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The secret to monitoring programs and projects in NGOs

Posted by  Christopher Brewer

The dual purpose of not-for-profits creates a number of challenges for program and project managers; understanding the difference and how they affect reporting processes is essential for NGOs that are looking to satisfy donor expectations and run efficient projects.

As a manager of a not-for-profit (NFP) organization, you must monitor budgets and allocate resources while keeping in mind the ultimate goal of serving beneficiaries.

There’s nothing new there.

But the number of challenges created by this dual purpose and double bottom line are growing, which mean you can no longer use an aged software solution designed for a stable, predictable, product-centric sector like manufacturing.

Dual purpose, programs and data

To meet the objectives of your dual purpose, your organization must use data to monitor monetary outlays as well as outcomes and achievements. Plus, you must manage project cycles — in a way which is world’s apart from commercial entities — in order to satisfy donor expectations and ensure efficient project functioning.

But data is being collected so fast, from mobile devices, timesheet apps and financial software systems, that the challenges of making sense (and use) of it all are mounting. And, because programs often consist of multiple projects which combine to bring about a particular goal, no one project can be analyzed in isolation.

So, understanding the difference between commercial and NFP project management models and how they affect reporting processes is becoming more and more important. Getting the right solution for the job can be a game-changer for NFPs like non-governmental organizations (NGOs), charities and aid agencies.

Understanding logframes

In the commercial business world, results are purely financial. The bottom line is a single notion that drives it. The multiple dimensions of the NFP world make things more complex. That’s where logical framework (logframes) come in. For an NGO, results are outcomes, social impact; numbers of families saved from poverty, educated or vaccinated, for example.

Under a logframe analysis, this is considered alongside the specific beneficiary group, the financial aspect of the bottom line, and the responsibility of program managers like you to be held accountable to donors for budgets, cash flow and expenses.

It’s a delicate job. As a program or project manager, you need to define the framework, the goals and success indicators, and the logframe serves this purpose — if you have the right technology.

Aged and unfit

Because NFPs are not like commercial entities, they shouldn’t use technology solutions designed for profit-making organizations. That’s obvious. But it’s surprising how many not-for-profits still use aged systems for project management, financial management and other back-office functions.

These legacy systems were built for commercial organizations and, often, designed for assembly-line businesses. Some have been customized for the service industries, with bolt-ons. But they are expensive to maintain and update; they often cause more problems than they solve.

In NFP organizations like yours, you need a solution which can provide an all-in-one resource to not only demonstrate how the project is progressing but where the money is being spent. Timesheets for staff members and contractors, travel expenses, incoming and outgoing invoices, and all other financial transactions should be tracked in relation to the project and its activities. 

You can’t do that with an aged software solution designed for a product-centric sector like manufacturing.

Solution architects solving problems

As solution architects and technology providers, it’s our purpose to solve these problems to help the end recipient. That’s why we exist — to solve problems for organizations so they can create space for their people to do work that really matters. That’s why we design and build industry-specific software from the ground up.

Is your organization is struggling to ensure financial transparency and reportable information about the success of its activities? To learn more about the systems you'll need for proactively monitoring a project, the frameworks that work best for your programs and projects, and how to get the right solution that incorporates these tactics, download Monitoring Programs and Projects in NGOs.

Christopher Brewer

Chris has more than 25 years experience working with some of the world's largest Not-for-Profits and NGOs to enhance their technological capacity. As a Global Lead, Not-for-Profit, Chris focuses on helping leaders identify and address changing patterns in philanthropy and shifts in technology to ensure their organizations' ongoing success and increase social impact.