Project Start-Up: A Checklist

Project Start-Up: A Checklist

August 2009 Newsletter


Project Start-Up: A Checklist

In the June Newsletter we reviewed developing a project concept and working with donors, in the July Newsletter we looked at project design, Logframes, and submitting your proposal.


Congratulations! Your proposal was successful and you received news of a grant award. Now comes the time to launch the project: where to begin? There will be a two to three month delay prior to receiving the funds – this is good – there are a number of things to do in preparation: Donor contract completion and project preparation.


Donor Contract Completion

This can be the simple matter of signing the donor’s contract, but in some cases, this can be a time of intense negotiation with the donor. They may require additional documentation. Some donors will request that a separate bank account be set up for the project and that an independent financial auditor be contracted.


Project Preparation

But this newsletter is about the actual hands-on aspects of project start-up. It may have been six months or a year since you designed the project and wrote the proposal; this is the right time to review it and refresh your memory about the details. The narrative portion of the proposal, the logframe, the schedule and the budget will each provide you with their own unique level of information.


Next is getting organized: Here is a checklist to help you get started.



Are you fully staffed for this project – or will you need to hire more people?

Is the project management staff on-board?

What is the time frame for hiring and how easy will the positions be to fill?

Do you have a clear description of the people you need to hire?

Who in your organization will be in charge of the search and the hiring process?

Will new-hires need specialized training?

Will this be contracted out or do you have the training capacity?

Can new-hires shadow existing staff as part of the training process?



Have you stayed in contact with the beneficiary community?

Will they need to be re-approached?

Who should do this and in what time frame in relation to project start-up?

Is the community prepared for the project?

Do you have clear communication with the village leaders, elders and with women’s groups too?

Have you consulted them about how much time they have available for participating in the project?

Do they feel that the benefits of your project outweigh their time lost from other activities?

Do you have a champion of your project in the village who can answer questions and provide follow-up when you aren’t there?

Do you have a strategy for using workshops as your delivery medium – or do you prefer to work with individuals?

Do you have an exit strategy in mind? At some point, if the project is to be sustainable, the community needs to take complete ownership.



Does your proposal call for partnering with other organizations?

Who in your organization should arrange this – and in what time frame?

When would be a good time to call a meeting of all the partners and project staff?



Will you need to purchase any specialized equipment that has a long lead time for ordering?

Have prices remained stable for equipment?

Have prices remained stable for other materials you may need?

Did your proposal have a plan for price increases?



Do you need to begin activities (interventions) immediately upon receiving funding – or was preparation time included?

Do any of your activities have a long lead time for preparation?

If you need to hire new staff and prepare for activities do you feel that your schedule accommodates this?

If it doesn’t, can you ‘borrow’ staff from another project on a temporary basis?

Do you have descriptive information for existing staff and new hires about the project and their role in it?

Do you have project activity ‘how-to’ manuals so that field staff will be fully prepared?


Administrative Support


If you have staffers who will be joining this project, a meeting will be in order to review the project and look through this checklist. Checklist items can be delegated. Important things to determine:

§ Does the group feel that the project schedule is still appropriate for the project?

§ Is there enough lead time prior to start-up?

§ Have any bottlenecks appeared in hiring or purchasing that will impact the schedule?

§ Are there any cost items that could be a problem? Can you devise a plan to solve this?

§ Are there any new external factors that will affect the project?

§ Are there any new beneficiary factors that will affect the project?

§ Who is in charge of:

o Hiring?

o Logistics?

o Project Management?

o Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting


If difficult challenges are discovered prior to signing the donor contract, project details may be able to be re-negotiated such as schedule modifications, or dropping non-essential activities in order to free up cash for price increases. Donors can be quite reasonable in modifying projects prior to signing, especially if external factors are to blame and the overall project cost doesn’t go up. A sound suggestion would be to propose changes to a donor only once; so go through the project very carefully at this stage.


On The Ground

The field staff should be as close culturally to the project beneficiaries as possible; the two-way flow of information will be much better. They will be able to convey information without making cultural gaffes, and they will be able to sense any resistance to receiving information. They are the front-line ambassadors of your organization and you need to give them the courtesy of making sure they are fully prepared to do their job.


There are five necessary things to do to help prepare them.


1. Provide them with sound training; sound training on participatory practices, engaging with communities, leading workshops and training on the activities they will be implementing. If they are going to be teaching kitchen hygiene – they need to be fully versed in kitchen hygiene.


2. Provide them with mentoring. Let them audit workshops led by a more experienced staff member. Introduce them into their project community with their mentor. Encourage their mentor to follow up frequently in the first month and slowly taper off.  


3. Provide them with the tools, materials and access to information that they need to do their job. They should have a binder with complete information on the activities they will be introducing to their community. In the early stages they can study the materials new to them, later they can refer back to it. Then they can add new information of their own as they learn more. Make sure that they have access to the posters and handouts that they need for workshops. They may need large sheets of paper, markers and other ‘classroom’ materials. They should be able to have access to the Internet so that they can download additional materials.


4. Ensure that they fully understand the mission of your organization, the expected outcomes of the project and the importance of their role. Encourage them to feel included in other areas of your organization: donor relations, project management, grant writing, reporting. They are a part of the implementation team and need to understand where they fit in and how important they are.


5. Make them part of the project concept team too. They will know more about beneficiary need than anyone else in the organization. They will be able to help grant writers know if a proposal is a good fit for field staff and beneficiary. They will be able to help with budgeting and scheduling, and be able to suggest practical ways to accomplish activities.


Monitoring, Observation, Reflection, Lessons-Learned, & Adapting the Plan

Do you have a plan for evaluating, during the course of the project, if the information is being adopted – or if there is resistance? This knowledge can help you adapt your strategies to be more effective – and certainly will help with future project design. Do you have measureable outcomes that can help you to see if you are on track – or if you need to adapt your plan based upon lessons learned?



Good reporting is key to maintaining your strategic partnership with your donors. Current donors and potential donors like hearing stories from the field; make sure that your field staff capture human-interest stories that are succinct, compelling, feature what the donor is most interested in, show progress, and have a core message. Be sure to capture some great photos. People in action. People smiling. More on reporting next month…


In Review

Here are the highlights of good project start-up:

Donor Contract Completion

Project Preparation






Administrative Support

Field Staff

Monitoring, Observation, Reflection, Lessons-Learned, & Adapting the Plan



Next Month: September 2009 Newsletter

Reporting: Marketing for New Funding


Please feel free to contact me with questions.




Tim Magee