Nonprofit Scenario Planning Tools – Learned and Learning – COVID-19 Lesson

Aurora Grants & consulting

While formulating multiple scenarios, nonprofits are also building stronger cases for support from potential funders.

This is the third blog in our series “COVID-19 Lessons Learned and Learning”. The first talked about nonprofits pivoting to meet their constituents’ immediate needs due to the pandemic. The second dealt with creating an annual fund development plan with built-in backup fundraisers that can help a nonprofit stay on track to meet its year-end goals. This last blog shows how we can apply these lessons and new practices for long-term success.

One significant consequence of the pandemic concerns assumptions so basic to nonprofit operations, we weren’t even aware we were making them: assumptions such as believing that the demand for our services would continue to grow, or at least remain stable; that our method of service delivery was suitable for meeting clients’ needs; that our work environment could ensure the safety of staff and volunteers; that traditional fundraising methods would not only continue to sustain our organization, but fuel its growth.

Over the past few months, we have had to drill down on those assumptions and imagine a world where each of these foundational supports was pulled out from beneath us. Tough questions are being asked and answered. Which programs should be cut first? Which staff positions? What is the minimal level at which the organization can remain operational? What partnership possibilities would enable us to continue serving our clients? Armed with these projections, boards across the nonprofit sector are modeling Best, Moderate and Worst Case scenarios, each with its own operational budget.

This work is tough, time-consuming and challenging for nonprofit leadership. For grant writers, however, these scenarios are a dream come true. Finally, we are gaining the tools needed to satisfactorily answer the dreaded Sustainability Question. Included in the majority of grant applications, here are some actual examples:

  • Explain your plans to support the project or operations after the grant period. In addition, include plans for moving forward, if the requested funds are not granted.

  • We assume most nonprofits will sustain/continue their programs/projects by seeking additional grants. Any plans to sustain this program/project other than grants?

  • Explain plan for putting project/program on a self-sustaining basis and when this will occur (300 words max).

By formulating appropriate responses to each scenario, a nonprofit is also building its plan for sustainability — and an even stronger case for support from potential funders.

Resource: TheBridgespan Group has posted a number of COVID-19 Resources for Nonprofits on its website, including a tool for leading nonprofits through the scenario planning process.


This toolkit offers a four-step scenario planning process anchored in preserving your organization’s ability to pursue its mission during times of crisis. Click here for the full article!

  • Aurora Grants & consulting