Why Nonprofits Need to Make Project Management a Priority
When COVID-19 reached its level as a pandemic, I worked at a 34-year old dance institution. We pivoted from in-person body alignment corrections and preparing for national tours and performances to ensuring all educators and students had the appropriate platforms and technology to just attend one class. It was a major overhaul, to say the least, but it was a necessary means to the mission. These changes did not happen overnight. To put it into context, the discussions to identify and implement changes started at the end of the program year and gave us a runway of 4 months to strategically plan and execute.
Project management establishes a roadmap and timeline to get to its destination, and great project managers consider the journey it takes to get there. The process can highlight inequities and barriers previously unrecognized and pose so many questions. Project managers utilize a set of tools and processes that help identify resources and their efficacy. For example, was the dance tuition fair now that there was no tour or regular performances? Were families experiencing any financial impacts that affected their child’s ability to participate? Did participants have the appropriate technology to participate? How did this pandemic affect dancers’ emotional health and willingness to want to continue?
I came to Media Cause in June 2021, and I say the same thing here that I did at the dance nonprofit. Clarity is kindness. Project management offers teams just that, especially when projects are new, confusing, and complex. Incorrect assumptions can be detrimental to the quality of a project and a mission. Setting out a roadmap requires key stakeholders to help reveal the questions that need to be asked. In this case, we needed to talk to a lot of folks:
- the Development team who oversaw tuition and financial goals and to determine if any programs shifts affected funding and if we could find additional support for any technology needs
- the Artistic Director who established the creative arc for each performance
- teaching artists who directly interacted with students
- the Director of Education to understand if the curriculum addressed the needs of students and how to shift dance instruction to a virtual setting
- students and their families of how it was going for them and where we could improve
- Others in the dance community to understand the impact of COVID-19
And all of this was daunting. The “cat-herding” of all the stakeholders. The influx of information. What would we do with this information, and where could we find the time? But remember, the roadmap defines a timeline that should consider other organizational happenings that affect the deliverables. Sometimes questions seem superfluous because they can feel like constant small fires, but unanswered questions impact the mission eventually.
After gathering crucial information from key stakeholders, we filtered the information to create a plan to reach over 500 students virtually with equity, dance technique, and social-emotional learning at the forefront and worked collectively to ensure the many nuances benefited the whole and aligned with the mission. The roadmap considered:
- Timelines: key dates, milestones, and deadlines
- Strategy: communication, program delivery, training, and COVID-19 planning for virtual and in-person studio classes
- Funding: program budgets, tuition goals, recruitment goals (associated with grant-funding), identifying gaps in support for technology
- Partnerships: connecting with organizations that needed support for students
To be clear, a project manager does not solely create or execute the plan. It takes a team. Identified team leaders championed the projects assigned to them where they managed and delegated tasks. Many projects happened concurrently; while at other times, one project informed the next. We have all been project managers, even if that is not our title. In all nonprofit organizations, we work to ensure the quality of the use of resources to make the mission come alive. Project management provides clarity, and clarity is kindness. Be kind, everyone.