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Nonprofit Strategy, Not “Let’s Make a Deal”

The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live.  Flora Whittemore

Do you remember the TV show Let’s Make A Deal or its new version The Big Deal? At the end of the show, the successful contestant has the opportunity to select one of three doors. If they guess correctly, they win the grand prize. If they guess wrong, they end up with a consolation prize. The suspense comes from the fact that three doors with the different prizes are closed.

Unlike the contestants on Let’s Make a Deal when you plan your organization’s future, you want the odds in your favor. To do so, gather all possible doors, open them in advance and select a future strategy after confirming that it will take you where you want to go in the most expedient way possible. This article introduces the nonprofit planning process DOOR. While no one can predict the future, DOOR helps you to identify the future that best fits your organization, with an awareness of all the possibilities and their potential impacts.

D: Discover All Doors

Good strategy thinking considers all the possibilities the “doors” to your future.

Therefore, the first step is to collect all possible doors. Do this gathering before you begin to narrow your focus on the most appropriate doors. Gather the possibilities by listening, brainstorming and exploring divergent views. Gather all possibilities even the ones of which you’re not personally fond. Include those rejected in the past. (“We go back to being an all-volunteer organization in response to the fiscal crisis.”) Gather far-fetched ideas, like “Let’s franchise ourselves across the country.” Gather ideas both said and unsaid. Gathering all doors and considering them seriously will help your organization now and later. Even though this step is not about consensus building, gathering all possible doors and seriously evaluating them in relationship to each other, provides the information you need to create consensus later—even though this may seem counter-intuitive.

Recently, one group that serves children looked at their doors and organized them into seven future concepts. They included: 1) Increase the number of children served at the current sites; 2) Increase the number of services each child receives; 3) Expand by reaching out and serving those with the most need, 4) Add new physical locations, 5) Serve a greater age range, 6) Stay with the status quo and 7) Serve other needs of children beyond the current mission.

O: Open All Doors

To create a successful future strategy, the first “O” in DOOR stands for opening all of the gathered doors. Explore each door until you understand its implications. In terms of next year’s income, a board member suggests, “Let’s raise one million dollars next year,” as a possible door. This door is only cracked ajar. Through the crack, you can see Hawaii, but you can’t tell if it is the real Hawaii or a poster of Hawaii. While a million dollars in income is a grand door, to learn it is realistic, fully open the door.

The following represents an opened door: “We will raise $1 million next year. This year we raised $900,000. The economy is stable. We practiced good stewardship with our donors this year. We added 100 new members, 50 new donors, and 3 income streams (catering, room rental, and snack sales). Next year, we will tend to and nourish these income sources. This might get us over the million dollar mark, but to be conservative we estimated growth at $100,000.”

Opening doors is learning enough to know that you can get there from here. Open doors help you to learn enough to identify a realistic and sequential chain of events from where you are to your goal. This chain of events is concrete enough that it can be shared and understood by your board, staff, volunteers, donors, and anyone in the community with interest.

O: Opportunistic Doors Selected

Once you gathered all the doors and opened them, you want to create a short-list of the doors with the most appeal. Usually, this involves further research and a growth in understanding of each door of interest. Many groups establish a set of criteria to evaluate interesting doors. The DOOR process includes one criterion represented by the second “O” Opportunistic. This step reminds you to prefer doors with “ladders.” The ladder concept is from the game Chutes and Ladders, where you must move from space #1 to #100 on the game board to win. If you land on a chute down you go, but if you land on a ladder you climb quickly bi-passing your opponents stuck on the square-by-square route.

A ladder in your future might be a short cut, special opportunity only you have or a market trend. You climb all of these to reach your goal with less effort. For instance, this recession has been an excellent time for food banks to strengthen their infrastructure. They need to. Demand is up. At the same time, donors are motivated to support infrastructure improvements because they read in the headlines about how critical food banks are to the community now.

Every time period offers ladders. The “O” Opportunistic step shortlists doors that fit best with your organization’s gifts, goals and take advantage of ladders.

R: Results. Mission Satisfying

While some doors may offer interesting and informative outcomes and even great ladders, if they don’t bring you toward your mission, then you need to select another option. Ultimately the door you select, the strategy you will use is the one that your leadership believes will bring you the farthest, the quickest in the long-run toward your vision and creating your mission results. To do the “R” step of DOOR, select the strategy that best helps you connect your goals to mission results.

As a strategy, an organization that seeks to help parents become better parents adds a newsletter as a follow-up and community education piece. The goal is to reach 25 percent of the parents in the community—this outreach more than doubles the number served, improves parenting in the community one tip at a time, drives enrollment at their existing community classes and grows their donor base. Not only is this strategy mission satisfying, but it is also efficient. The organization achieves a lot of outcomes with one new action. “R” ensures you get mission results with the strategy you select.


Unlike the contestants on Let’s Make a Deal, you can learn about all of your options before you select your future. DOOR helps you to collect and open all doors. It helps you to select the door that leads you to your mission efficiently and effectively. If DOOR were a TV show it would lack suspense. Your organization is not a game—it is a mission-driven, life-changing entity that needs thoughtful strategies to succeed. Use the DOOR to strengthen your strategic thinking and planning and to help you evaluate future options.