While it’s common to create best- or worst-case forecasts around that baseline, it’s hard for philanthropic leaders — who have been urgently responding and caring for their communities and staff — to think about the future in a structured way and prepare to create impact across a range of different, plausible futures that might emerge.

Scenario planning is an approach to thinking about the future that is rooted in the recognition that even in the best of times, we can’t accurately anticipate what will come ahead. But decision-makers can begin to imagine multiple pictures of the future and rehearse how their organizations might respond to each.

Our team at the Monitor Institute by Deloitte — the social impact unit within Deloitte LLP — has used scenario planning processes for over two decades, working collaboratively with our colleagues at the former Global Business Network (which helped to pioneer the approach) and developing the resource guide, “What If: The Art of Scenario Thinking for Nonprofits” (written by our then-colleagues Diana Scearce and Katherine Fulton).

Now, in response to the current moment, we’ve released An Event or an Era? Resources for social sector decision-making in the context of COVID-19, a new scenario-planning resource for social sector leaders. (We launched the report last week in cooperation with CEP, New Profit, the Council on Foundations, Independent Sector, the National Center for Family Philanthropy, and United Philanthropy Forum.)

In the report, we explore:

  • Prudent Assumptions: Baseline realities that organizations will need to come to terms with — and hold onto — in order to begin moving forward in the midst of great uncertainty.
  • Critical Uncertainties: Factors that are not only volatile in terms of how they play out, but also have a high impact on how the future may unfold.
  • Scenarios for the Social Sector: Four pictures of what the future could look like depending on the severity of the crisis and whether we come together — or come apart — as a nation.
  • What to do Next: Advice about how organizations can use these scenarios to build resilience and prepare for whatever the future holds.
  • Takeaways for the Sector: Informed by our interviews with social sector leaders, reflections on what the crisis may mean for the social sector as a whole.

Read the full article about scenario planning by Gabriel Kasper and Justin Marcoux at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.