Standard 15: Engaging donors appropriately throughout implementation.
Engage with donors throughout project implementation to ensure accountability and compliance and to strengthen donor relationships.
Communicate risks, issues, and changes to donor in a timely manner, and seek donor approval where necessary.
Managing riskRisk is the effect of uncertainty on project objectives. , managing issues, and managing change are fundamental components of project management. Some project changes may be minor and many projects risks can be managed easily and "retired.” Other issues, changes and risks may be significant enough that CRS should inform the donor, as a key project stakeholder, of their implications and how CRS plans to address or minimize them. In some cases, donors must approve proposed changes before they are implemented. Communicating risks, issues, and changes to the donor in a timely manner:
- Lessens the risk CRS faces by bringing the donor into decision-making as appropriate.
- Helps CRS avoid “surprises” for the donor and smooths the way for more timely and informed decision-making, should a change require donor approval or endorsement.
- Builds donor confidence in CRS’ responsible and professional project management.
- Strengthens CRS’ relationship with the donor through shared learning opportunities.
- Primary responsible: Project manager/chief of party (PM/CoP)
- The PM/CoP monitors risks and changes considering donor requirements and expectations, updates key stakeholders (such as the CR, SMT, governance structure, IDEA), and prepares the information needed for timely communication with donors.
- Others involved: Country representative (CR); senior management team (SMT); IDEA staff; members of the project governance structure
- The CR and SMT, in coordination with the IDEA award managerThe award manager is the individual responsible for managing a project in accordance with the terms of the award, and who represents CRS to the donor for that award. This is not a position, but rather an assigned role: this individual can be an award management officer, chief of party, head of programming or project manager/chief of party. (for centrally funded awards), determine when and how to communicate with the donor about risks or (potential) changes;
- IDEA staff provide strategic guidance for field-based awards, and in the case of centrally-managed donor relationships, communicate and request approval as needed, on behalf of the project team.
- As required throughout the project, and particularly at reporting times (see Standard 15, key action 3).
Follow these steps to effectively communicate risks, issues, and changes to donors (see also Standard 15, key action 4 for guidance on engaging donors on positive developments):
Identifying risks, issues, and changes
- The PM/CoP monitors project progress, risks, and issuesProject issues are unresolved decisions, situations, or problems that will significantly affect the project. in collaboration with other CRS and partner members of the project team, using the evidence-based, action-oriented project management approach described in Standard 11.
- If the PM/CoP identifies a significant risk, or a non-fraud-related issue that suggests a potentially significant change in project scale, scope, budget, or other dimension, the PM/CoP alerts the SMT and the IDEA point of contact for the donor if applicable. When communicating with the SMT and IDEA staff, the PM/CoP notes:
- Whether the proposed change requires donor prior approval.
- (For previously-identified risks or issues) What has changed about the issue(s) and/or risk(s) – e.g., increasing complexity which is challenging CRS’ issue management strategy; risk assessment increasing from medium to high.
- The project team’s ideas regarding whether and how to communicate the issue and/or risk to the donor.
- For any case of potential fraud, the PM/CoP immediately follows the steps outlined in the Fraud Allegation Management Procedure (FAM).
Project governance structure and communication with donors around risks, issues, and changes: Members of the project governance structure regularly review project risks and issues and as needed, approve proposed changes that exceed the PM's or CoP's decision-making authority, per agreed project tolerancesProject tolerances are quantified descriptions of acceptable variation or performance limit within an individual's authority -- for example, the percent by which a project can overspend or underspend without the approval of the project governance structure. Establishing project tolerances clarifies what decisions the project manager/chief of party can make. Decisions related to project performance outside of an established tolerance (e.g., over or under-spending by X%; a change in the implementation schedule that will result in a project delay or time saving of Y weeks) require approval by the project governance structure. (see Standard 6, key action 5 and Standard 11, key action 2). For critical risks and issues, governance structure norms provide for emergency consultation and communication. Be sure to engage all members of the governance structure (including any members from outside CRS) per agreed norms before communicating with the donor.
Deciding whether and how to communicate with the donor
- If donor approval is needed for a potential change or action resulting from monitoring of project progress, risks, and issues, the CR or IDEA staff contacts the donor to seek approval as soon as possible, per the donor’s required or preferred communication channel and process.
- If a formal award modification is needed, the PM/CoP (with IDEA staff, as applicable), documents the justification for the requested modification.
- If a change does not require donor approval, or if the risk or issue is not critical, the PM/CoP engages the SMT and/or IDEA staff to determine whether to communicate it in the next scheduled report, or to provide the donor with an informal update.
Plan carefully when communicating a risk, issue, or change to the donor: How to communicate with the donor depends on the issue, risk or change in question, any past related communication, and the donor’s communication preferences and interests. The urgency of the situation and the complexity of the issue are also important considerations. While highly sensitive issues, risks and changes may require urgent verbal communication, it is also important to share the right information, with the proper context. Even for urgent issues, discuss with the SMT, donor engagement staff, and others as needed before contacting the donor.
- After sharing a risk, issue, or change, the PM/CoP (or other CRS staff who leads engagement with the donor) keeps the donor updated at an appropriate frequency. The CRS staff member may update the donor through subsequent formal, written communication or through in-person or telephone updates.
- Formally update the donor as soon as possible when a particularly important issue is resolved or critical risk retired.
- As appropriate, ensure formal reports include follow-up information about the evolution in the status or management of risks and issues, the closure or retirement of a risk, and the impact of implementing changes previously discussed or reported.
- Use opportunities for face-to-face engagement with donors (see Standard 15, key action 4) to provide additional context about risks, issues, and changes, and to further explain CRS’ approach to managing them.
Documenting communication with donors around risks, issues, and changes
- The PM/CoP documents and files all communication with donors around risks, issues, and changes. Formal communication with the donor should be uploaded into the Gateway Award Record as part of an auditable file.
- If CRS requested a formal modification, the award manager documents the modification request and outcome, and saves this documentation in the Gateway Award Record under key documents.
Documentation is essential: Maintain good records of communication with donors about project risks, issues, and changes. CRS and the donor may revisit these topics, and having a clear and complete record of past communication is invaluable, especially when multiple staff may be involved in these discussions or at times of transition. Documentation includes preparing e-mails summarizing phone discussions and sharing with the parties involved. Save documentation in Gateway.
When CRS is a sub-recipient
- Partners should be active participants in identifying and managing project risks and issues; they will likely have important contributions regarding how to properly frame a risk or issue within the project operating context.
- If a potential project change affects a partner, discuss the change and CRS’ plan for communicating it to the donor.
- If a project change requires prior donor approval, make sure the partner knows to wait until CRS confirms donor approval to implement the change.
- Communicate changes and risks to the prime as you would to a donor funding CRS directly.
- Support the prime by presenting to the donor any significant issue, (proposed) change or risk that directly affects CRS’ scope. Provide clear and comprehensive information about the background to the issue/proposed change, including why any requested change is essential to positive project outcomes.
- If the issue, risk or (proposed) change has implications for CRS beyond the project, negotiate for CRS to review the final draft communication to the donor, and/or to participate along with the prime in communication with the donor.
- As noted in Standard 10, key action 4 on developing donor engagement plans, in emergency projects, changes, including significant changes, are the norm as are adjustments to risks and risk assessment.
- Frequent and informal updates to the donor are extremely important to keep the donor informed of the evolving project context. Such updates can help speed approval for any changes that may be necessary. This communication also helps deepen the donor’s understanding of project management realities.
- Although there may be more frequent and less formal communication with emergency donors about project risks, issues and changes, it’s still very important to document such communications (e.g., an e-mail summarizing a call) and to request in writing changes requiring donor approval.
Tools and templates
- Primary responsible: Project manager/chief of party (PM/CoP)