Practical Project Management for Agile Nonprofits

Practical Project Management for Agile Nonprofits

Approaches and Templates to Help You Manage with Limited Resources
By Karen R.J. White – Introduction by Pamela Puleo

Practical Project Management for Agile Nonprofits

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-938548-00-0 / 175 pages / $24.95
ePub ISBN: 978-1-938548-01-7 / $11.99
Kindle ASIN: B011SLXZMY / $11.99
ePDF ISBN: 978-1-938548-04-8 / $11.99

Presents the basic essentials of project management for readers with little or no experience

Templates to help readers implement quickly

Winner of the Axiom Business Book Awards Bronze Medal for Philanthropy/Nonprofits

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Practical Project Management for Agile Nonprofits introduces the reader to the basic concepts of project management. It provides dozens of approaches and templates to help nonprofit managers quickly implement practices to help them manage their limited resources, both financial and volunteer. The book emphasizes using appropriate project management practices, those that are not burdensome but rather agile in their approach. In keeping with this theme, the book explores how social media can be used to assist in the management of time-sensitive projects.

You’ll learn how to apply just enough project management to:

  • Be an active leader and a superior project manager
  • Respond with agility to change and the unexpected
  • Focus your efforts on what truly matters
  • Recruit and engage a new generation of volunteers
  • Build a framework that ensures project success
  • Keep all stakeholders involved with the project satisfied

The book also addresses nonprofit governance and shows how project portfolio management can be used to assist in communicating with boards of directors and other governing entities when crucial resource decisions need to be made. Development office managers can easily implement portfolio management to facilitate the assignment of volunteers and to visually portray project activities to stakeholders.

Finally, real-world case studies on project planning, portfolio management, and volunteer-managed projects will demonstrate how others have achieved project success.

About the Author

Karen White

Karen R.J. White, PMP, PMI Fellow, is Chair of the Graduate and Professional Studies M.S. in Management Program, Marlboro College. Over the past 15 years, Karen has worked with corporate and non-profit organizations around the globe, assisting them to improve their project management capabilities, with a focus on information technology and volunteer-based projects.

Karen has served as a board director for the Project Management Institute as well as Chair of the PMI Educational Foundation. She is the author of Agile Project Management: A Mandate for the 21st Century (Center for Business Practices, 2009) and contributed to The AMA Handbook of Project Management (AMACOM, 2010) and Project Management Maturity Model (Auerbach Publications, 2006). Karen holds an M.S. in Information Systems from Northeastern University.

Table of Contents

List of Figures
Introduction by Pamela Puleo, Executive Director, Concord Hospital Trust

Part 1: Why Now?

1. Global Economic Impacts on Your Nonprofit
2. The Changing Nature of Volunteerism
3. Your Nonprofit in a Shrinking World

Part 2: Practical Project Management for Agile Nonprofits

4. Nonprofit Projects
5. Project Management Practices
6. Planning, Executing, Planning Some More
7. Becoming an Agile Nonprofit
8. The Superior Project Manager
9. Using Technology in Your Nonprofit Projects

Part 3: Volunteer Engagement in Project-based Nonprofits

10. Managing Volunteers
11. Recruiting and Retaining Reliable Volunteers
12. Five Rules of Effective Volunteer Engagement

Part 4: Governance in Project-based Nonprofits

13. Project Management Office Functions
14. Leveraging Your Project Portfolio
15. The Role of Your Board and Other Project Sponsors

Going Forward
About the Authors



What Does It Mean to Be Agile?

There is much being written these days about the need for agility in today’s businesses, especially in projects related to the development of strategic differentiators, such as a new medical facility or dormitory. Yet, it’s not clear that there’s a true understanding or appreciation for what’s meant by the term agility. To the dismay of some managers, agility does not mean unmanaged or undocumented. Rather, agility means the ability to quickly adjust and respond to changing business needs. It means achieving goals before the loss of a donor’s attention or commitment. It means being responsive at the local and global level to immediate needs. It means that “do more with less” now translates into “achieve it faster,” whatever “it” is.

Agile project management reflects the ability to apply just enough of the project management practices to ensure that the business objectives for the project are achieved. This usually translates into just enough planning to know that the budget is sufficient, to identify the risks likely to occur and what the team will do when they occur, to determine who has what decision-making authorities, and to know how information about the project, especially project status, will be communicated.

Agile project management is not for the inexperienced project manager, but if you work at it you’ll find that you become more agile with every project you manage. It relies as much on the ability of the project manager to read individuals, to make quick decisions when needed, and to know when to let the team take the lead and when the team requires specific direction. Agile project management is more about active leadership than about bureaucratic management.

Acknowledge Dynamics and Change

Project sponsors frequently do not dig deeply enough into resolving an important issue — that is, they don’t sort out the difference between “wants” and “needs.” Only after the project starts does the sponsor begin to realize that what the organization really needs may not be exactly what they requested. That’s why you need an approach to project management that allows you to deal with the reality of change. You need to be able to break down the final, long-term objective (which is subject to change) into a series of near-term objectives (which are less likely to change), incorporating discovery and learning throughout the project life cycle.

By applying agile project management you actively work with your sponsor throughout the project life cycle. You jointly make adjustments and even redirect the project by using an iterative approach to managing the project, an approach that deals with the level of uncertainty that you encounter. You use agile techniques to supplement the traditional project management practices that you already use (see Figure 7.1).


  • Active leadership
  • Close interaction between the project sponsor and the project team
  • Less time dedicated to planning at the beginning of the project
  • Smaller teams and more highly skilled team members
  • Delayed decision making
  • Elimination of waste
  • Integrated quality activities

Agile project management is based on the concepts above. Agile nonprofits demonstrate the ability to quickly adjust and respond to changing business needs while managing their projects.

Strategic differentiators are those projects that result in outcomes that differentiate the non-profit in the marketplace, such as the capital campaign that funds the development of a cancer center within a healthcare system.

Excerpted from Practical Project Management for Agile Nonprofits by Karen R.J. White. Copyright ©2013 by Karen R.J. White. Published by Maven House Press, Palmyra, VA. Used with permission.
All rights reserved.

Praise from Nonprofit Professionals

[Karen White] provides a useful overview of project-management practices, volunteer management, and nonprofit governance, and proposes best practices for navigating through the life of a project . . . She covers a lot of ground, but breaks the book up into digestible pieces and delivers complex information in clear and concise language that is easily accessible to a novice … White also does an excellent job of describing the importance of volunteers and how to manage and recognize them effectively, information that many organizations will find beneficial.
MEGHAN MURPHY, The Foundation Review, 5/13

Karen White knows the world of nonprofits. That knowledge combined with her expertise in project management comes together in this book, where she provides practical advice that anyone in a nonprofit will find valuable. Whether you’re an executive, a development officer, or a volunteer, this book is a must read to ensure the successful planning of your next project.
BETHANY V. SULLIVAN, former Community Executive, American Cancer Society, Florida and New England Divisions

In reading this wonderful resource I thought about all the time, energy, and headaches this book could have saved us over the years. The author applies project management basics to nonprofits in a practical and useful manner. This is a must read for anyone managing volunteers, events, or other projects, be they board members, internal staff, or key volunteers.
KERSTIN L. KLEBBE, Grants Administrator & Public Engagement Manager, regional nonprofit organization

This book gave me as a board member the ability to bring new and practical insights to our development activities. It helped put clarity and direction around our fundraising activities. I would recommend this highly to any nonprofit board member.
LORI GIPP, Board Member, Next Step Service Dogs

A poignant guide for nonprofits in this ever changing global economy. The author provides many useful and unique tips to best maximize limited resources and achieve maximum results.
KATELYND MAHONEY, Assistant Development Director, national nonprofit organization

[The book is] well laid out, it makes logical sense and doesn’t jump around and it is very, very practical. There is no pretense at living in a perfect world where all volunteers immediately answer their phone and dedicate their time to the most mundane of project tasks. The heavy dose of realism ensures that this will be a very useful desk reference for people who’ve been asked to get things done with no money and practically no permanent staff. Even if you don’t work in a nonprofit, if that description fits you, you’ll probably find something in here that you can use yourself.

Very good book. I can’t say this is the most exhaustive book about PM, but it is a very good start for a non-profit which is not accustomed to PM language. It allowed me explain some sophisticated concepts in a non-profit language and simultaneously better understand non-profit challenges. All in all I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to improve PM practices in a non-profit organization.

Project management in the nonprofit sector is different. White understands! I’ve been in project management for 30+ years, am a PMP, and have crossed private, public, and nonprofit sectors. Nonprofit is different, and I’ve struggled to find a book that speaks to that audience. This one does. It takes the reader through the project management framework, and offers lots of really good templates and examples to help the reader visualize the concepts. The narrative and examples are contexted in the nonprofit setting, where normal challenges like human resources management are so different. It touches on a variety of project management and collaboration technologies that could be quite valuable in the nonprofit setting. White dedicates an entire section of her book to managing volunteers.

Good intro for wary non-profit staff. Although I am fairly familiar with project management principles, I read this book to see if it could serve as a more friendly intro to project management ideas for potentially wary non-profit staff. I think the straightforward presentation and the emphasis on “why” works well to make this a good introduction for skeptical staff.