Projects are not part of an association’s core activities but separate, time-constrained ventures with the goal of achieving a predetermined change. A project has a clear start and an end as well as purposefully set objectives. Usually, these types of projects last for up to four years. Carrying out such a project typically requires external funding. For this reason, it is worthwhile to familiarise oneself with potential funding programmes at an early stage. Different funders provide funding to very different types of operations and activities. Application periods and the amount of funding available also vary significantly. Knowledge of different funders also supports project planning since it gives you an idea of the types of projects for which it is possible to find funding.
The objective of a project is to achieve change and the project must respond to an existing need. The first stage is to find a need as well as an idea that would work to achieve desired change. Part of honing an idea is to also assess the operational environment and outline the target group, i.e. the beneficiaries of the project. Once the idea is clear, the association starts the practical planning of the project. It is useful to plan the project together with the target group and possible partners. The project plan states the key information about the project and answers the following questions:
- For whom?
- What is the objective?
- Then what?
- With what resources?
- How to measure?
While planning the project the association also draws up a detailed budget plan, i.e. an estimate of the project’s costs and revenue. The budget must be based on the project plan, meaning it has to state how much funds are required for the implementation of the project and where the costs stem from. In the planning stage it is advisable to look up information on different funders. The way in which funders operate varies greatly and, therefore, one should research the following questions:
- What kinds of limitations and requirements does the funder have for the project?
- Is a co-financing required, i.e. does the association itself have to provide a proportion of the project funding?
- Are there eligibility requirements for associations, is the funding for example only intended for associations working with certain themes or within a given geographical area?
- Does the funder pay the grant up front based on the project plan or afterwards based on receipts?
- Does the association have the resources and know-how to handle project administration and management in addition to conducting the actual project activities?
- How do the results need to be monitored and how are they reported to the funder?
What is a good project application like?
Reserve plenty of time for writing the project application. Research the funder and how they operate at an early stage: each funder has their own application periods, and application and budget forms. Before submitting the application, ask for example a co-worker, another association, or a person unfamiliar with the subject matter to read your application. Comments from others help make the application as clear as possible.
In a good project application:
- The target group is clearly defined and distinguishable
- The need is concretely and concisely described and well justified
- The objective is a clear, measurable and realistic description of the change which the association wants to achieve during the project
- The measures to be taken are clearly defined and are appropriate relative to the objective
- There are plans for monitoring and evaluation of the project
- Partners crucial to the project have confirmed their commitment
- The budget is justified and reasonable relative to the objectives of the project and the operations involved
- The project involves a plan for the continuation of the activities and for sharing the results
Implementation of the project – remember monitoring and evaluation
If funding is granted, the implementation of the projects begins. The previously created project plan is a useful tool for managing the project. The project staff will break down the content of the project into clearly defined tasks. At the same time, they decide who is responsible for each task. It is helpful to create an annual calendar for the project schedule. This also helps to keep track of the progress of the project. Sharing information about the project with others, i.e. planning and carrying out external project communications, is beneficial. Funders also often have their own guidelines regarding communications.
Regular monitoring and evaluation of the project is crucial. It enables learning and further development of the project. Funders also require the association to monitor and report on the progress of the project. Monitoring must begin at the very start of the project. Remember that the association may only use the funds for the purpose defined in the application. The funding must not be used for any other activity. The funding must also be used within the timeframe agreed with the funder. Always check what the rules, conditions and reporting practices regarding the funding are with the funder in question.
Need: A concise and concrete description of why the activity or project you are proposing is needed from the perspective of the target group and operating area. The need must be described in detail and it must be based on high-quality sources, such as studies and reports.
Target group: The people for whom the activities will be organised. Also find out the size of the target group and consider how many individuals you wish and realistically can reach.
Objective: The change or impact you wish to make through the project, relative to the need you described. The objective should be such that it is achievable within the time-frame of the project and through the planned measures. The objective must be defined and realistic. In addition, you must be able to measure in some way the extent of progress you have made toward the objectives. Create practical indicators for the objectives, through which you can monitor your progress relative to each objective.
Measure: Measures are the concrete actions taken in the project in order to achieve the objectives. Measures can include organising training, group activities and guidance, among others.
Output: Something concrete that has been created or carried out through the project, e.g. a guide, operating model or training event series.
Result: The development or change that the activities create. The intended results must be in line with the objective.
Effect: Progress which the activities drive in the long term. Effects are brought about by results.
Assessment of the operational environment: An assessment on what the starting point is regarding the project objective. Research also where to organise activities and with whom to cooperate.
Monitoring: Continuous gathering and examination of project data.
Evaluation: Systematic analysis and interpretation of the data related to the project, its results and effects relative to the objectives and expectations.
Budget: An estimate of the project’s revenue and costs.
Indicators: Something concrete and observable that allows the measuring of change, such as the number of participants at an event or the circulation of produced material.
Risk analysis: Risk refers to the possibility of an event occurring which impedes the accomplishment or success of the project. Risk analysis involves identifying relevant risks and assessing their likelihood and magnitude. Lastly, measures for responding to significant risk are determined as well.