Project Management

Is Non-profit Project Management Different?

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By Mario Trentim


A project, in a broad definition, is a temporary endeavor to produce a unique result, product or service. Project management is “the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to meet the project requirements” (PMI, 2013).



According to PMI, “public sector projects can have unique characteristics and notable complexities”, justifying the need for a Government Extension to the PMBOK® Guide (PMI, 2009).

Although project management principles, best practices, and standards are applicable to a wide range of projects, different industries need to adapt best practices to their particular projects. As a matter of fact, tailoring is one of the cornerstones in all respected project management methodologies.


Is non-profit project management different than for-profit?

It is not that non-profit project management is different from for-profit project management. Let’s consider  an IT project, for example. It doesn’t really matter if you are implementing Enterprise Resource Planning - ERP software in a private company or in a NGO (Non-governmental organization), those projects should be very similar. However, the organizational context is extremely different.


Project management in non-profits is different because:

  • The majority of NGOs depend on volunteers, posing new challenges to project human resource management. Moreover, hierarchies tend to be less structured, forcing project managers to rely much more on influence and leadership.
  • Budget life cycles and finance management are usually less predictable because NGOs depend on donations and grants. Restricted funds, constraints, and legal regulations pose another layer of complexity in non-profit project management.
  • Strategic planning, governance, processes, and key performance indicators are adopted by high maturity NGOs. However, reality is different for a large number of NGOs, negatively impacting portfolio and project management with shifting priorities.
  • Nonprofits have to adopt different project life cycles to accommodate for special needs related to funding (grants, donations, etc) and acquiring project team (volunteers), for example.
  • Stakeholder management is crucial because nonprofit organizations frequently interface with government, private companies, regulatory agencies, communities, and more.


In summary, there is a variety of stakeholders and processes that may impact NGOs, which demands some tailoring to non-profit project management.


From my experience with NGOs, I feel the need for project management approaches better suited to non-profit project management. Below are some references on NGO project management that I found very helpful:


Please share your experience and references in NGO project management below. I look forward to your comments and suggestions.

Posted by Mario Trentim on: August 27, 2016 10:29 AM | Permalink

Comments (8)

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The only thing that I noticed about non-profit project management is that cost is always an issue more so than with for profit project management.

I am venturing out to assist local non-profits with project management and goal setting; one thing I feel that non-profit projects have as an advantage over profit-centered ones is a vast number of champions that are willing to help make the project become reality. Resources are usually a project's largest impediments - but, when you have avid volunteers that will work tirelessly to see a project's execution through completion: a project manager in corporate arenas would pay tons to have that kind of enthusiasm on a team. A PM's key role in non-profits should be to keep those volunteers engaged and on target!

Thank you for the information !

Thank you for the information !

Great article!

I work in the non-profit sector and have been handling complex projects throughout the 10 years of my professional career. I recently got PMP certified, with an intent to be better at project management knowledge and skills which I can use in managing projects to bring about societal impact at scale. However, I notice that very few people in the development sector are aware of PMP certification and the value it adds to the organisation. I am currently looking out for full time opportunities put my knowledge and skills to use in the development sector and I am surprised to see many people/organisations unaware of the value of project management knowledge and skills.
Any of you have faced similar situation? Would love to hear your thoughts

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