Managing Scope in Non-Profit Project Management

All non-profit organizations begin with a specific goal in mind or a specific challenge to tackle. But, their project landscape is extremely volatile when you consider its reliance on volunteers, shaky organization structures, and stakeholder bottlenecks. I mean if you think about it, clearly defining the mission at a non-profit is the most crucial step for reaching success. Non-profit founders are imbued with solving the world’s problems, for everyone, indefinitely. That is a major scope problem!

Non-Profit Differences

When jumping into the weeds of a program/project, non-profit founders are talked off their soap box and brought back to the real world of limited time and resources. It’s not that non-profit projects are completely different from for-profit projects, it’s more a matter of keeping your organization intact while you manage the relationship with your stakeholders.

For example, most non-profits aim for some sort of economic, social, or environmental impact. The stakeholders in this scenario could stem from local to federal government agencies, the local community, or even someone as simple as a financial partner. The problems that will arise in these projects can be incredibly daunting, especially without a method to showcase how said non-profit plans to manage the project.

Social Work

Initiating an effective project management methodology will allow a non-profit organization to make meaningful and measurable progress toward its mission, while showing their stakeholders their process. As a professional project manager, I want to give you a window into some of the elements of scope management as they pertain to non-profit organizations.

The challenge for most organizations, and specifically for non-profits, is balancing the competing project constraints. Including:

  • Scope
  • Quality
  • Budget
  • Resources
  • Risks

For non-profit programs/projects, scope definition is the most critical first step. It’s very easy for a non-profit to overstate the scope it is attempting to address. For example, if poverty reduction is the goal; For whom? Where? For how long? The more difficult questions are which impoverished people will not receive help? Or, when will the support stop? Although difficult to answer, these are critical questions to discuss in order to develop a realistic scope for the organization.

Before we move on to discussing how to develop non-profit scope, if you are interested in some of the other differences between non-profit and for-profit projects, check out’s “Is Non-profit Project Management Different?” blog.

Developing Non-Profit Scope

Scope, “the sum of products, services, and results to be provided as a project,” is critical while planning the non-profit intervention to determine what is in scope and what is out of scope. Some tools and techniques to develop the project scope include:

  • Conducting planning workshops
  • Researching previous project experiences
  • Developing strategies and plans
  • Interviews and focus groups
  • Group creativity techniques
  • Prototyping

Non-Profit Project

These scoping techniques will allow the non-profit organization to determine scope and complete the difficult task of determining what and whom are out of scope. The results of the project scope exercises is a scope document and requirements list. Documenting the scope and requirements will aid in preventing additional requests from stakeholders, clients, or program recipients that may inadvertently distract resources from meeting the project’s goal, within the budget and time frame.

By clearly defining the scope and requirements, the non-profit can more effectively execute the project and perform project monitoring and evaluation activities. Not to mention, measuring new requests against the documented scope may provide data points for the decision makers within the organization to possibly make changes to the program/project and request additional funding.

Hopefully this blog post was helpful for determining scope for non-profits, and as the old adage states, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

For more info on Scope, try this blog next: Beware the Creep that Threatens Your Project.

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