Top 5 Project Mistakes All Nonprofits Make (+5 Tips to Combat Them)  

What are the five words every nonprofit longs to hear?

Your grant proposal is accepted.

It’s a weight off your shoulders when your hard work pays off. You spent months preparing the proposal and you’re ecstatic your nonprofit won the bid.

Then reality creeps in—you worry the team can’t pull off such a massive project. Your staff is limited, the budget is tight, and expectations are sky-high. It’s a problem many nonprofits face—even the largest nonprofits fail in their deliverables.

If the best nonprofits struggle with the same problems, how can your nonprofit manage the project to perfection? Is it doomed to fail?

Absolutely not.

Most nonprofits run into the same problems of project management. In this guide, you’ll see what five mistakes are the most common during a project cycle. You’ll learn how to avoid these mistakes with actionable advice you can implement now.

Let’s get started on how you can perfect your project management skills for your nonprofit.

EVALUATE COMPLETED PROJECTS

If you work at a nonprofit, chances are you’ve managed projects before.

But—once a project is completed, you sift it to the completed pile where it gathers dust.

Well, you’re missing out on a massive opportunity to assess what went wrong and what went right. Don’t make the mistake of marking a project complete. It’s an opportunity for you and the team to make note of all the learning points.

Most nonprofits deal with specific issues or causes. So, you often work on projects similar to ones you have managed in the past. Think about your last project and how it differentiates from the new project.

Is it similar? Are you working with the same actors? Is the timeline different?

These are questions you must ask yourself as part of the pre-planning stage of the project cycle. If you don’t evaluate previous projects, you should make it the first part of your project cycle now.

Kick your pre-project planning off with a meeting—have all previous project managers (or those who worked on previous projects) assess one project they worked on. Give them a list of five questions to document what went well and what didn’t. Ask them to list three wins and losses from the previous project.

What’s the point here? To ensure you don’t run into the same pitfalls for this project. It helps you think of new techniques and approaches. Choose the ones that worked and those that didn’t.

BE PROACTIVE, NOT REACTIVE

In your pre-planning meeting, you found one common issue your team brought up regarding previous project mishaps—constant urgent requests.

These requests kill your project timeline. Your team gets distracted by unanticipated events. And too often, urgent needs take priority from other aspects of project implementation.

So—what can you do?

You need to be aware of these problems and build them into your project timeline by planning better and being on top of your project management.

Improper planning is the most critical mistake every nonprofit runs into with their projects. It’s especially difficult for larger projects where many people are involved. There is a process needing approval in different ways. And you know most nonprofits are held captive to external factors—vendors, suppliers, regulations, weather, or holiday time.

So, the second step to the project cycle is planning. But—it’s not only about making a timeline. There are many factors you need to consider. So, you’ll need a bit of help. Let’s take a page from the for-profit world here.

Start by finding the best software tool that helps with project planning, preparation, and automating project management processes. There are tons out there, but you need one that already has a framework built in for you to follow.

A platform, like Pipefy, comes loaded with all the features you’ll need to manage your projects without the stress.

It not only streamlines your project tasks, but it also tells you why a process isn’t working. Imagine a one-stop shop letting you know exactly what tasks people should work on and how long it should take.

BREAK DOWN YOUR PROJECT INTO PHASES

So—how does a nonprofit maximize their resources in the next six months to meet its goals with the greatest impact and success?

Good resource allocation.

But it’s one mistake nonprofits make all too often. The problem? Nonprofits have to keep their expenses low to demonstrate they use funds appropriately. And they still need to be efficient in their operations.

Limited budgets are the reason why nonprofits are not able to try out new ideas but stick to ones that didn’t work too well. But it doesn’t mean you should underestimate the resources needed for a project.

The way forward? Implement a new project management strategy.

Break down projects into smaller phases. Why? It makes the project seem more manageable to your team. You want your team to be comfortable and confident they are able to tackle what seems like an impossible project. It’s difficult to accomplish tasks if they focus on the enormity of the project at hand.

Plus, it helps everyone on your team be a mini project manager. Each person knows the amount of time it takes to complete certain tasks. And it helps to prioritize which aspects of the project or tasks need more resource allocation. You don’t need someone working on a lower priority task while a higher visibility part of the project begins to slip.

This is where the project manager can look to the planning and let team members know what tasks should take priority.

FOCUS ON BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS

Many times, nonprofits want to go at it alone. They are goal oriented and enclose themselves in their own circles.

But—strong networks provide an opportunity to capitalize and solve problems in the face of adversity. And working with others helps build your leadership and collaboration skills every project manager needs to succeed.

Don’t fall into the habit of using partnerships for one sole project. The most important goal is to learn, build understanding, and develop trust with your partners. Focus on building a relationship and not using partners as helpers.

It’s not about perfecting a great pitch, but more about networking. Try to initiate a smaller project with a big player. Make sure you deliver on results but focus more on bridging a relationship with the donor.

MARKETING OUTREACH IS A NECESSITY

Nonprofits need to think about their message outside of their own walls.

Don’t think everyone will love your cause. This mentality will make your project fall flat—especially when it necessitates having other people involved.

This is where marketing and awareness come into play.

Consider your audience and who you want to target. You’re not trying to please only your board of directors and donors. You’re trying to deliver a project helping a certain target group, so you’ll need to reach them.

Ask yourself what value you bring to your audience. Utilize social media channels. If you really want to gain some traction on social media, you’ll have to hit all the channels and keep up with promotion on these channels.

And don’t forget to respond to comments, post the content of others, follow other social media accounts, and show your personality through all of it.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Being a top-notch project manager for an NGO might feel like climbing Mt. Everest, blindfolded.

So—start by implementing these five essential tips. You’ll be one step closer to mastering your project management for your projects.

About the Author

Bio: Roger is a Career Writer who has a passion for helping nonprofits achieve the best possible growth imaginable.
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