Project Management for Nonprofits: 7 Free Tools

Gia Chow
Gia Chow

In the nonprofit sector, we all wear a lot of hats. With so many things going on, it’s challenging to organize projects and still maintain high productivity. Thankfully, modern technology has helped to bridge the gap between minimal resources and achievement to ensure successful project management for nonprofits.

What Is Project Management?

According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), project management is “the use of specific knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to deliver something of value to people.”

Simply put, project management is the process of guiding a team to complete a specific goal within a specified time, scope, and budget. Within the project management process, there is planning, documentation, execution, and communication. For every project, there is a project manager who is responsible for delegating responsibilities and making sure tasks are completed on time and within budget.

Project Management For Nonprofits FAQs

How can I use project management in my nonprofit?

For nonprofits, common examples of goals that can fall into project management include: 

  • Creating a new program
  • Implementing a continuous learning or process improvement initiative
  • Organizing a fundraising or special event
  • Rolling out a new system, software, or tool

What are the 4 types of project management?

There are many project management frameworks out there, each with their own set of rules and techniques. Choosing the right one can be difficult but here are the top four that come up fairly often:

  1. Waterfall – a linear system in which a project is mapped out into clearly defined steps. In order to move onto another step, the step before it has to be completed. This system is fairly rigid and works best for projects where the steps aren’t expected to change over the project’s lifecycle.
  2. Agile – an iterative system where a project is broken up into smaller, incremental chunks. If you anticipate that your project’s needs will shift, this system can provide the flexibility needed to pivot accordingly.
  3. Lean –  a system that looks at the project’s value from the client’s perspective. It’s a framework that allows you to examine where to cut waste at every phase of the project.
  4. Scrum –  a type of Agile methodology that focuses on using small teams, shorter cycles, and frequent communication to manage and track projects. Similar to Agile, it’s best used for projects that may be frequently changed.

Why is project management important in nonprofits?

Project management is crucial because it brings direction to projects. It helps to chart the path of a project, guiding your team to move with direction and purpose. 

Project Management For Nonprofits Best Practices

To ensure that your project is a success, we’ve gathered some project management best practices to get you off on the right foot:

Draft A Project Brief 

A project brief maps out a 10,000 foot overview of your project and scope. It’s a way to define what you are and aren’t doing. Project briefs don’t have to be long and cumbersome documents. At minimum your project brief should include:

  • The name of the project
  • The stakeholders
  • An overview
  • Objectives
  • Scope
  • Deliverables
  • Milestones
  • KPIs and success metrics
  • Budget, timeline, and resources

Plan to revisit the project brief regularly throughout the project to make sure your team stays on the same page. 

Get SMART With Your Goals 

When developing your project objectives, following the SMART framework to ensure that your goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.

  • Specific:  What will the goal accomplish?  How and why will it be accomplished?
  • Measurable: How will you measure whether or not the goal has been reached? 
  • Achievable:  Is it possible?  Have others done it successfully? Do you have the necessary skills, knowledge, competence, and resources to accomplish the goal?
  • Relevant:  Is the goal related to the problem it is designed to solve?
  • Time Bound: When do you expect to complete the project and does that completion date create a reasonable sense of urgency?

Be Aware Of Scope Creep

Scope creep is when a project’s requirements or tasks are changed so much that it puts the project at risk for not finishing in the planned time frame or within budget. You may have defined a scope initially, but it’s easy for the scope to change or grow along the way. 

Establish Clear And Consistent Communication

Regular communication is key when it comes to project management whether it’s with your team or stakeholders. Without clear and consistent communication, trust and collaboration can take a nosedive. For internal communications, make sure to keep everything in one centralized place. This will help to limit confusion and set expectations going forward.

Prepare (And Plan) for Setbacks

In an ideal world, your project would go off without a hitch and meet every task due date. But that isn’t reality. Even the best laid plans will have setbacks so expect the unexpected. Be proactive (and flexible)! Have a plan for adjusting timelines, budgets or task assignments. 

Utilize the Five Phases of Project Management

The five phases of project management divide a project into segments that introduce a structured approach, manage expectations, allocate resources, and simplify steps. They help teams streamline communication and progress through the project while keeping in line with an established budget. 

1. Conception and Initiation

Before you begin your project, you need to determine the problem you’re trying to solve, the outcome(s) you want to achieve, and how you’ll measure success. If you can’t answer why your nonprofit needs this project or how you will benefit from this project, you’ll likely need to reevaluate your goals. 

2. Planning

The next phase of your project involves outlining a roadmap that your team will follow to complete the project. This is basically where you determine how you’re going to achieve the goals and outcomes defined during the conception phase. Here, you’ll decide things like your overall timeline, the project management software you want to use, and your budget.

3. Launch and Execution

The launch and execution phase is when you’ll officially kick off your project and get to work. Once team members begin working on their delegated tasks, be sure to set up recurring meetings to track progress or to provide updates. 

4. Performance and Monitoring

During this phase, you’ll monitor the project’s progression to ensure that it’s still on schedule and within budget. Using KPIs to keep pace on project performance, you’ll also be working to solve any unexpected issues or roadblocks that come up along the way.

5. Project Close (and Analysis)

Yay – you’re close but not at the finish line just yet. Closing out a project is more than just turning in the final deliverable and celebrating with your team. It’s important to conduct a project retrospective and analysis to capture lessons learned and best practices for future reference. A few guiding questions to ask yourself (and your team) during this final phase includes:

  • What did we do well?
  • Where could we improve?
  • What did you learn?

The great thing about these five phases is that they’re mutable. You can use them as guiding steps but customize them to fit with your team’s needs.

Choose The Right Project Management Tool

Choosing the right project management tool for your team can make all the difference and there’s definitely no shortage of tools out there. We recommend testing and trying out various options to see what works best for you. 

What Are Project Management Tools & Why Do I Need Them?

A project management tool improves task delegation, collaboration, and risk mitigation. There’s no shortage of project management tools (free or paid) out there to choose from. The best project management tool will vary based on needs and budget of each organization. 

Whether you need help streamlining project workflows, improving communication with your team, or task management and assignments, there’s a project management platform out there that can meet your specific needs.

We’ve put together a list of the seven best project management tools that will help you reach your goals.

1. Trello

Trello is perfect for list-makers.

Whether you work at a single-person operation or on a team, Trello’s project management tool enables your projects to function with a clear organization and flow.

Team members can see your real-time updates, so you can know exactly what tasks have been completed, which ones are pending, and which ones have yet to be started.

A Trello board is a list of lists, filled with cards (the basic unit of a board) that you drag, drop, and re-order as needed. You can move cards from list to list to show status progression, and you can add people to cards, label them, vote, attach files, start conversations, create task checklists, and so on.

What’s more, Trello boasts that they’re, “simple on the surface, with more under the hood”. The concepts of cards and lists are basic, but the additional features they offer allow you to work on even the largest projects with ease.

By opening a card you can add comments, upload files, add labels and include due dates. Plus, there are no limits to the number of people you can add to your team for free, which is a great benefit for nonprofits.

One great feature of Trello is the ability to create cards and comments via email. Each board has a special email address you can use to create cards. Moreover, you can also reply to notifications via email without opening Trello.

The company keeps things simple without unnecessary features. So, if you like to keep things neat, clean, and organized, Trello is a great free option.

2. Asana

Asana features a number of practical features and benefits.

Whether you have a big or a small project, your team is sure to stay organized and on track by utilizing Asana’s basic tools: project workflows, task assignments, team establishment, due dates, and comments.

On the communication-front, Asana only sends relevant updates to team members. This means that you and your team are not inundated with information that is irrelevant to your part of the project.

Additionally, at-a-glance status tracking means that you do not have to send or receive emails to know exactly where your project stands.

More advanced features include the ability to upload documents, and multiple integrations. You can also invite guests to your teams, enabling you to collaborate with outside vendors and contractors.

Asana is free for up to 15 users. If you have additional users, or you would like to upgrade to utilize more advanced features, Asana Premium is available for $10.99 per user when billed annually and $13.49 per user when billed monthly.

3. is a robust project management tool.

From managing basic projects to a portfolio of complex projects, brings teams together over one shared platform. 

You can customize the structure of your projects using templates, automate tasks, and monitor the status of all of your projects in one intuitive dashboard. starts off at $0 with their Individual plan (up to 2 users), but if you require more robust features, you can opt to upgrade your account to a paid account.’s website suggests a paid plan with prices automatically reflected based on your selected team size. 

4. MeisterTask

MeisterTask offers incredible functionality with their free accounts: customizable dashboards, free apps for mobile and PC devices, and integration with MindMeister, the online mind-mapping app that lets you brainstorm with others in real-time and create project plans visually.

Essentially, this allows you and your team members to brainstorm and collaborate remotely. From there, you can drag and drop ideas into tasks connected to your projects.

MeisterTask’s free plan includes two integrations, customizable dash and project boards, checklists, comments, and attachments. If your organization needs more than the basic plan, MeisterTask’s Pro-Plan is available for only $8.25 per user, per month and the Business Plan begins at $20.75 per user, per month. The upgrade includes unlimited integrations, workflow automations with Section Actions, and statistics and reports.

5. Bitrix24

Bitrix24 prides itself on being a powerful project management tool with the intuitive communication features found in social media networks.

Users access an activity stream, which includes a real-time update feed where all changes and new additions by associated users are visible. This feature ensures no one in your organization is left in the dark on project statuses.

There is even an option to “like” updates in the activity stream in situations where opinions and comments are needed and warranted.

Functional features include standard workflows (leave requests, business trips, expenses, purchases, general requests), email integration, employee workload management, and more.

Paid plans range in cost from $49 per month to $199 per month, and offer added options like reports, call analytics and reports, and CRM record conversions.

6. ClickUp

If you’ve tried other project management tools and weren’t impressed, then give ClickUp a go.

ClickUp has a clean interface with three different viewing options designed to appease a variety of users. If you tend to work on more than one project at once, you can use the multitask toolbar to make sweeping changes to all or just a select few tasks.

This tool has features designed for every type of user, from managers to designers and developers. Whether you need to make comments and perform simple projects or need a complex system to track time and create schedules, this program has the capability. As a bonus, their list of possible integrations is gigantic and noteworthy.

ClickUp is free for unlimited users and up to 100MB of storage. If you need a more robust storage system, check out the Unlimited Plan, which starts at $5 per user per month.

7. Basecamp

Basecamp is designed to help you and your team stay accountable and to keep “everyone on the same page.”

Like other project management tools, Basecamp focuses on to-do lists. Users can create, modify, assign, add notes, and complete to-dos as necessary. This platform offers multiple avenues to foster communication and collaboration, including message boards, direct messaging, and a “Campfire” group chat function. Other key pros of this tool include a scheduling feature, file storage, notifications, report options, and a customizable interface.

You can try Basecamp out for free for 30 days, but the price goes up to $99/month for unlimited users after the trial period. 

Project Management For Nonprofits Made Easy

To continue moving forward to reach your goals and make an impact in the world, your organization has to operate efficiently.

Affordable, high-caliber project management tools will help you stay focused, organized, and on budget. With the variety of features and benefits offered by the platforms listed here, you should be able to successfully find a tool that fits your nonprofit’s needs. By combining the right tool with the guidelines listed above, you will be well on your way to greater efficiency, which equals greater impact for your nonprofit!

This post was originally published in August 2016 and has been updated in November 2022 to reflect changes and additional recommendations.

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