Oct 19 2021

Three Ways Nonprofits Can Manage Projects More Effectively and Under Budget

With concerns about overhead still reverberating in the nonprofit space, efficiency is key when executing plans.

Many nonprofits begin with a mission to make a broad impact on the people they serve, so it’s no surprise they often have ambitious goals.

But integrating technology can be limiting for these organizations. As TechBridge notes, just 11 percent of nonprofits surveyed view their use of technology as highly effective, and efficiency is often slowed down by manual processes and organizational silos.

If your nonprofit is not firing on all cylinders with technology, you may end up doing things inefficiently. And as the many debates about overhead make clear, inefficiency can prevent a nonprofit from achieving its mission — and can even affect how donors perceive the nonprofit’s work.

Adding technology can help organizations carry out their work effectively while optimizing resources. Here are three places to start:

1. Find Narrow Opportunities Using Business Intelligence

Nonprofits need a strong mission to be successful, but they also need a strong operating model to properly execute their mission. According to Ann Mei Chang, the former chief innovation officer of USAID, a good operating model touches on three things: a significant goal, the ability to move with agility and meaningful markers of performance and success.

“These three building blocks combine to form the foundation upon which social innovation can thrive,” she writes in a 2018 article for the Stanford Social Innovation Review. “They help inject a new mindset that in turn drives priorities and decision-making.”

But building a modernized operating model is not easy, especially if you have to convince the board to go along with an unproven approach.

One strategy is to start small. To build momentum, look for narrow opportunities to modernize where your nonprofit can succeed, and then evaluate those opportunities to make the case for a broader shift.

That’s where business intelligence can play a role. As NTEN notes, BI offers two key benefits to nonprofits: outcome prediction and outcome measurement. By taking advantage of your nonprofit’s data analytics as part of a business intelligence strategy, you can uncover narrow opportunities for modernization, develop a track record of success that proves the potential of a larger strategy — and have the data to back that strategy up.

Strong BI tools such as Microsoft PowerBI and Tableau can get you closer to decision-making that will help your nonprofit to make a stronger impact.

2. Work More Effectively with Collaboration Tools

Nonprofits have found a lot to like about cloud-based tools, but many are mired in older technologies, attempting to coordinate projects with digital elements that become increasingly complex. 

Poor communication across teams ultimately yields poor results: The Project Management Institute finds that 56 percent of failed projects can point to subpar communication as a contributing factor.

MORE FOR NONPROFITS: What you need to know about cloud security posture management.

Collaboration technology takes many forms — including tools such as Zoom or systems for broader management such as Microsoft Teams — but the goal should ultimately be to build a platform that enables teams to work more efficiently while ensuring projects stay on schedule.

If this is not an approach your nonprofit uses, it can take some time to get it right. But investing in better collaboration now means more effective results later on.

3. Bring Automation into the Fold

When trying to get a project across the finish line, nonprofit professionals need to be able to use their time efficiently. Rather than doing busy work, they need to be free to focus on the bigger picture, where their expertise is essential to moving the organization forward.

Without the right strategy, your nonprofit could be using its best resources to complete routine manual tasks, hindering broader goals. By automating low-level tasks, you can ensure your organization’s resources are being used properly, freeing up staff for higher-level strategic approaches.

Automation has a variety of use cases for nonprofits. It can create tailored fundraising pitches, pre-schedule marketing messages and uncover opportunities for volunteers. It can streamline the more complicated processes so that, when necessary, the human touch is used properly.

Your nonprofit’s technology teams can also use automation as they tackle cyberthreats — and cut down on the burden they face when managing these tasks.

Sometimes, the mission can feel larger than its team. But building ways to collaborate and work more effectively can help your organization reach its true potential.

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