What If?
What If?  
The Art of Scenario Thinking for Nonprofits
Diana Scearce, Katherine Fulton
July 2004

Scenario thinking is a tool for motivating people to challenge the status quo, or get better at doing so, by asking "What if?" Asking "What if?" in a disciplined way allows you to rehearse the possibilities of tomorrow, and then to take action today empowered by those provocations and insights. What if we are about to experience a revolutionary change that will bring new challenges for nonprofits? Or enter a risk-averse world of few gains, yet few losses? What if we experience a renaissance of social innovation? And, importantly, what if the future brings new and unforeseen opportunities or challenges for your organization? Will you be ready to act?

What If? The Art of Scenario Thinking for Nonprofits (July 2004) aims to better prepare nonprofit leaders for the future by familiarizing them with scenario thinking. The material presented here derives from the institutional knowledge of Global Business Network and from GBN's multi-year partnership with the David and Lucille Packard Foundation's Organizational Effectiveness and Philanthropy Program, launched in early 2001 with the goal of raising awareness of scenario thinking among nonprofits. This guide is but one result of that collaboration.

The guide was intentionally designed to be read either whole or in sections, with each chapter addressing a specific aspect of the art of scenario thinking for nonprofits. What If? can be downloaded in its entirety, or by chapter, by clicking on the PDFs in the righthand column on this page. In addition, we offer a selection of excerpts from the guide that provide an overview of key scenario thinking concepts.

Introduction
The introduction addresses why scenario thinking—and looking toward the future—is particularly powerful and important for nonprofits. It also describes the guide's intended audience and how the guide can be used.

Chapter 1: Scenario Thinking Defined
This first chapter offers an overview of scenario thinking—what it is, how it works, and what it yields—and helps you make an initial assessment about whether scenario thinking is right for you.

Chapter 2: Scenario Thinking in Practice
This chapter outlines the five basic phases of the scenario thinking process. It also offers some simple variations on the process—standalone exercises that will give you a taste of scenario thinking. And it addresses how you can use scenario thinking to inform the development of strategic plans, theories of change, and visions, concluding with some practical advice on putting scenario thinking into practice in your organization.

Chapter 3: Stories from the Field
This chapter features a series of real-life examples that show how a variety of nonprofit and public sector organizations have put scenario thinking into practice.

Chapter 4: Resources
This final chapter includes a glossary of terms that you may want to refer to while reading the guide. It also includes an annotated bibliography of select readings that will help you extend your knowledge of scenario thinking theory and practice, as well as a list of the sources of many of the quotes and concepts found through the guide.

Overview of Scenario Thinking Concepts
A compilation of excerpts from the guide that provides an overview of key scenario thinking concepts. While it lacks the rich detail provided in What If?, it can be a useful starting point if you are looking for a quick summary of the basic scenario thinking process and how it is typically used.

We encourage you to use and share the contents of this book, and we welcome your feedback. For more about this book, email whatif@gbn.com.

 

What If? The Art of Scenario Thinking for Nonprofits (PDF: 2.9 MB)

What If? The Art of Scenario Thinking for Nonprofits  
(PDF: 2.9 MB)
Introduction  
(PDF: 336 KB)
Chapter 1: Scenario Thinking Defined  
(PDF: 743 KB)
Chapter 2: Scenario Thinking in Practice  
(PDF: 624 KB)
Chapter 3: Stories from the Field  
(PDF: 1.5 MB)
Chapter 4: Resources  
(PDF: 249 KB)
Overview of Scenario Thinking Concepts  
(PDF: 87 KB)
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