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4 Big Project Mistakes All Nonprofits Make

How to get better at project management

several illustrations showing someone stepping on a banana peel, a broken piggy bank, an uncompleted plan, and two people running and on fire

Those who work in the nonprofit sector are often faced with the same forces that affect their for-profit compatriots. They need to get projects done on time, within budget, and to a successful conclusion. That means nonprofits are subject to some of the same pitfalls as for-profit companies when organizing these significant projects. If you haven't already, be sure to check out our exploration of why nonprofits should consider project management in the first place. But let's also take a look at four big mistakes nonprofits make in their efforts to get projects across the finish line, on-time, and under-budget. 

1. Not Allowing Enough Preparation Time

There are generally three reasons nonprofits don't allow enough time for projects to be completed as successfully as they could.
  • An urgent need arises that interrupts sufficient planning. It is easy for an organization to get distracted by unanticipated events. This is especially true in the nonprofit realm, where needs can arise quickly and without warning. If an urgent need requires an immediate response, the urgency of that need may not grant the luxury of sufficient planning for an already scheduled project.
  • Time needed to complete the tasks involved in a successful big project is underestimated. This is common for larger projects in which a number people are involved and the timing of the project may be controlled by outside sources. Vendors, suppliers, regulations, weather, and even vacation times and holidays can impact the time needed to complete a big project.
  • Not enough resources are committed to the project. Possible resources include people, planning and meeting time, project updates and communication, upper management involvement, and volunteers to complete a large project. Projects often require significant resources, and those resources must be available and connected.



2. Not Creating a Plan for Success

The expression, "People don't necessarily plan to fail, they just fail to plan," is as appropriate here as anywhere. Effective planning often starts by asking a question in a more thought-provoking way. Rather than, "How can we get this done by our deadline?", effective planning may be better accomplished by posing the question, "How can we best maximize our available resources in the next three months to accomplish our goal with the greatest impact and success?"

It is then time to get the appropriate number of team members involved, tasks assigned, timelines created, and meetings set that can monitor the progress of the project day by day and step by step.

3. Not Involving Appropriate Staff

Many projects fail because the right people don't have input throughout the planning process. Perhaps accounting could have seen an unexpected expense arising or offered additional budgeting. Upper management may have seen a conflict arising from a dedicated supporter of your organization.

A public relations person may know about other community events happening simultaneously. How many have heard, "If I had only known that" or "I could have helped with that" or "I knew that would be a problem"?

And we all hear these, generally, after the fact. Having as many members of your team involved and notified of the developments in your project may help you avoid this second-guessing.

4. Not Sufficiently Budgeting for a Project

This is a problem that is more prevalent with nonprofits than with for-profit corporations. Why? Because nonprofits have to keep their expenses low to demonstrate they are being good stewards of the funds they have to operate. It is one of the more frustrating aspects of involvement in the nonprofit climate.

Every expense will be judged, and every financial decision questioned. This situation often leads to projects not getting the funding or budgeting needed to be as effective as possible. Grants need to be satisfied, and boards and donors need to be kept apprised. If project results could be better equated with sufficient funding, more successful projects could be undertaken.

How Project Management Software Can Help

While the single perfect software solution for every project of every nonprofit organization might not exist, there are certainly options that will help you reach your goals. There is software that can help you develop a reasonable preparation time for your big project, and create a task plan for the success of your project. It can help you connect with the appropriate staff, and determine sufficient budgeting for the results you are seeking. These features alone can keep you from making major mistakes with your next big project.

Software like AsanaMicrosoft Project, Basecamp, Central Desktop, DreamTeam for Salesforce, and others are significant tools in ensuring the success of big projects for nonprofits. They will also demonstrate to involved parties that you are indeed taking appropriate steps in being good stewards of your organization and its funding. For more information on how project management can benefit your organization, be sure to check out our article exploring why your nonprofit needs to consider project management this year.