Have you ever been pulled into a meandering project with no clear direction or goals? Projects like these can drain resources, take more time than necessary, and quickly become your least favorite meeting on your calendar.

You can save yourself the pain of a directionless undertaking by creating a project charter. Any major project—such as implementing new fund accounting software—needs a well-developed charter to keep stakeholders focused on the goals and desired outcome.

What is a Project Charter?

A project charter is a brief, formal document that concisely articulates the essential details of the project, such as its purpose, scope, goals, and contributors. The project lead should develop a charter in the planning stages so it can provide a central point of reference throughout the lifecycle of your project. A well-developed project charter can help to keep stakeholders aligned from the onset, avoid common risks and pitfalls, and ensure that you’re making the most effective use of your resources.

Here are 10 essential elements that every project charter should include. You can get a downloadable project charter template on our resource center.

1. Project Overview

Start by providing basic details of your project. Give your project an easily identifiable name, such as Fund Accounting Software Implementation. Identify the person who will be the primary project manager as well as the member of leadership who will make the final decisions. Note when the project was approved, the proposed project start date, and when the project is expected to be completed.

2. Business Case

Your business case is the justification for undertaking your project. This short paragraph should answer questions such as:

  • Why is this project worth doing?
  • Why is it important to do it now?
  • What are the consequences of not doing this project?
  • How does this project fit within your mission, values, and goals?

3. Problem/Opportunity Statement

Your problem or opportunity statement is an objective description of the challenges associated with the gap between the current-state and desired future-state. The problem statement should not presume a cause or prescribe a solution but should answer questions such as:

  • What’s wrong or not meeting the needs of our stakeholders?
  • When and where do problems occur?
  • How big is the problem?
  • What is the impact of the problem?

Outlining these challenges in your project charter will keep your team focused on solutions that can alleviate these issues without getting pulled into new directions.

4. Statement of Scope

With so many issues that could be addressed and so many intersection points across organizational processes, scope creep—the tendency for a project to expand beyond its originally intended purpose—can quickly bog down a project. However, a clearly defined scope is critical to keeping a project on track throughout its life cycle.

Make sure to document exactly what your project will be focused on (i.e., in scope) and, equally important, what it won’t be focused on (i.e., out of scope). For example, you will be reviewing your expense management processes as part of this project, but any fundraising management topics will be reserved for a later initiative.

5. Project Team

List the names, titles, and respective roles of your core project team. This includes the project manager and sponsor identified in the overview. Also identify other decision-makers or people who need to be involved. You’ll want your IT team to be aware of the project so they can review any data security requirements or integrations that need to be established, for example.

6. Goals and Metrics

What does success look like? Document the specific goals you plan to accomplish, including any key performance metrics (KPIs) you’ll use to measure success. For your fund accounting implementation, your goals might include a target launch date, staff training, and the ability to pull relevant reports faster.

Make your goals SMART:

  • Specific: Focused and with a tangible outcome
  • Measurable: Trackable and meaningful
  • Attainable: Achievable within the project scope and time frame
  • Relevant: Aligned with mission and project goals and scope
  • Time-Bound: Realistic yet ambitious deadlines

7. Resources

What resources do you need to fully support the lifecycle of this project? Are there budget requirements? Make sure to document any specific resources necessary to successfully complete your initiative on time including:

  • Skills and labor
  • Financial/budgetary
  • Technology/software
  • Dedicated space

8. Risks

No change management undertaking is without its risks. Proactively identify potential risks so you can realistically consider likely barriers to success and how to address them before they arise. This can include internal issues such as resistance to change as well as external issues such as a vendor with new functionality in production but not available yet.

9. Deliverables and Timeline

Compile a list of your key deliverables along with a tentative completion date for each. Leave space in your list to track when each deliverable was completed. As you are building your timeline, be cognizant of dependencies that might affect other deadlines.

Be sure to have a realistic view of how long a project like this will take. For fund accounting implementation, talk with a peer who recently underwent a similar transition, or talk with your potential vendors to get a good sense for how long it will take.

10. Other Considerations

Remember that your project charter should be clear and concise. It should serve as a guiding document that will help to keep your stakeholders informed, team members focused, and initiative on track. Keep your charter as simple and direct as possible—succinctly conveying any essential details related to your change initiative.

Build a Foundation for an Effective Fund Accounting System Implementation

Changing your fund accounting software can be intimidating. But with the right project management processes in place, you can create a clear path to an accounting system that meets your needs as a nonprofit organization. Your project charter is the first step to making sure you understand the goals and business case for your new system, so everyone understands how your fund accounting software will help you save time, maintain compliance, and make better data-driven decisions.

If you are ready for new accounting software that is built for nonprofit organizations, check out our Fund Accounting Buyer’s Guide to help you identify the functionality you need.

The post How a Project Charter Can Help You Have a Successful Fund Accounting Software Implementation first appeared on The ENGAGE Blog.