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President’s Message – Q1/2018

Project Management in the Not-for-Profit Sector

I have managed information technology and business projects in the private, public and not-for-profit (NFP) sectors throughout my career.  While project management principles are transportable across industries, I have learned that managing projects for NFPs presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities.


Managing NFP Projects

Project Size

NFPs tend to be smaller in size than private and public sector clients.  For example, Annex works with numerous private and public sector organizations that have annual revenues in the billions of dollars range.  Few NFPs are this size.  As a result, NFP projects are typically smaller, translating to lower budgets, shorter schedules, and fewer team members.  This makes the NFP sector a great place for junior or intermediate PMs to get experience on smaller projects.

Project Management Maturity

Few NFPs are large enough to have a sophisticated project management office (PMO) or expensive project management tools like much larger companies.  Without a dedicated PM on staff, projects are done off the side of the desk by project coordinators or administrators in a less structured environment using informal methods compared to large organizations.  As a result, project management maturity is often low in the NFP sector.  Having said that, although senior project management capability is a luxury that most NFPs cannot afford, my experience is that NFP staff are eager to learn and apply project management best practices in their organizations.  If a senior PM gets an opportunity to manage a project for an NFP, there is a great opportunity to transfer knowledge to help build valuable in-house project management skills.

Project Funding

Although project funding can be volatile in any industry, it is especially risky for NFPs that have tight budgets because of their dependency on grants or donations to operate.

Project Teams

Because of limited funding, NFP projects often include both staff and volunteer resources.  This adds more risk to a project as volunteer commitment can be sporadic.  For example, someone may volunteer with a NFP to build experience or stay active while they are in between positions, but once they land a paying job, they may not have the capacity to do both roles.  It is common for NFP employees to wear many hats because limited funding prevents hiring dedicated people for every organizational position.  This also causes project resourcing issues when multitasking employees get pulled in many directions across different roles.


Larger NFP projects can have more diverse stakeholders compared to the private sector because NFPs often interface with government, other NFPs, and the local community.


Why Work for an NFP?

NFPs tend to pay less than the private sector, but money is rarely the #1 motivator for the vast majority of people.  Compared to private sector companies, NFPs are more mission-driven.  People work for NFPs because they believe in the cause and want to make a difference.  In surveys done by the Brookings Institution:

  • 97% of NFP workers say they feel they accomplish something worthwhile through their jobs.
  • 16% of NFP employees said they come to work only for a paycheque, compared with 47% of for-profit workers.
  • 67% of NFP workers say they are very proud of their employers, compared with 54% of for-profit employees.
  • 75% of NFP employees strongly disagree that their work is boring, compared with 58% of for-profit workers.

Because NFPs tend to be small organizations, employees and contractors feel less like a cog in the wheel of a large company and more like they are making a positive impact on their local community.


Project Management Volunteers (PMV)

PMV is a volunteer-run organization based in Vancouver that matches up NFPs and charitable organizations with volunteer PMs.  Certified project managers earn professional development units toward recertification by volunteering their time and expertise, and NFPs and charities get world class experts to help them complete key initiatives which ultimately benefit our local community – a true win/win.  PMV also runs workshops to help elevate project management education and capability in NFPs and charities.  I have been involved in PMV since it was established as an Advisor when Bob Prenovost created the organization, as a member of the Program Advisory Group, and as the current Board Chair working with Shawn Hawkins, PMV’s Executive Director.  Since 2010, I am proud to say that PMV has helped 190 NFPs and charitable organizations achieve project goals through professional project management.



Managing projects in an NFP environment presents a unique set of challenges compared to private and public sector projects but can also be very rewarding.  PMV is a great success story that has made a significant positive impact on the local community.  If you work for an NFP or charity and need a certified PM to help complete a key project, or if you are a PM interested in volunteering to help an NFP, contact me to discuss next steps.


Stacey is Board Chair of PMV.  The Annex team provides pro bono assistance to PMV by identifying volunteer project managers to oversee important projects for local not-for-profits and charitable organizations in order to benefit our community.

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