It’s a whole different non-profit world

Working almost most of my life in the for-profit sector, it is a very different experience being engaged on a project in the non-profit world. The difference becomes even more obvious when the project itself is being done through a network of volunteers, such as the Taproot Foundation. The project scope, the objectives, the deliverables – all a different ballgame. And if you are not used to it, shifting gears to think like a non-profit, to accept the differences is a very hard and painful work.

My first Taproot Foundation project is a website refresh. This is project is for DuPage Habitat for Humanity. The Habitat for Humanity organization wants to increase on-line donations and better promote itself through an appealing website. Sounds simple, right? Something that we do almost every day. It seems that as of late, in my day job, I have 2 of these projects running at the same time. I can prepare a project plan and outline the deliverables with my eyes closed and hands tied behind my back. Or so I thought…

The rude awakening, the realization of how different this experience is going to be came during the internal kick-off meeting. Listening to the project leader outline the final deliverables, it took me a long time to come around to his point of view. In the for-profit world, such deliverables would never fly. A paying client expects a complete project: from design to implementation. However, in this case, the deliverables are much more vague. The gist of it – we’ll do as much as we can in the time allotted. We won’t implement the new website. We may not even do the entire website. We’ll do as many pages as we can within the budgeted duration and effort. Suggest something like this to a paying client and you’ll be out of the door faster than you can ask where is the bathroom.

I’m still trying to come to terms with this. Maybe looking back, after the project is finished, I will think differently. But today, it seems that this small non-profit organization, the one that can’t afford a paid consulting team, is getting the short end of the stick and yet it is very thankful to get even that much.