Project Managers Without Borders

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This blog provides project management content and tools for non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Our objective is to inspire project managers to volunteer and make a positive difference in the world through project management.

About this Blog


View Posts By:

Aliki Courmanopoulos
Deanna Landers
Romiya Barry
Marisa Silva
Jeffrey Cox
Emma-Ruth Arnaz-Pemberton
Veroni Brussen
Filipe Bergami

Past Contributers:

Chelsa Dornian
Tony Van Krieken
Mario Trentim

Recent Posts

How to be a more effective volunteer

Why Water?

The Art of Asking Questions

Lending Your Expertise When You Have Limited Time

Millennials: Your Best Resources for Project Management in the World of NGOs

Increase NGO Value Through Project Closure

Lessons learned and project closure reports are important organizational process assets that a project manager may find missing upon starting work with a new non-governmental organization (NGO) or non-profit organization (NPO). This historical information is useful for many activities such as on-boarding new members, explaining the mission of the organization to the community, or developing project charters. The final project report becomes an important advocacy tool and gives ideas for articles or stories to attract wider attention or to spread news about a particular situation. Additionally, performance information from previous projects can help make the best use of limited resources and funding.

Three ways to bring value to the NGO through project closure:

#1 Engage stakeholders to determine project or phase closure guidelines or requirements. An organization can guide its actions throughout the project by knowing what the expectations are for documenting project successes and failures from the beginning, when to gather lessons learned, and how to archive the project information for future use. These activities can be incorporated into the NGO’s monitoring & evaluation program. It may also open lines of communication to other stakeholders, including in the community the NGO operates, as input on reporting requirements are gathered. Work with the NGO, members of the community, and other stakeholders to determine their reporting needs. Then, suggest templates that may work well for their purposes.

#2 Encourage documentation of project failures. Failure happens. That is the opening line on the Admitting Failure website. Formally closing an aborted or cancelled project is needed to continue critical thinking in the field where the organization works and to help other organizations succeed in those areas. At Admitting Failure, organizations share information as a way to bring “new levels of transparency, collaboration, and innovation across the for-purpose sector.” Project closure reports can provide NGOs with the project history that they can summarize and share on the website. The reports can also provide a foundation for developing a “Failure Report.” A how-to guide developed by Engineers Without Borders Canada can be found on Fail Forward’s website.

#3 Promote dissemination of project success. Formally establishing a project’s closure helps the NGO redirect resources to the next project or project phase and guides communication to internal stakeholders, external funding bodies, and community members. Published peer-reviewed literature by non-profit and NGOs is not common (Allen, 2016). This is a gap in dissemination of information about potentially innovative interventions as evidence-based practices are often formed by peer-reviewed published literature and not unpublished studies, or grey literature. Even if an organization does not develop a scholarly article, the information can be used to inform future decisions on projects. Working with an NGO on its reporting needs is a great opportunity to exercise creative skills and to think beyond a standard report. It’s important to “consider the audience” and communicate the project findings in ways that best suit the stakeholders. You may not consider filming a video on the latest software development project, but this could be the perfect medium to supplement the closure report!

In closing...

A project closure or evaluation report supports the organization in formally documenting the end of the project. It can be used to promote awareness, develop project strategy, and disseminate knowledge in the field of work. Use your project management skills to help an NGO complete a project life cycle and to get a good start in its knowledge management practice




Allen, L. (2016). Why Is There No Funding For Non-Communicable Diseases? Journal of Global Health Perspectives. Retrieved from

Admitting Failure. Accessed December 24, 2016.

Fail Forward. Accessed December 24, 2016.

Better Evaluation. Accessed December 28, 2016.




Romiya Barry is a clinical research professional using the project management framework to improve patient care and community health.  She is recognized by the Association of Clinical Research Professionals and PharmaTimes Inc. for her leadership in clinical project management. Romiya is on the Board of Directors for Health Horizons International, a healthcare NGO serving communities in the Dominican Republic. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Follow @romiyagbarry

Posted by Romiya Barry on: March 08, 2017 09:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (16)

Building Volunteer Management Practice in Your NGO

You’ve recognized that your non-profit organization (NPO) or non-governmental organization (NGO) needs volunteers to help transform your ideas to outcomes. The organization’s program may require the volunteers to co-locate to work on a complex project or to collaborate in a virtual team environment. No matter where volunteers perform their work, it is important to remember why they perform their work.

Volunteers join an organization because they share the interest and passion advocated by the NGO or NPO. As valuable stakeholders and resources for the organization, it is critical that considerations are made for keeping the volunteer engaged.

Here are 9 Quick Tips to build Volunteer Management Practice into your organizations.


Welcoming, On-boarding, and Integrating

  1. Practice timely communication from day one. Connect with a prospective volunteer once he/she reaches out with interest of joining the organization. This illustrates the norms of the organization and helps set expectations for new volunteers.

  2. Orient new volunteers to the organization. Provide training on the culture, structure, relevant processes, policies, and role descriptions of the organization. Early knowledge of key stakeholders will facilitate integration in the organization.

  3. Establish a support network for new members. Provide opportunities for current and new volunteers to build camaraderie and establish trust. The shared vision towards a common goal can serve as a foundation for developing a positive working environment.



Roles and Responsibilities

  1. Be specific in your request for help. Let volunteers know the specific knowledge, skills, and attributes you are looking for them to bring to the table.

  2. Clearly communicate each volunteer’s function, level of authority, and assigned tasks. Eliminating duplicative efforts is an efficient use of resources. It also helps to mitigate the risk of individual volunteers completing work that is not aligned with organizational goals or objectives.

  3. Trust your delegation. Once an assignment is given to the volunteer, continue to check-in on the progress, but resist the urge to micromanage or take over the assignment.


Rewards, Recognition, Motivation

  1. Acknowledge the contributions of the volunteers. It is important for the volunteer to know that individual efforts make a difference in the operations of the organization. Additionally, it is also lets funders and other stakeholders know about the type, quantity, and quality of work that is being done by volunteer support.
  2. Support information exchange. Freely share information on the progress of the organization’s programs and the impact the programs are having on the community being served. Ask volunteers for their input and opinions on the organization and their experience.
  3. Encourage continuous engagement. When possible, make a range of opportunities available that are flexible to fit within the volunteers’ schedules. Use general meetings, teleconferences, social outings, etc. as ways to keep volunteers connected to the organization when there are limited or no volunteer opportunities currently available.


The relationship between volunteers and NGOs/NPOs should be one of reciprocity. Project management professionals often volunteer to contribute to the solutions of today’s world problems and set a future legacy through projects, while gaining valuable personal and professional skills. NGOs and NPOs can capitalize on the altruism to further their missions while providing a valuable experience to the volunteers. The volunteer relationship can be even more imperative as the volunteer’s enthusiasm for the organization’s mission can translate into funding from the individual and the individual’s personal and professional network.

So, set a plan for recruiting, engaging, and retaining volunteers!




Romiya Barry is a clinical research professional using the project management framework to improve patient care and community health.  She is recognized by the Association of Clinical Research Professionals and PharmaTimes Inc. for her leadership in clinical project management. Romiya is on the Board of Directors for Health Horizons International, a healthcare NGO serving communities in the Dominican Republic. Connect with her here and on LinkedIn!

Posted by Romiya Barry on: December 02, 2016 03:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Developing Project Teams in a Complex Project

Food shortages, climate change, social unrest, and public health crises are just a sample of the complex situations we face in the world.  A team of professionally trained experts is often assembled to produce knowledge or carry out a project to address these issues. This team may be comprised of several leaders known in their fields for solving complicated, multi-factorial problems. The team may also involve members of the sponsoring non-profit organization (NPO) or non-governmental organization (NGO).

Along with expertise, the team members bring their own professional values and worldviews to the context of the project. Within their individual environments, the typical steps taken in a project may be linear with predictable outcomes. In contrast, the emergent situation that is characteristic of a disaster or crisis is unpredictable and complex. This is true whether the situation is acute or results from a slow build-up of pressure from external forces.

Developing effective project teams is one of the primary responsibilities of the project manager(1), and in complex environments, this is all the more challenging. 

The Develop Project Team process described in the Project Management Institute’s guide to the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK) provides a framework to help the project manager improve teamwork and overall project performance. The project manager is encouraged to acquire and apply the skills needed to “identify, build, maintain, motivate, lead, and inspire” the dynamic project team. Having an understanding of the complexity of the team-- or, their patterns of relationships, interactions, and behaviors--can be helpful in managing their diverse personal, cultural, and industry experiences.  The science of team science (SciTS) helps us understand that complexity and the “factors that maximize the efficiency, productivity, and effectiveness of team science initiatives” (2). While the emerging fields of complexity science and SciTS  focus on scientific endeavors, the multidisciplinary approach to solving the world’s complex problems often involves collaboration of technical experts in various fields and is a rising trend in many disciplines(3). A project manager can use concepts of complexity and team science to enhance the skills and knowledge needed for developing a multidisciplinary team.

Using the seven characteristics of work relationships(4) together with guidance from the PMBOK(1) , the project manager can lead the team through the obstacles of complex situations:  The challenge for the project manager is to bring together the heterogeneous inputs from various team members and guide the team to support the overall goals of the project and the function of the organization. In turn, the sponsors and champions of the project must provide an environment for quality interactions between the individuals and the broader stakeholder community. The responding project team must keep in mind that predicting the long-term impact of the project on a complex situation may be impossible even when the variables and the relationships among the variables are known. This is the very nature of the complex system.

Project managers can help bring the team, sponsors, and other stakeholders together and build confidence by celebrating every win and learning from the unpredictable outcomes.


When faced with a complex challenge, what steps do you take to quickly develop the group into a highly functioning team?



  1. Project Management Institute (PMI). (2013). A guide to the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK®) – fifth edition. Project Management Institute, Inc.: Newtown Square, PA.
  2. Stokols, D., Hall, K.L., Taylor, B.K., and Moser, R.P. (2008). The Science of Team Science: Overview of the Field and Introduction to the Supplement. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 35, S77–S89.
  3. Wuchty S, Jones B, Uzzi B. The Increasing Dominance of Teams in Production of Knowledge. Science. 2007 May 18;316(5827):1036-1039.
  4. Martin, C. M., & Sturmberg, J. P. (2013). Handbook of Systems and Complexity in Health. New York: Springer.


Romiya Barry is a clinical research professional using the project management framework to improve patient care and community health.  She is recognized by the Association of Clinical Research Professionals and PharmaTimes Inc. for her leadership in clinical project management. Romiya is on the Board of Directors for Health Horizons International, a healthcare NGO serving communities in the Dominican Republic. Connect with her here and on LinkedIn!

Posted by Romiya Barry on: October 19, 2016 04:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

4 Steps to Effectively Engage Stakeholders in Non-profit Project Management

By Mario Trentim

All projects and organizations struggle with getting stakeholder engagement right. Unfortunately, there are few guidelines, techniques, or case studies available to overcome this common obstacle . A successful project depends on stakeholders’ expectations and perceptions and satisfying these expectations is crucial. Most of the time, stakeholder engagement is considered synonymous with soft skills rather than methodology, which leaves engagement up to chance and the luck of having a charismatic project manager.

But stakeholder engagement does not need to be left to chance! Here are 4 steps to improve stakeholder engagement and obtain valuable support in non-profit sector projects.

Figure 1 – Four steps to engage stakeholders effectively (Trentim, 2015)


#1 Establish What Results Your Stakeholders Care About

The first step is to identify stakeholders, document their expectations and engage them in a collaborative effort to define project purpose and value propositions. Uncovering needs and aligning realistic expectations right from the start is paramount.

To identify stakeholders, there are different tools and techniques, such as brainstorming, organizational analysis, categories, checklists, lessons learned, historical information, benchmarking and expert opinion.

One of the most effective tools is to create and update a Stakeholder Breakdown Structure with common categories or types of stakeholders. In Figure 2, you find a suggestion of stakeholder breakdown structure for an IT project.

Figure 2 – Stakeholder breakdown structure (example)


#2 Develop A Plan to Deliver to those Expectations

Once you have a long list of potential stakeholders, it is possible to analyze and prioritize based on importance and influence. Sometimes, there is a large number of stakeholders and it is not possible to involve all of them in the same way.

That’s when analysis and categories are useful. Based on common interests, individual and group contributions, the project manager can decide on the best strategies to involve and engage persons, groups and organizations.

There are various tools and techniques to collect requirements and define scope. We will discuss some of them in a future article. If you’re curious, take a look at problem structuring methods, collaborative approaches to combine different perspectives into a “big picture” in problem solving.


#3 Work Your Plan!

     Now that you have your project plan in place with all the input and help from your stakeholders, it is time to put engagement strategies to work. Project execution is always challenging because it depends on a variety of factors.

It is not uncommon that stakeholders lose interest along the way because they engage in new ventures, raising issues in commitment, buy-in, participation and contributions that were agreed in the beginning.

Never take planning and commitment for granted. Always confirm along the way and frequently review the stakeholder register for new stakeholders and to analyze changes in attitude.


#4 Follow-up and get Feedback (Please Keep in Touch)!

     In daily activities of running a project, it is easy to forget the importance of keeping in touch and getting feedback. It is essential to have a process in place to review stakeholders’ satisfaction at every phase or milestone. This prevents problems from growing bigger and jeopardizing the end of your project.

What challenges have you faced in creating stakeholder engagement, and how have you managed them?? What are the main challenges of project management in nonprofit organizations? Any suggestions of tools and techniques we could add to those steps? Please leave your comments below.


Posted by Mario Trentim on: July 29, 2016 07:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (15)

"A day without sunshine is like, you know, night."

- Steve Martin