So what if you have designed a wonderful project and a donor wants to support it? What if you get that grant agreement??? Time to launch your project of course! Here are my tips for you how to get started with a new project.

Set up a project team

Probably you had an idea who from your team would work on the project when you designed it. But things may have changed by the time you get that grant agreement. Maybe someone left your team. Or they started working on another project that requires all their attention. Or a new person joined who is perfectly suited to the new project….

So the first step to take is: decide who will be on the project team. Who is available? Who has the experience and expertise needed for this project? And who has good connections with the people from your target group and the stakeholders that will be involved?

Divide roles in the project team

Now you know the components of the team. The next step is to bring these people together to discuss the roles and responsibilities of each person vis-à-vis the project. Don’t forget to include a finance person and a communication person in the team, too. They may not spend a lot of time on the project, but the team will need their expertise regularly. The same could apply to your security officer, if you work in a sensitive environment. Or your IT person, if the project involves a lot of IT tools and innovations.

Make arrangements for ownership of the project

It is important that the project team takes responsibility for proper project implementation. They must commit to implementing the project in accordance with the promises made to the donor (in the approved proposal for instance) and in line with the approved budget. They must make sure that the target group and key stakeholders are all on board. And that the donor is happy with the achievements – and the reporting about it all.

With responsibility, comes a mandate of course: space to take certain decisions and to choose the best approach in case of a setback. The team must feel ownership of the project and must be able to act upon that.

Limits to the mandate of the project team

Of course, there are limits to the decisions a project team can take. Perhaps your financial processes stipulate that all contracts above a certain contract sum need to be signed off by the director. Or maybe the director signs off on all contracts, regardless of the amount involved.

It is important to be clear about the mandate of the team and about issues where advice or approval must be sought from others in the organization. The team needs freedom, and the organization needs to contain the risks of possible mistakes for which it will be held responsible.

There may also be limits to the freedom of a project team based on general organizational interests. For instance, for enjoying good relations with certain stakeholders.

You must map all of this out carefully at the start of the project before you transfer ownership of the project to the dedicated project team.

Organize a project kick-off workshop

The transfer of ownership of the project from the director, as representative of the organization, to the project team can take place in a kick-off workshop. Provide everyone on the team with a full set of project proposal documents, including all annexes and donor correspondence.  Make sure they have a chance to read this before the workshop.

Use the kick-off workshop to let the team go through the project logic step by step. This works best if you can let them start by brainstorming what they remember from all the documents they read. Just keep the proposal at hand, for easy reference and double-checking. Make sure the team fully understands how each element of the project is building on or depending on another.

Work through the monitoring plan in the same way: asking the team what they would consider good indicators and target values. And then check that all elements of the approved plan find their place in the team’s minds, too.

Do a deep dive into the internal project budget

Let the team go through the internal version of the project budget. With a finance officer on board, they should be able to read the story the budget is telling about the project’s implementation. Make sure the team understands specific donor requirements regarding certain cost types for instance. And that they know your internal financial rules regarding procurement, time sheets and the like.

Make a project plan and divide tasks

Let the team make a work plan for the whole project period. The first three to six months should be worked out in detail so that the team can divide tasks very concretely for that first period. Make sure the team plans for regular catch-up meetings, too, to review progress and discuss any challenges.

Agree on and plan for internal communication

The team should also agree on how and when they will communicate with each other about what. For instance, will they use a Slack channel for sharing quotes from the target group that are important to retain for reporting and external communication? How will they share quick updates? Where will they store documentation? How will they work on reports together? Etc.

Let the project team make a good summary of the grant conditions

Many nonprofits are so happy to see a grant agreement that they forget to carefully read the full text. Let the project team go through the grant agreement and annexes. Ask them to make a clear checklist for compliance. Go through it and sign off on it if it is complete and correct. Make sure the team includes timely preparation for reporting deadlines in the project work plan.

My key tips

  • Don’t forget to include support staff in the project team, such as a finance officer, a communication officer, a security officer, an IT officer, etc.
  • Transfer ownership of and responsibility for the project to the team in a participatory kick off meeting.
  • Make the project team responsible for planning for compliance with the donor’s requirements in the grant agreement.

Want to know more and ask questions?

If you want to discuss this more – jump into the Facebook group and get input from a wide range of peers and from myself!

Here is how you can join my free Facebook group

You can join my free Facebook group how to become a professional and resilient nonprofit with Suzanne Bakker here. In this group we will create a safe space for open exchange and discussion on potentially sensitive topics like boards, nonprofit management, fundraising, etc.