COVID-19 scenario planning for nonprofit and philanthropic organizations

Navigating uncertainties in the social sector

The COVID-19 crisis has created a moment of hyper-uncertainty for social sector organizations. No one knows how the future will unfold, but the tools of scenario planning can help social sector leaders better prepare their organizations for the different, possible futures that may unfold.

An event or an era?

Your organization’s COVID-19 emergency plan is in place. What’s next?

Many social sector organizations are now at a critical moment. They’ve responded to the initial wave of the COVID-19 crisis, providing emergency relief, adapting to new working environments, and making tough decisions on near-term priorities. As leaders begin to pressure test and potentially change their intermediate- and longer- term strategies, many find themselves swamped by having to make organization-defining choices during a time of such intense uncertainty.

To help add some scaffolding to those choices, the Monitor Institute by Deloitte interviewed over 75 social sector leaders during April and May 2020 to understand what the future might hold for philanthropic funders and operating nonprofits.

In this 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 provocative pictures of what the future could look like depending on the severity of the crisis and whether we come together as a nation—or come apart.
  • What to do next: Advice about how your organization can use the 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.

By Gabriel Kasper and Justin Marcoux, with Kerri Folmer, Joanna Burleson, Rhonda Evans, Jennifer Holk, Sarah Brayton, Apoorva Kanneganti, Leah Jordan Haynesworth, and Danielle Jordan DeVera.

In cooperation with New Profit, the Center for Effective Philanthropy, the Council on Foundations, Independent Sector, the National Center for Family Philanthropy, and United Philanthropy Forum.

July 2020

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