‘Value for Whom, by Whom’: Investigating Value Constructs in Non-Profit Project Portfolios

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Karyne Cheng Siew Ang
Shankar Sankaran
Catherine Patricia Killen


In most non-profit organisations (NPOs), there are multiple programs, projects or initiatives running simultaneously. The management of multiple projects in organisations can be coined as project portfolio management (PPM) (Archer & Ghasemzadeh 1999; Pennypacker & Dye 2002).  In any project-based organisation, it is critical that selected projects align with and deliver the organisation’s strategy or mission. Decisions about project funding are strategic decisions, particularly when there are resource limitations. In PPM decision making, the allocation of resources to projects requires a clear judgement of value across multiple perspectives. Value has often been expressed in financial terms, however increasingly research indicates that non-financial considerations are equally important in evaluating value.

A key task in project portfolio management is to maximise value across the portfolio.  However, value can be a subjective notion, as each person may have different expectations of what is valuable. The involvement of diverse stakeholder interests could create complexities in decision making in non-profit organisations due to value being interpreted in different ways by the stakeholders. Furthermore in order to achieve its purpose, non-profits depend heavily on donors, patrons and sponsors - stakeholders who contribute to the portfolio but are often not the direct recipients of the services provided by the non-profit organisation (Kaplan 2012). Non-profit portfolios often compete with other initiatives for resources and attention from the same donors and sponsors, and may need to constantly justify the value they provide to these stakeholders.

Most research about value in PPM has been conducted in the ‘for-profit’ sector. Recent value-based studies in the project portfolio field stress the importance of considering both commercial and non-commercial value in portfolio decision making (Killen, du Plessis & Young 2012; Kopman 2013; Martinsuo & Killen 2014; Thiry 2001, 2002). Non-commercial value includes the ecological, social, and learning dimensions of value (Martinsuo & Killen 2014), whilst commercial value is characterised by financial and economic measures like market value. The research reported in this paper is distinct as it investigates non-commercial value in the non-profit sector. The study extends our knowledge about strategic value and multi-stakeholder management in the non-profit sector. The findings also contribute to the overall understanding of PPM by providing insights about the multi-perspective aspects of value and the management of portfolios in complex environments involving multiple stakeholders.

This paper commences with an outline of past and contemporary views about value and discusses how these views might relate to PPM and NPOs. Next, it deliberates the extent to which multi-stakeholder perspectives of value are discussed in the literature.  An empirical qualitative research design is used to explore value in project portfolios from the perspectives of multiple stakeholders in two inter-related case NPOs. The paper concludes with a discussion of the findings to highlight several value perspectives drawn from the non-profit sector that have significant theoretical and practical contributions to understanding value typologies that underline stakeholder constructs of value and decision making in project portfolios.

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Research Article (Double blind review)