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What Now? 9 Tips for Planning Amidst Uncertainty

Well friends, here we are again. Another uncertain fall season looms and our hopes of returning to in-person gatherings and a less virtual world are beginning to come to halt. Will we have in-person events this fall? Will we be able to meet with our donors face-to-face? Will we be returning to offices? Where's our crystal ball?! While we can't predict the future, we can prepare for it. Don't be paralyzed by the unknown—there is still much planning that can done. Our team here to help with 9 tips for planning amidst uncertainty:

  1. Over Communicate - keep strong lines of communication open with your donors, with your staff, with your vendors. And make sure it is two way communication - now is the time to have open dialogues and create space for discussions. If you have concerns about hosting an event in person - speak up. If you think sending a donor communication now is insensitive - explain your rationale. If canceling a project could cost your organization a lot - show them the budget worksheet. Now is not the time to hold back. If you do not know the answer be honest. And when you do get the answers share it widely and make time for all the questions. People are frightened and unsure and they want (and deserve) answers.

  2. Be Prepared - the Boy Scout motto really has to come into play during these crazy times - we have to be prepared to change, flex, and even cancel our plans. So when planning a project, donor communication, or event have a plan B, C and even D. For example, what’s our timeline and delivery plan for the final product if we are working A) in-office B) remotely or C) in a hybrid model? Make the plan easily accessible to your team so they can anticipate the changes that might arise. Prepare talking points so your team has a consistent message to share with donors. Know when it is too late to back out of a vendor contract and what the costs will be if you have to cancel or push something back. Stay on top of CDC guidelines and make certain you have everything in place to follow the guidelines. It is better to prepare for worse case scenario than to get caught flat footed.

  3. Continue to give grace - to yourself and to your team and colleagues. Plans and back-up plans may be as thorough as possible and still not be 100% achievable in times of uncertainty. Be as deliberate and thorough as you can be in planning, just don’t be too hard on yourself or others if, despite your best efforts, projects still don’t go as anticipated.

  4. Practice self-care - We have to do lots of self care during these times when our natural instincts are to over-plan. Sometimes the answer comes in stepping away from the problem, getting perspective and reevaluating what is truly important. Make sure you are taking care to cope with the uncertainty and find a way to adjust both personally and professionally because this type of lengthened uncertainty can do damage to our mental health.

  5. Err on the side of caution. - Don't overextend yourself or your organization just because you feel pressure to have an event or gather people. If it doesn't feel right it probably isn't. Remember optics are a big deal and while you may satisfy a small group of donors with a gathering, you may alienate others. Be mindful of this paradox as you do your planning. Better to have an abundance of caution than end up on the news.

  6. Turn uncertainty into opportunity. We tend to draw inward, hesitate, and overthink, but truly, these are the times that if we act with care, thoughtfulness, and attention to detail, we can innovate in new ways. Unsure how to proceed in new terrain? Take the opportunity to survey your donors and ask what they want and need. Under pressure to execute an event, but have limitations and many unknowns? Shed the expectation of reproducing exactly what was done in the past and try new techniques while keeping the core purpose and intent the same.

  7. Be resilient, patient and let things go! We have all become pros at this in the past year, but we need periodic reminding as we will continue to feel and see implications for years to come. We have live, and learn to be comfortable (as possible), in the gray areas.

  8. Be thoughtful and intentional in your planning and communications, and be prepared for pushback on the decisions you make, from both internal and external constituencies. In many places, decisions about public health are being viewed through a politicized lens, but while we must fulfill our responsibility to uphold the guidance we are provided, we must also stay out of the fray. Be upfront in communicating with donors about expectations for in-person experiences, and whenever possible, center your conversation on their generosity and the difference it makes in your organization.

  9. Lean into the lessons learned from the past 17 months - We can create meaningful connections without in-person experiences -- and these are oftentimes more fulfilling than those we offered prior to March 2020. Whether with donors or with team members, I know many of us are eager to reunite in-person whenever we can, and working together, we will get there. Center your efforts on purpose -- remember your why -- and keep the spirit of innovation alive.

Most importantly, take good care of yourself and your loved ones. As always, we will get through whatever comes next, together.


The DRG Group


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