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:
- PMI Education Foundation (PMIEF)
- United Nations Office (UNOPS)
- International NGO Training and Research Centre (INTRAC)
- Project Management for NGOs (PM4NGOs)
- PM4NGOs PMD Pro Manual
- University of Columbia (Institute for Study of Human Rights)
Please share your experience and references in NGO project management below. I look forward to your comments and suggestions.