project managers during this phase.
The conclusion or closure of the project is a shorter, simpler phase than the rest but no less vital. Projects don’t simply end — they need to be wound down.
A post-project meeting is a great way to learn from a project’s successes and stumbles so you can incorporate those lessons into future projects.
There’s also paperwork to finish and file, contracts to pay out, and usually digital clean-up tasks to complete before completely finishing a project.
The benefits of using project management tools
Every stage of project management is easier when your team utilizes the right technology and tools.
If you still rely on spreadsheets to track project progress, you won’t benefit from the best project management software features and capabilities. From Gantt charts to project automation to integrations with the other software tools you’re using, modern solutions can streamline your project management.
Here are a few specific benefits nonprofit organizations can enjoy by adopting better project management software — and how Teamwork.com can help.
Efficient resource allocation
First, project management tools provide a holistic view of all resources, giving your nonprofit the ability to optimize resources and get the most out of your staff and volunteers.
Without a clear sense of the work and the available resources, it’s easy to fall into either over-allocating or under-allocating (or both). This can create burnout and schedule overrun — especially for nonprofits, which rely on volunteers to get work done.
How Teamwork.com can help
Teamwork.com’s workload and resource management features make it easy to visualize workloads and schedules so you can balance work across available volunteers. And the interface is friendly and easy to learn.
Teamwork.com’s workload planner lets you manage a team’s workload in real time and get insights just as fast. When things get out of balance, you can quickly and easily reprioritize work, assigning tasks to people with capacity.
Better collaboration and communication
Projects live and die on the strength of a team’s communication. But seamless communication is hard to achieve, especially for remote teams, organizations with multiple departments, and those that mix volunteers and paid staff.
Using a centralized communication hub reduces the risk of miscommunication, confusion, and missed tasks.
How Teamwork.com can help
Now you can enjoy project-based instant messaging, task commenting, and file sharing in the same place you handle project and task management. You can even work together on documents within Teamwork.com. Better communication and collaboration are finally possible — all in one place.
Transparency and accountability across teams
With some project management solutions, only the project manager has a truly comprehensive view of the state of the project. But it’s far better when all team members have a clear view of project status, responsibilities, and progress..
This increased transparency and accountability builds trust and ownership, helping teams operate more efficiently and effectively.
How Teamwork.com can help
You can also set permissions in Teamwork.com, ensuring the right stakeholders have appropriate access levels.
It’s always important to keep projects within budget, but even more so for nonprofits, which tend to have limited budgets. The right tools can help your nonprofit achieve desired outcomes without financial strain, freeing up funds to accomplish more and further your mission.
And remember, time overruns can indirectly lead to cost overruns. More resource hours tend to equal more money, and missed deadlines can cause costly rescheduling and rework.
How Teamwork.com can help
Teamwork.com includes easy-to-use time-tracking tools, which provide key insights into how long tasks take. Armed with this knowledge, you can allocate resources more accurately and avoid the budget overruns that come with missed deadlines.
Enhanced reporting and data analysis
As data-driven decision-making becomes the norm, even in the nonprofit sphere, robust analytics and reporting tools are necessities. Timely reports can help organizations make more agile decisions in fast-paced project environments, drastically improving project outcomes.
How Teamwork.com can help
Project management best practices for nonprofit organizations
Even with the right tools, nonprofit project teams and project leaders must use project management best practices to ensure their efforts have the best chance to succeed.
Follow these four project management best practices to keep your teams and volunteers on task and on mission.
Align on the mission for every project
Your organization is mission-driven. This means that every project you undertake needs to align with your core mission and values. When projects align, teams stay intrinsically motivated to perform at their best.
Engaging stakeholders is vital as well. Involve donors, beneficiaries, volunteers, and other key stakeholders at various stages of a project (especially in the conception and planning phases). This ensures that their perspectives and needs are considered.
Nonprofits thrive on trust, especially with stakeholders. By increasing transparency and growing engagement, your nonprofit can cultivate greater trust with donors, volunteers, and other stakeholders.
Use resources and funding carefully
We don’t need to tell you that nonprofits often work with limited resources and funding. Because you’re operating with limited resources, it’s vital to use those resources as efficiently as possible for every project.
Remember, the more efficiently you can operate in one area, the more resources you can put toward another.
That’s where Teamwork.com’s features — like workload and resource management, integrated chat, and time tracking — come in. They help you increase resource utilization and efficiency, so you can protect those precious resources and funds.
Have flexible approaches to projects
Last, remember the importance of staying agile as a nonprofit. Funding, community needs, volunteer availability, and numerous other factors can change quickly. A flexible project management approach can help address unforeseen changes as they come up.
Lead the way in your nonprofit’s sector with Teamwork.com
Your nonprofit is already making a difference in the world. But there’s always more to do, and it seems like there’s never enough money or resources to cover it all.
Imagine how much more you could do if you could streamline your workflows, optimize your resource allocation, and add transparency to every project.
More effective project management — powered by better project management software — delivers all of this, literally letting you do more with less.
Teamwork.com handles everything from simple to-do lists and Kanban boards to complex projects with Gantt charts, subtasks, and dependencies.