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How to push your community development project toward success

MRSB Group partner Everett Roche, CPA, CA and senior consultant Cathy McPhail, BA, PMP, Cert.APM provide some key strategies for ensuring your next community project reaches its goal

Communities and regions are increasingly taking a leadership role in their own economic and social development. It is exciting and empowering for residents to get involved in shaping the community they live in and to lead developments that support their vision.

                        

Pownal Sports Centre is one example of a community-led project that experienced great success, in part because of excellent management and resources.

When community development projects receive financial support from external bodies (government, other public monies, private sector contributions), ensuring the sound management of these financial resources and complying with the terms and conditions under which the support is provided are critical steps. Unfortunately, there are all too many examples in the media of non-profits who experience financial mismanagement, even fraud and embezzlement. Sometimes the organization recovers and sometimes not. In either event the capacity of the organization to fulfill its mandate is diminished.

Projects with the proper resources and management, on the other hand, have a higher probability of success and potential funders often look at an organization’s track record when making a decision to approve an application. Successful projects often have a ripple effect, serving as catalysts for other initiatives and investments in a community or region.

Fortunately, there are a range of coordination, financial management and administration activities that can enhance the success of your community development project:

Determining the best structure and governance

It is critical for the community group overseeing important projects to assign roles so that specific parts of the process are handled expertly and efficiently. Not all projects need the same degree of coordination, financial management and administration, just as not all communities and regions have the same degree of human resources to lead and champion projects.  Even when a community or region has a pool of volunteers to draw from, projects may require specialized skills or expertise that are not available in the volunteer base. 

It is important to take the time when considering a community project to realistically assess available resources and plan accordingly. It is possible to fill gaps with contracted, non-volunteer services. Funders and financing sources often approve the allocation of a portion of overall project funds to project management services because of the benefits to keeping the project on track, on time and on budget. 

Preparing an overall project plan

A comprehensive project plan encompasses initiation, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, while balancing the constraints of scope/quality, time and cost. The plan should be appropriate to the size and nature of the project but regardless of size, some level of processes and procedures should be in place to enhance the likelihood of project success. A detailed financial plan that considers tax issues and implications relevant to those involved is an integral part of the overall project plan. 

Securing or negotiating financing

This may be an ongoing process and involve multiple sources. It is important to note than the more sources of funding there are, the more complicated administration will be, as each funding source has its own expectations of outcomes, reporting requirements and timetables.

Implementing and managing the project

It sounds obvious, but it is surprising how many community projects fail to actually get off the ground, even when starting with the best intentions and planning. Implementation and management typically involve some or all of the following elements:

  • Budgeting, timing of capital expenditures and cash flow management;
  • Procurement of goods and services;
  • Regular communication and meetings with funders, suppliers/subcontractors and the broader community to maintain effective working relationships;
  • Tracking and recording of progress;
  • Monthly bookkeeping and reporting responsibilities including financial statements and HST filings;
  • Payroll;
  • Risk management

 

You should by all means be excited about your community project and motivated to see it through. With the right planning and delegation up front, even the most ambitious plans have an excellent chance of success. Our consulting team has seen small groups do amazing things for their local communities, both in Prince Edward Island and across Atlantic Canada. The sky’s the limit!

The benefits of building a professionally diverse team

Brenda Wedge, Principal & Senior Consultant on why a professionally diverse team can work wonders

When you are building a team, whether for a one-time volunteer project or for your newly founded company, one of the first questions to ask is, “Do I want a homogeneous team or a heterogeneous team?” There are plenty of examples of both out there and both can work. Homogeneous teams have the benefit of having similar experiences and thought processes, so when tasks demand a high level of expertise in one area the group can hunker down and, in a sense, speak a unified language. Heterogeneous teams boast diversity and a greater ability to take on multiple roles, which works especially well when the tasks at hand are varied.

At MRSB Consulting Services we made the decision years ago to build a heterogeneous professional team, with a diversity of skills and backgrounds. Our consultants have varied qualifications (MBA, CPA, PMP, BEng, Program Evaluation and Social Sciences) and backgrounds, such as experience working in the private sector, with provincial and federal governments and with educational institutions. 

                   

We’re quite happy with our arrangement and very rarely feel ill equipped to handle a client’s request. So today I’m sharing a few good reasons to consider making your professional team a diverse one, especially if your client base isn’t ‘one size fits all’:

1. It diversifies your service offerings

A key factor in deciding to build a professionally diverse team was an examination of our clients’ needs and the skills needed to provide them with solutions in a variety of areas. A diverse team gives you the ability to perform a range of services and to provide those services to a more diverse customer base. We’ve worked with entrepreneurs, fishermen, farmers, retail store owners, immigrants and government branches – obviously a team with one type of expertise would have difficulty addressing the wide array of questions and needs posed by our clientele.

2. It promotes better problem solving and creativity

Diverse teams can also broaden your perspective when looking for solutions to problems. When a client has a unique request or we just need to find a better way of organizing our online filing system, two mindsets or approaches are often better than one.

Our array of backgrounds and skills promotes creativity and enables our team to generate new ideas. In the same vein, the diversity within our office promotes an internal learning network where team members can learn from each other’s experiences and backgrounds.

3. It boosts productivity

Having a professionally diverse team can increase productivity by allowing team members to focus on their personal strengths and approach other team members to perform tasks they don’t enjoy or where they perceive their weakness to be. Not everyone likes heavy research, just as not everyone will enjoy graphic design or planning after-work events. I sometimes think, ‘How different would our weekly meetings and brainstorming sessions be if all of us were educated in exactly the same way?’ In this sense, diversification creates a win-win situation because the client gets a better product and the employee is happier doing what they enjoy.

If you are looking for a dynamic, effective team that fosters creativity and innovative thinking, consider expanding it to include individuals with diverse skill sets and backgrounds. We are never sorry we did!

Keeping your team motivated when (multiple) deadlines loom

Reflections on the 2015 tax season from Administrative Assistant Shannon Milligan and HR Manager Kathryn Mills

Working extra hours on numerous projects, other work piling up around you, taking work home - all of these tax season symptoms can cause stress. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as long as the overload is of a temporary nature. The challenge for accountants and tax advisors in particular, is knowing that this overload will last until the filing deadline!

But there are two motivating factors that keep people pushing and doing their best during the tax season, and any any busy time for that matter. One is the external realm of our clients, their needs and our desire to do what it takes, within our capabilities, to meet their expectations and provide an excellent level of service. In this sense, we stay engaged because it is a committment each of us has made with valued clientele.

             

The second motivator is our internal world of the office, where our sense of team spirit keeps us having fun together, communicating in an open way and treating every person in the office with appreciation and respect.

All this being said, there are definitely some extra perks that make tax time bearable for everyone and, dare we say it, even make parts of it enjoyable.

1. Management of workload: The partners and managers at MRSB try to reasonably balance individual workloads, so that no one person feels overwhelmed. Everyone works by the same clock and with similar end goals in mind.

2. Health eating: Through the busy season healthy snacks are provided daily for the entire team. Lunch is also provided on many Saturdays through the month of April. A team fuelled on fruit and veggies will arguably perform better throughout the long day than one forced to eat a take-out lunch because they're too busy. (Admittedly, we do indulge in some chips and unhealthy fare on Fridays!).

3.  Stress busting activities: The administrative team manages a few fun events, like staff BINGO, in April to provide stress release. We also host 'Shani's Pub' each Friday after hours, when we can sip a beverage and have a wind-down laugh with colleagues.

4. Good communication: Updates between individuals, divisions or the entire group is a constant, either via group emails or one-on-one check-ins. No manager is ever too busy to pay a visit, and partners operate on an open door policy at all times.

5. Flexible hours: Even though staff are expected to work a scheduled book of extra hours during tax season, flexible work arrangements are available in the event of storm or sickness.

6. Thanks and celebration: Most importantly, sincere appreciation is extended on a regular basis. The partners show their thanks of a job well done in subtle, yet effective ways. A free coffee here and there, or just a pat on the back are common occurences. The whole team also celebrates our big milestones, either at the office with cake or offsite with drinks and music. The end-of-season tax party is something the team looks forward to, and reminisces about, each year.

So there you have it - a few ways your team can keep their collective chin up, even in the busiest of times!

MRSB Group is proud to have been ranked the #1 Best Place to Work in Atlantic Canada in 2014 by Progress Media.

           

MRSB at GSCC spring business mixer

Yesterday a group of MRSB staff carpooled to Summerside for the Greater Summerside Chamber of Commerce's spring business mixer. Held at Centre Belle-Alliance, the event was filled with friendly business owners and professionals. Our hosts, RDÉE Prince Edward Island Inc., the Acadian and Francophone Chamber of Commerce and the Collège Acadie Î.-P.-É. made all guests feel welcome, and handed out some great prizes!

Here are a few photos of the evening's events.

  

    

    

      

  

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