We Can’t Predict the Future, but We Can Plan for It!

Jun 6, 2012

Today’s guest post is written by Susan Danish, Executive Director of the Association of Junior Leagues International, Inc and speaker at our National Conference of Volunteering and Service in Chicago.

Are you ready for the year 2031?

We’re just getting used to what 2012 is serving up and 2031 is five presidential cycles away, with more ups and downs inevitably occurring in the economy and with who knows what shifts coming in consumer behavior, technology and popular culture.

So you’re allowed to say “No…I have no idea what’s going to happen in 2031!”

But, as a leader of a nonprofit organization, you do need to think about the question. What problems will your organization face in 2031? How will they challenge your mission? And will it even be the same mission?

Is 2031 too far away to worry about? How about 2015? Or 2018? Moving the timeline forward leaves us with the same issue – it’s hard to plan for what hasn’t happened yet.

Enter scenario planning, a tool for planning for the future by understanding the impact of larger trends like demographic, economic, cultural that are driving change in our world today.

Sound too complex? Just think of it as storytelling. Humans have been telling each other stories for thousands of years. Children’s stories are often compelling precisely because they are based on uncertainty, change and often danger. The reader is presented with a dilemma, the reader learns to think about how they would deal with that dilemma and a “solution” to the dilemma is realized. My favorite ending is: “And they all lived happily ever after!”

Scenario planning is a great tool for nonprofits, and one that The Junior League has used successfully (at least, so far) as we plan for a future that will inevitably be very different from our organization’s first 111 years. And while it doesn’t replace the development of a strategic plan, it’s a useful first step and a valuable check and balance to your strategic planning process.

By thinking about multiple futures, scenario planning is a useful technique when your organization is:

  • Dealing with a strategic issue and the solution is unclear
  • Doing work that is interdependent on multiple organizations inside and outside the nonprofit sector
  • Addressing interdependent and complex issues
  • Recognizing the importance of external trends
  • Looking to address diverse points of view and needs
  • Dealing with complex stakeholder relationships

Because The Junior League, with its more than 155,000 members, is a volunteer-driven organization, our scenario planning involved four “stories.”

  • “It’s a Wonderful Life” –  renewal; a world in which the prevailing mindset is “our community’s wellbeing is up to us.”
  • “Fusion 2027” – global change; a world in which the prevailing mindset is “our world’s survival is up to us.”
  • “Home Alone” – survival; a world in which the prevailing mindset is “my survival is up to me.” 
  • “1CLK4U” – complacency; a world in which the prevailing mindset is “our well-being is up to someone else.”

We prefer the first two scenarios, but need to prepare for the others just the same.

Susan Danish will speak at (2427) How Scenario Planning Can Help Prepare for the Future in a Changing World. Association of Junior Leagues International, Inc. is the 91-year old umbrella organization for the 293 Junior Leagues in four countries whose Mission is to promote voluntarism, develop the potential of women and improve communities through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers.