Scenario Planning – How can I do a 3-5 year Strategic Plan when I don’t know what will happen next month? – By Sue Pulfer

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This year strategic planning is different.

Many MAS clients have quickly realized that it doesn’t make sense to plan for 3 years out when there is so much uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. However,  it is still important to discuss strategy with your board, even for the short term. Shifting to an 18-month view of the future can help ensure that the organization survives and thrives through and after the pandemic.

Scenario planning has become a useful tool to enable Boards, Executive Directors and staff of nfp organizations to create a plan to get through the next 18 months.

Here’s how it works:

Look at 3 possible scenarios, optimistic, pessimistic and most-likely (somewhere in between). List your assumptions for the scenarios. In our current environment the scenarios are all about COVID-19 and the availability of a vaccine but this technique can be used in any times of great uncertainty for your organization.

Next, brainstorm around what the 3 scenarios would look like for your organization. Once the 3 scenarios have been fleshed out begin work on how your Programmatic impact (how deeply will your programs be impacted in each scenario), Financial impact (how will your financial situation/revenues be impacted) and People impact (how will this affect our staff/volunteers, clients, partners and other stakeholders).

Next, make a plan for the most-likely scenario. Describe your high-level strategy for how to ensure success in this scenario, e.g. “Make spending cuts such that the revenue and expense curves align again by fall; Start planning activities, virtual and in-person, for 2021. Identify other ways to raise funds in this scenario”.

Identify immediate and next steps, timelines and owners for the action plan. Brainstorm around ideas for future consideration e.g. “Identify 3 organizations we could partner with”, “Revise Fundraising plan for virtual instead of live events”. And finally, list indicators to track that could impact your scenario or cause you to have to re-assess, e.g. “Vaccine development and availability”, “Continued commitment from volunteers”, etc.

Scenario planning is a useful tool for brainstorming and planning with your board and staff around how to navigate the next 18-24 months.

MAS pro bono consultants can assist you in creating a scenario plan for your organization. If you would like assistance fill out our request for assistance here:

This scenario plan borrows from the 5-box scenario planning tool developed by The Management Centre. For more info see


About Sue Pulfer

Sue is MAS Co-Executive Director, focusing on advising in areas of IT and Strategic Planning and facilitating non-profit Board and Staff events.

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