Understanding how to transform an idea into an impactful project is crucial for non-profits, which often operate with limited resources and a strong dependency on donor funding and volunteer efforts.


For non-profits, the plethora of tasks can include community outreach, donor management, volunteer recruitment, program development, advocacy, and more. The key to success is to establish clear priorities that are aligned with the organization's mission:

Organizational Mission → Strategic Objectives → Operational Goals

The alignment ensures that all stakeholders are working toward a common vision. Transparency in goals from the organization-wide level to individual team members is critical. This collaborative approach encourages a sense of ownership and enhances team morale.

Prioritization usually occurs on an annual or biannual basis, acknowledging that non-profits must remain flexible to respond to urgent needs or unexpected opportunities.

Strategic Planning Cycle

The planning cycle is guided by the organization's long-term strategy, which is revisited annually or every few years. Strategic planning aims to ensure that the organization can execute significant initiatives that advance its mission.

Inspirations for projects may originate from any level of the organization, reflecting a grassroots approach to innovation. Before the planning cycle begins, managers and team leaders collect ideas and suggestions from all staff and volunteers.

A selection of these ideas is then considered for the upcoming cycle. Advocates for each proposal develop a brief that outlines the project's objectives, expected community impact, and key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure success. This documentation is circulated to the entire organization for feedback.

Following this, a series of focused meetings take place to discuss each project in detail. These are inclusive, allowing everyone from staff to volunteers to participate. Afterward, a smaller group, including representatives from various departments and key stakeholders, convenes to prioritize the projects based on impact, feasibility, and alignment with strategic goals.

The outcome is a ranked list of projects the organization aims to undertake. Resources are then allocated accordingly, and teams are assembled to start turning these plans into reality.

Remember, in the non-profit sector, the "customers" are the beneficiaries of your services – whether they're individuals, communities, or causes you serve. Therefore, all planning and prioritization efforts should center on maximizing positive outcomes for these groups

Quarterly Planning for Non-Profit Organizations

Quarterly planning in a non-profit context is shaped by the overarching mission and strategic direction, which are typically reviewed on an annual basis. However, the tactical adjustments and specific initiatives may be revisited more frequently to stay responsive to the dynamic nature of non-profit work.

The alignment ensures that all stakeholders are working toward a common vision. Transparency in goals from the organization-wide level to individual team members is critical. This collaborative approach encourages a sense of ownership and enhances team morale.

Prioritization usually occurs on an annual or biannual basis, acknowledging that non-profits must remain flexible to respond to urgent needs or unexpected opportunities.

Aligning with Strategic Vision

Quarterly planning is anchored in the strategic plan, which sets the direction for the upcoming years. Regular check-ins at meetings, such as a monthly town hall, ensure the plan remains relevant and responsive to new challenges and opportunities. The objective of quarterly planning is to focus efforts, streamline operations, and deliver impactful projects to the communities served. Project timelines may vary, from quick one-month initiatives to more complex ventures lasting up to nine months.

Collaborative Idea Generation

Initiatives often emerge from within the ranks, sparked by insights from those working closest to the organization's beneficiaries. Before the beginning of a new quarter, program managers and team leads engage with staff and volunteers to solicit ideas that can advance the organization's mission. These ideas are then evaluated for strategic fit and potential impact.

Proposal Development

Those who propose initiatives are tasked with drafting a concise plan. This document should outline the project's scope, intended impact on the community, and crucially, the metrics that will be used to gauge success. By consolidating these plans into a preliminary document, the entire organization is afforded the opportunity to review and provide input, ensuring a wide range of perspectives are considered.

Inclusive Discussions and Decision-Making

To minimize meeting fatigue while maximizing input, project discussions are held in comprehensive sessions open to the entire organization. This allows for a diverse cross-section of viewpoints to be heard. Subsequent meetings are more focused, bringing together department leads and key stakeholders to prioritize projects based on their potential for impact, resource requirements, and alignment with the non-profit's goals.

Finalizing the Project Slate

The result of this collaborative process is a prioritized list of projects for the upcoming quarter. The selected initiatives then move into the implementation phase, with teams mobilized and resources allocated to achieve the set objectives.

In non-profit organizations, such structured yet flexible planning ensures that efforts are concentrated on areas where they can make the most difference, whether that be in service delivery, advocacy, education, or community support, always with an eye on maximizing the positive impact on the mission's beneficiaries.

Adaptive Project Management in Non-Profit Organizations

Adaptive project management in non-profits is a set of principles and practices that focus on iterative planning, ongoing stakeholder collaboration, and flexible response to change. It emphasizes the incremental delivery of value, continuous improvement in processes, and the ability to pivot swiftly in reaction to evolving community needs or funding landscapes.

Agile, Adaptive Project Management (APM), Community-Driven Development (CDD), Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM), Lean for Non-Profits, Kanban for Social Change, Scrum for Impact... Feeling overwhelmed? Let's simplify:

  • We aim to create ongoing value for the communities we serve.
  • We need the flexibility to adapt our strategies in real-time, as needs and resources change.

Breaking It Down:

Iterative Delivery: Just like in Agile software development, we focus on delivering small, measurable, and impactful changes to our programs. Instead of a finished 'product', we might look at delivering a completed phase of a community project or an educational initiative.

Stakeholder Collaboration: We involve our community, volunteers, and partners in the planning process, ensuring their input and feedback are integral to our project development, much like customers are to Agile development teams.

Adaptive Planning: Our project timelines are flexible, allowing us to adjust our actions as the environment or our stakeholders' needs change.

Continuous Improvement: After each initiative or event, we review what went well and what could be better, aiming to improve with each iteration.

Rapid & Flexible Response: When faced with unforeseen challenges, such as changes in funding or a sudden need in the community, we are prepared to respond quickly and effectively, redirecting our efforts without being bound by a rigid plan.

By adopting an Agile mindset, non-profits can become more effective and responsive. Instead of being daunted by the jargon of Agile methodologies, think of it as a commitment to be as impactful and efficient as possible in achieving the organizational mission.

Let’s start over:

  • We want to consistently ship value to our customers.
  • We want to be able to change directions quickly and easily.


In the nonprofit realm, each project team dedicates itself to achieving specific milestones during each sprint. A sprint typically spans 1 or 2 weeks, focusing on deliverables that will directly impact their stakeholders by the sprint’s end.

The sprint objectives are crystallized in a planning session involving the project’s team members, which may include program coordinators, volunteers, and the project manager, for a concise 30-minute meeting every Tuesday. In these meetings, we:

  • Assess our accomplishments against the goals set for the previous sprint, understanding the reasons for any discrepancies.
  • Prepare a presentation for our community gathering to highlight our journey and showcase tangible progress.
  • Establish clear and attainable targets for the upcoming sprint, which commences the morning after our community gathering.

The critical outcomes of the sprint planning meeting include reflecting on the prior sprint’s triumphs and challenges, readying an engaging demonstration for the larger team, and allocating specific tasks to each team member for the new sprint.

By adopting this structure, nonprofit teams can foster a disciplined, yet flexible approach to achieving their mission, ensuring that every sprint yields concrete results that align with their strategic objectives.

The backlog

Within the nonprofit sector, each initiative team is responsible for maintaining a backlog of project activities, which in the context of software development are often referred to as "user stories." These activities represent the individual tasks or steps necessary to reach the objectives set for each sprint.

When introducing a new item to the project backlog, it's essential to categorize and tag it accurately. This practice is vital for a couple of reasons:

  1. Clarity and Organization: Properly labeled tasks help keep the backlog organized, making it easier for team members to understand priorities and deadlines.
  2. Performance Tracking: Correct classification allows the team to monitor their efficiency in resolving challenges or issues that arise, which in the nonprofit context could be hurdles like resource limitations, stakeholder engagement issues, or operational setbacks.

For nonprofit teams, it's important to remember that the "user" in user stories may not be a software user but could represent beneficiaries, donors, staff members, or volunteers—essentially any group or individual who will benefit from the task's completion.

Regularly updating and refining the backlog ensures that the nonprofit remains focused and adaptable, ready to advance its mission effectively with each completed task.


project tasks and activities can be as varied and complex as any found in the tech industry. To manage these effectively, employing a scoring system like the Fibonacci sequence (1, 3, 5, 8, 13, etc.) helps in quantifying the relative complexity or effort required for each task. This system is advantageous for its nonlinear scale, which more accurately reflects the uncertainty and complexity associated with tasks as they increase in scope.

  • Initiative-Specific Tasks: For activities that fall within a strategic initiative, the dedicated team assigns a Fibonacci score to each task. A simple task might be a "1," whereas a more complex one might be scored as "5" or "8," depending on the effort and resources needed.
  • General Organizational Tasks: For tasks that are not tied to a specific initiative, a centralized team or appointed specialist evaluates them using the same Fibonacci scale. This helps to determine the relative effort and thus prioritize these tasks accordingly.
Implementing the Fibonacci scoring system assists nonprofit organizations in several ways:
  1. Prioritizing Projects: With a clear complexity score, it’s easier to decide which projects or tasks should be addressed first based on their importance and the effort required.
  2. Resource Management: Understanding task complexity helps in assigning the right amount of resources, preventing both over-commitment on minor tasks and under-resourcing of major ones.
  3. Timeline Forecasting: Tasks with higher Fibonacci scores will likely take more time, which can guide more realistic deadline setting.
  4. Balancing Workloads: By having a visual and numerical representation of task difficulty, work can be more evenly distributed among team members, preventing burnout.