Giving Compass' Take:

• Gabriel Kasper and Justin Marcoux explain the value of scenario planning during COVID-19 for protecting nonprofit organizations.

• What role can funders play in helping nonprofits prepare for the long-na d shotrt-term consequences of the crisis? What additinoal support would organizations your work with benefit from? 

• Learn more about nonprofit scenario planning

Organizations trying to navigate through the COVID-19 crisis often find themselves alternately paralyzed by the hyper-uncertainty of the moment or swamped by a crushing number of choices. So over the course of April and May 2020, our team at the Monitor Institute by Deloitte talked with more than 75 social sector leaders about how they were managing in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, to see how we could help. We found that different organizations are preparing for wildly different futures.

Some leaders drew parallels to the 1918 Spanish Flu, which killed more than 675,000 Americans and caused unspeakable suffering for about two years. Yet after that crisis, many in the country just moved on. One historian called the 1918 flu “America’s forgotten pandemic,” writing that, “Americans took little notice of the pandemic and then quickly forgot whatever they did notice.” Even today, there are few memorials or remembrances for a virus that killed more Americans than all the wars of the 20th century combined.

Some people we spoke with see the COVID-19 crisis in much the same way: wrenching and painful, but ultimately an event that our communities will move past.

With this sense of the future in mind, the challenge for operating nonprofits would be how to develop interim solutions and temporarily adapt their fundraising, staffing, programs, and operations to make it through until a new normal emerges. Funders, meanwhile, would need to figure out how to respond to urgent community needs and ensure that nonprofit partners can weather the storm, while not losing sight of their long-term visions and strategies.

Other social sector leaders, however, are anticipating an entirely different future. They see a Great Depression-level of economic dislocation that could last for many years, alongside a major health crisis that will spark deep changes in how society functions. They see the crises creating huge levels of need in communities while also causing drastic, multi-year budget shortfalls for states, municipalities, and operating nonprofits alike.

And they note that the COVID-19 crisis isn’t occurring in isolation. The activism for racial justice taking place across the nation is intersecting with the health and economic disparities laid bare by the virus. To these leaders, COVID-19 may mark the beginning of a fundamentally new era.

In this context, nonprofits would need to figure out how to fundraise and provide critical services in the midst of a severe and prolonged disruption that forces them to fundamentally rethink their programs and operating models in a lasting way. At the same time, for many we spoke with the visible failure of existing social supports could also prompt a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the social sector to help reimagine unjust systems. Funders would need to figure out how to find the right balance in their support for these very different—and often competing—types of community needs.

Read the full article about scenario planning during COVID-19 by Gabriel Kasper and Justin Marcoux at Stanford Social Innovation Review.