A seminar for nonprofits included discussion of scenario planning as it pertained to the Great CIVID Pandemic. It wasn’t so much scenario planning as we use it here on ScenarioPlans.com, as best, worst, and most-likely case (but more on that later). Imagine the nonprofit, out on thin ice, as the world’s economy went into lockdown. What if all funding froze up, even the promises of commitment? What if we are over-whelmed (under-whelmed) with customer needs? What if we have to cease operations (for an indefinite time)?

An excellent article with tools is at Bridgespan: Nonprofit Scenario Planning During a Crisis. (Image is from Bridgespan.)

What seemed to be very helpful was to work through the best case, worst case, and most likely case. This gave firm(er) footing to move forward, aiming for the worst case until indications showed otherwise.

Nonprofits could get pandemic relief funding, so it was prudent to keep employees so that the organization could immediately ramp back up.

Just knowing what the worst case looks like enabled the executives to have a comfort level on how to move forward. Notice how Bridgespan a table with best case on the left. Maybe cut executive salaries by 15%. In the worst case, layoffs and cut executive salaries by 30%.

Hall & Hinkelman (2017) have written on scenario planning and they discuss how scenario planning is different from the worst-case analysis above. Scenario planning would have story lines that discuss how the official future could suddenly change. It would have early warning signs that would indicate that “we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto”. Then it would actually have ways of dealing with the new reality, essentially contingency plans.

Would the scenario planning have a pandemic as its signals and signposts (as Shell refers to early warning signs)? Probably not. However, there would be something that results in a major freeze up or collapse in the economy.  The early warning signs may still work well; and the contingency plans would usually work pretty well.

Effective scenario planning would put any organization weeks, if not months, ahead of the competition. It would also place them in a great position to adjust, adapt and survive.

Scenario Planning for Nonprofits should be more than worst, best and most-likely case. But no matter what you call the scenario planning tool, it is very helpful during times of uncertainty.