Making decisions for your nonprofit when you don’t have all the facts? Here is how to make better ones.

Carmen Amell April 26, 2021

In this post:

You can’t predict the future, but you can prepare for it As some future scenarios become less likely, discontinue implementing the corresponding strategy

It’s estimated that the average adult makes more than 35,000 decisions per day. Some of those will have a decisive impact on your future. As part of an organization, no matter the size, mission, or location, our decisions will determine your company and society’s future.

Making decisions can be daunting, and if you are in the middle of a pandemic, even more so. When you are making decisions, you are managing under uncertainty. Nonetheless, there is good news here! The first piece of good news is that there are levels of uncertainty and the second one is that there are steps and tools at your disposal to help you manage the uncertainty and  prevent the worst possible outcomes. 

On this blog, we share with you some key elements and concrete tools from our last webinar- “How nonprofits can leverage agile decision making”. hosted by  IMD Strategy Professor Arnaud Chevalier. After reading this article, you will be better prepared to make a wise decision when you don’t have all the facts. 

When we have to make decisions it’s easy to fall into the trap to keep looking for more evidence, for more information, before eventually coming up with a plan. Then by the time we feel ready to take action, it might already be too late – and an opportunity is missed. 

You can’t predict the future, but you can prepare for it

IMD Strategy Professor Arnaud Chevalier shared with us a 3-step process to help us prepare for the futureS – plural –  and deal with the different uncertainties- in particular extreme uncertainty.

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1. Define the futureS

Looking at your current situation, what would be the worst and best-case scenario for your organization? For example, the worst-case scenario could be that your funding drops to a point where you have to reduce your programs’ reach and impact. Or you are unable to reach your beneficiaries due to the restrictions in place. The best-case scenario could be that you reach your fundraising goal due to additional partnerships.

Once you define what those scenarios look like, or a range between the best and worst case scenario; identify the driving (future shaping) forces.  What are the events that would impact those scenarios—receiving grants from the government? Special appeals to corporate donors? Seeing how the virus evolves? The vaccination campaign in the country where your programs are located? 

Choose two or three forces that impact what the future would be a year from today and monitor them.

2. Prepare for the futureS

Draw a timeline, let’s say a year from now, and then imagine the worst scenario happening; in that case, what would you call success?  Reducing your impact area from 5 to 4 locations?  Shrinking your program offering? Postponing expanding your program to a new area?  Reaching 3,000 people a month instead of 5,000? 

Still, in the worst-case scenario, there is such a thing as success. Now, what strategy would you use for that scenario? Reduce cost? Shuffle your priorities? Launch an extraordinary corporate appeal campaign? Involve your board? For that worst-case scenario, we have goals, a strategy, and an implementation plan. You should undoubtedly do the same for the best-case scenario and somewhere in range.

3. Adapt

You can monitor those forces you identified earlier to determine your possible scenarios and determine the probability of one of those scenarios happening. Monitoring that evidence would give you a better idea of what is the most likely scenario. You will have to be prepared for every scenario, and as you monitor those forces and will have a better idea of what the future looks like. You can then start ruling out the strategy that corresponds to those scenarios that you are  now certain will not happen.

As some future scenarios become less likely, discontinue implementing the corresponding strategy

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An ideal strategy is efficient (focusing where you are right now) and effective (corresponds to where you need to be and to factor in all different scenarios). 

In a nutshell: 

  • What changes in the environment you should monitor?
  • How the changes impact the organization’s survival? 
  • What is the best response to those changes? 

You will increase your chances of succeeding if you roll out a strategy considering where you are right now and your different future scenarios.

When dealing with extreme uncertainty, like a global pandemic, focus first on being effective- preparing for different versions of the future- and only then  work on making it more efficient. 

Note that if we are dealing with manageable uncertainty levels, it’s acceptable to focus on being efficient first.

Another great tip from Arnaud is that decisions amidst uncertainty should be reversible, changeable- so that you can adapt as you get more evidence of how the future looks. It’s only when you have  a clearer vision of the future you can commit and make more permanent decisions. 

But making an informed decision is not enough when working in uncertain times like this. Adaptability and innovation are also crucial. Check out Alaya’s last Guide, “How can you adapt to the COVID world as a nonprofit?” 

The guide includes practical tips and case studies of four nonprofits organizations based in Germany, Switzerland, the United States, and the United Kingdom. They all have adapted their fundraising strategy, programmatic offer, donor retention efforts to continuing delivering their programs. 

Along with agile decision-making, adaptability, and innovation, all four nonprofits leverage Alaya’s platform to offset, to some extent, challenges brought along with the pandemic.

Learn more about how Alaya can support your nonprofit here.

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Guide: How can you adapt to the COVID world as a nonprofit?

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