Decision-Making Basics for These Times

More than ever, organizations are making quick decisions to make sure they can continue to function. Lester Olmstead-Rose, Partner, discusses the importance of using explicit decision-making criteria that can help ensure the decisions you’re making support your long-term financial and mission success.

As the nonprofit sector rushes to respond to the effects of COVID-19, organizations are making quick decisions to make sure they can continue to function. Although these decisions must be made in haste, they may also be momentous choices that will determine long-term financial and mission success.

Because of the potential for huge ramifications, we urge our nonprofit partners to not only move quickly, but to move with great intentionality. La Piana has long promoted explicit decision-making criteria as the heart of effective strategic decisions and action, and the value in that approach has never been greater. Grounding today’s necessary decisions in this approach will set up organizations — and the sector — to thrive when we get to the other side.

In the face of sudden and severe revenue losses or increased expenses, as most nonprofits are now facing, one decision-making criteria must be to promote financial well being. A companion criterion might be to do things that both allow you to survive in the moment, but also to become stronger financially after the immediate crisis. Don’t take your eyes off the long-term.

Another criterion that is always central to good choices is to favor decisions that leverage or sustain your competitive advantage or differentiating strength. This criterion comes from a strengths-based principle: organizations are most effective when they do more of what they are best at. The best way to understand your competitive advantage is to first name other organizations doing similar work as yours, identify what they are really great at, then identify what your group is capable of that is different and better. Then preference decisions that leverage those strengths-based differences — or decisions that preserve those strengths.

You will be able to make decisions in the moment that maintain organizational unity and set you up for future success by creating your own list of criteria, using these criteria to guide your decision-making, and referring to these factors in explaining your choices to staff and funders.

Below are 4-5 criteria that most organizations adopt in some form — you could start by refining these and adding 2-4 additional elements specific to your work. Beyond these basic elements, good decision-making criteria include factors related both to organizational health as well as long-term mission impact.

Possible Criteria

We will make decisions that:

  • Reflect the best way to achieve our mission
  • Leverage and/or build our competitive advantage(s)
  • Support short-term financial stability while building towards a secure future
  • Take advantage of the expertise and resources we have or can easily obtain
  • Serve a need that we are best positioned to meet

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