This is where project management comes in. With the right approach, nonprofit teams and external vendors can partner to achieve greatness. From redesigning a website to migrating content to launching a new fundraising tool or campaign, it’s all about incremental progress, realistic expectations, and organization. Here are a few project management tips to keep things running smoothly.
If you can’t define a project’s goals, you’re basically saying it’s getting done just because. Whether it’s a short-term goal, like raising a certain amount of money or launching a microsite, or a longer-term goal like reaching a whole new audience to expand your donor base, trackable goals help you and your stakeholders know why you’re doing all the work. Having a clear end-point to the project helps make the case to funders and supporters because defining the end result will help justify the spend.
A goal also serves as the end of the road and gives you a result: Otherwise you could keep building and adding without knowing what you’re working toward. A clearly defined goal keeps everyone on the same page and limits distraction.
Pro-tip: As you work toward a solution, new ideas and issues will pop up along the way. Create a parking lot list where you can store these off-topic issues until there’s time to devote to them.
Establish a RACI chart
RACI stands for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed. This chart helps define roles and ensures that nothing falls through the cracks. Project managers can use this method to assign tasks and review milestones.
A RACI chart is especially useful for nonprofits that have multiple layers of stakeholders. There might be a team in-house, third party vendors, an executive board, and a board of directors: RACI charts organize everything, so the multi-layer approval process doesn’t set you back. You can assign different tasks to different parties, all while keeping the big picture in mind. Project managers need to keep everyone in the appropriate lane from the beginning of the project—a RACI chart can help sustain this order.
Pro-tip: If this method isn’t something your team is used to, don’t give up right away. People need to feel comfortable and as a project manager you can set the example by regularly referring to your RACI chart (and reminding others to do so as well) until it becomes second nature.
Set regular check-ins
Regular meetings with your team about your project help eliminate surprises. You’ll know what each individual has accomplished, if you need to adjust budgets or schedules, and what questions are popping up.
It’s also critical to get your internal team in order prior to meeting with external vendors. A call with your consultants should not be a meet-and-greet: It should be productive and efficient. You should come to these check-ins knowing where everyone is and what you’re aiming to get out of the meeting. Make sure someone is taking and saving meeting notes and that you leave each call with a clear idea of what’s next.
Pro-tip: As much as possible, keep your check-ins regularly scheduled on the same day of the week at the same time. A predictable pattern is easier to plan around than one that’s constantly in flux.
Track your budget weekly
Most budgets change over time: You might decide you don’t need one item originally planned for because you want to dedicate the time and money to something else. Whether you’re using project management software or spreadsheets, make sure these changes are accounted for often.
Staying on top of a project budget also eliminates surprises. You don’t want to run out of money, or discover a surplus, at the end of a project. We suggest tracking spending on a weekly basis and doing full budget reports monthly. Especially if you have a retainer-type agreement where you’re meeting several small goals, it’s helpful to know how long certain tasks take and how much they cost so you can properly allot for future steps.
Pro-tip: Budgets should never be a secret and should be talked about openly with everyone on the team. They’re a large part of the project and an important measure of success.
Set incremental goals
No large project is going to happen in one step, so project managers need to equip their teams with timelines that have multiple deliverables along the way. This way team members can block space on their calendars and contribute their parts of bigger tasks.
For example, if you’re developing new content for a website, you don’t want to set just the final due date. Instead you should assign each page or section, and set an editorial process, so it’s clear when first, second, and final drafts are due, and who needs to review and approve each one. Because different groups will be involved in different stages, setting a timeline will also help give you the clearest possible picture about when you can realistically expect your project to be completed.
Pro-tip: Setting goals along the way also gives you an opportunity to celebrate progress. Your team is working hard. Take the time to acknowledge a completed task, even if it’s only one small part of the big picture.
Whether you decide to use all of these tips, or a just one or two, it’s important to strike the right balance of preparedness and flexibility. Come to the first meeting ready to put your tools into action, but also listen to and learn from your team as the project unfolds. No project will go from start to finish without a few hiccups along the way, but these suggestions should push things in the right direction.
Deepen your project management skills with NTEN's online course, Project Management Fundamentals.