Why Your Nonprofit Needs to Consider Project Management

Stephen Jackson and Baily Maples                                                                                                                                                               

If your eyes glaze over a bit when someone mentions "project management," you're not alone.

But the truth is, developing a resilient system for completion of tasks at your nonprofit is one of the most important foundations to any successful organization. In fact, you are probably following some form of project management framework already — it just might not be clearly defined.

But adopting a bona fide project management system — or improving upon your existing one — should be a top priority this year. No matter what size your nonprofit may be, the benefits of a dialed-in approach to project management far outweigh the effort it takes to get a system up and running.

Also, there is some great project management software out these days. In fact, TechSoup is happy to announce the recent addition of Asana to our product catalog — but we'll get to that later. First let's take a look at some project management basics, and perhaps illustrate some ways that even a little bit of project management can go a long way at your nonprofit.

What Is Project Management?

The Project Management Institute (PMI) defines a "project" as "a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result." Through the lens of this broad definition, you can start seeing the countless number of projects afoot at a nonprofit at any given time, including:

  • Fundraising events
  • Marketing campaigns
  • IT upgrades or implementation
  • Office moves
  • Research

These types of projects typically require collaboration between different departments and often involve people who do not typically work together. And while PMI defines a project as a "unique" endeavor, project management is also invaluable when applied to a routine task, like creating a weekly newsletter. In fact, in the TechSoup marketing department, we capture nearly everything we do — from social media posts to graphics to the article you are currently reading — within our project management system.

So, what exactly is project management? According to PMI, "it's the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements." In order to execute all this effectively, on time, and within budget, it takes the steadfast commitment of all parties involved to follow an established process to an agreed-upon outcome.

Many smaller organizations can often get by quite effectively using Google or Excel spreadsheets to monitor progress on projects. However, in order to do this, a strong understanding of project management methodology is needed. The PMI site is a great, in-depth resource for this.

But in other cases, an effective project management system requires the use of a project management software such as Asana, Wrike, Smartsheet, or a host of other tools out there that might serve as the best fit for your nonprofit. See this Idealware report for examples.

Why Are Project Management Tools Important?

Nonprofits are constantly trying to accomplish large goals with limited resources. These include a shortage of volunteers, staff, or tools needed to accomplish larger-scale projects. With the use of a project management system, organizations are able to plan accordingly and use the resources available to the fullest extent.

A project management tool allows organizations to take on more and accomplish goals quicker by clearly laying out what resources are available and when they are available. Let's say a volunteer is unable to complete a previously committed task. Some project management systems allow managers to see who else may have the capacity to finish that task. They might also show how resources can be shifted around to be able to stay on track with high-priority tasks.

For organizations of any size, project management software helps everyone to be on the same page. Managers can coordinate projects that take place at the same time. The software can also help to break down virtual departmental borders. For example, the person in charge of fundraising for an event can see in real-time what marketing newsletters are set to be sent out.

Project management software also highlights opportunities for people to work together. A newsletter designer can see when the content of the newsletter has been completed so they can automatically start on their graphic piece of the project. This creates a workflow where individuals are notified when tasks have been completed so the next step can begin. There's no longer a need to wait to hear when a task is done, since all team members can see this information instantly.

This type of tool is also beneficial to nonprofits that perform repeatable tasks — again, such as newsletters, social media posts, and articles. It's easy to create templates for these projects so that organizations aren't reinventing the wheel each time a certain repeated task comes up.

Additionally, since many times organizations have limited employees or staff members not located in a central office, a project management solution helps foster collaboration. Individuals are able to see who is responsible for what, and when, and this helps to naturally push people to be more collaborative.

For example, a project management system creates a central data source to track all projects and saves everything that has happened in the past. If a new project is created from an old one, it's easy to look back to see what worked well or what could have been done differently. Also, if there is a completed campaign with a specific set of images, they can be saved within your project management system. Instead of sifting through multiple files and email chains, a project management system allows for all important documentation to be in one place.

Introducing the Asana Discount Program at TechSoup

Now that we've gone over the many different ways that project management software can help your organization, let's take a closer at Asana. It's a popular tool that TechSoup has recently added to its offerings for nonprofits, and it just might be a good fit for you.

Key Features

Asana allows multiple teams and individuals at your nonprofit to create tasks, schedule projects, invite collaborators, track workflows, and more. It's easy to set reminders for specific things like important phone calls, and the software is flexible enough to meet the collaborative needs of different team members. Once a project is created, it's easy to monitor specific tasks as they are completed and to tag or communicate with others directly within the interface. You can view tasks in a variety of formats, such as Kanban cards, lists, or on a calendar — whichever works best for you.

For a full overview of everything you'd need to get started, it might be best to turn to this handy guide, created by the folks at Asana.

Asana Premium vs. Asana Business

While a free version with limited functionality is available through Asana, a 50 percent discount on either the Premium or the Business version is available through TechSoup.

With Premium, you get get access to the following features:

  • Timeline
  • Advanced search and reporting
  • Custom fields
  • Task dependencies
  • Private teams and projects
  • Premium content in the Asana Academy

These are all crucial functions needed for effective project management when dealing with projects with even the slightest amount of complexity. So acquiring at least this package is recommended if you are serious about implementing a project management system at your nonprofit.

For organizations that need an even more fully featured version of the software, the Business version may be the way to go. Here, you get everything available in Premium, along with a host of more advanced capabilities. To learn more, visit the Asana Business page on their website.

Tips for Implementing a Project Management Tool at Your Nonprofit

No matter which tool you decide to use, a carefully thought-out implementation plan is key to its success. Project management software can be particularly tough to introduce, as it can involve changing the way core functions in your organization are executed. For this reason, it's important plan ahead in order to get everyone on the same page. Below you'll find some helpful tips to make the process go as smoothly as possible.

1. Make sure the tool is right for your organization.

Before diving headfirst into any type of software, take the time review all the different types of features that are out there. Matika Angkatavanich is marketing operation manager at TechSoup and was the lead in implementing the project management system in our office. She says it's first important to determine users' comfort level with certain types of technology. "Then, find the tool that fits your organization's needs and existing work process. Don't get distracted by shiny new things that don't apply to your organization's structure and programs."

2. Get organizational buy-in at all levels.

In order for a project management system to be effective, it must be recognized as the law of the land by everyone at your nonprofit. This will also make the tool itself a single source of truth for where various projects are in their stages of completion.

"It is important to involve senior management teams during the tool selection process and get their buy-in. They will be more likely to help champion the change within their teams," Matika says.

3. Be patient. Communicate clearly and often.

"Change can be difficult," Matika says. "So be patient. If you are moving from one tool to the next, make sure you have a solid migration strategy in place. If it's a brand new one, develop an onboarding strategy that fits your team." Matika also stresses the importance of clearly communicating why such a big change is being made. "Address why your organization needs this tool, how the change will impact the way people work, what the timeline is for the change, where to find training resources, where to find old data, and who to contact if anyone has a question, concern, or wants to submit any feedback," she says.

4. Invest in training.

When it comes to introducing a new piece of software, making room for proper training will pay off — big-time. Usually, the software program will offer online training models, or even "academies," to get things rolling. Alternatively, you might also hire an expert from the provider (or elsewhere) to help with onboarding.

However, it's important to engage those within your organization as well. "When it's time to roll out, enlist a group of influencers — and the senior management teams — as early adopters," she continues. "They will help you demonstrate the tool's benefits as well as coach others in the organization on how to use the tool."

Lastly, remember that it's tough to get all this perfectly right the first time. Be open to feedback and changing your strategy in order to optimize your project management as needed. However, one thing is certain: A fully developed and well-functioning project management system will save your nonprofit time and money and will ultimately allow you to accomplish the important work you do like never before.

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