Announcement: COVID-19 Scenario Planning for Nonprofit and Philanthropic Organizations

COVID-19’s devastating health and economic impacts have laid bare long-standing racial inequities in our nation, while presenting leaders of social impact organizations with unparalleled strategic and operational challenges. For many, the urgency of delivering programs and critical support—often in fundamentally different ways from just months ago—to constituents and partners in acute need is taxing staff capacity and resources to the limit.

This is why New Profit has collaborated with our long-time colleagues from Monitor Institute by Deloitte to launch An event or an era? Resources for social sector decision-making in the context of COVID-19. This new report is designed to help social sector leaders figure out how to think about the future and navigate through the hyper-uncertainty of the COVID crisis.

Funded by a pro bono commitment from Deloitte Consulting, and in cooperation with the Center for Effective Philanthropy, the Council on Foundations, Independent Sector, the National Center for Family Philanthropy, and United Philanthropy Forum, the report was informed by interviews with over 75 social sector leaders during April and May 2020. It explores four provocative scenarios 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.

The need to look to the future and plan for a world that is hard to see beyond the fog of today is more critical than ever. A recent survey by Independent Sector, of which New Profit is a member, highlighted how difficult this must be for so many leaders doing critical social problem solving work:

Behind these numbers are not only strategic challenges, but also human lives and human wellbeing. In fact, longer-term visioning and planning are also very much about human wellbeing and equity. That’s why the new An event or an era? report leads nonprofit and philanthropic leaders through a framework to guide their thinking and planning in the dynamic context we’re experiencing:

  • 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.

Too often, organizations plan their strategies with an unspoken sense of an “official” future in mind, which leaves them vulnerable when the future doesn’t unfold as they expect. These new scenarios for the social sector aren’t the same as looking into a crystal ball and they are neither exhaustive nor representative of all potential futures. But, we hope they will be valuable in helping organizations begin to  plan, and potentially pivot, across the many possible futures that may emerge amidst the current chaos. Organizations can both work to influence those uncertainties, taking direct actions to help shape the future, and prepare and shift and adapt  get indications of the direction the future is headed.  In either case, we hope this work leaves all of us—our portfolio, our philanthropic partners, and ourselves—far better equipped to make smart, informed, strategic decisions to shape and prepare for any future.

As with everything at New Profit, this work is not just academic; rather, it is in service of advancing equity in our work and in the field, and is especially important in this moment when inequities have been laid bare. With an understanding of these scenarios, we hope that organizations can and will work to influence the field and, as Bryan Stevenson says, “bend the moral arc of the universe towards justice.”

We are delighted to share this piece of work with you and invite you to engage and reach out if you have questions or thoughts.

To read some coverage of the report, please check out the Stanford Social Innovation Review and the Chronicle of Philanthropy.