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!