hallway of doors like strategy choices for a nonprofit 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 rather sorry 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. You want all the doors opened and explored in advance. You want to choose your strategy after confirming that what you select will take you where you want to go in the most expedient way possible, with an awareness of all the possibilities and their impacts.

This article focuses on one aspect of strategic planning: finding and choosing the best strategy for your nonprofit.  the nonprofit planning process DOOR. While no one can predict the future, DOOR helps you to identify the best strategy ever for your nonprofit now.  with an awareness of all the possibilities and their potential impacts.

Step 1: Discover All Your Options (D)

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

Therefore, the first step is to collect all possible doors or options. 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 options, 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 consider them. This consideration will help your organization now and later. Even though this step is not about consensus building, gathering all possible entrances 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 strategy 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 helping those with the most need, 4) Add new physical locations, 5) Serve a wider age range, 6) Stay with the status quo and 7) Serve other needs of children beyond the current mission.

Step 2:  Explore Your Options: Open All Doors (O)

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 an entrance barely cracked open. 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 three income streams (catering, room rental, and snack sales). Next year, we will tend to and nourish these income sources. We 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.

Step 3: Select the Best Opportunity (O)

Once you gathered all the doors and opened them, you want to evaluate your options to identify the choices that provide the most appeal. Usually, this involves an analysis of your situation and a comparison of the options to identify which provide what you must have and what you want.  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 options that allow you to leap ahead with the least effort. It’s a bit like landing on a ladder in the game Chutes and Ladders, where you must move from space #10 to #54 in one move instead of going the square-by-square route.

For instance, recessions are a great time for food banks to strengthen their infrastructure. They need to. The demand is up. At the same time, donors are motivated to support infrastructure improvements, because they follow the headlines about how critical food banks.

Every economy and situation make some options more useful than other options. In this step, you determine which option or combination of options provide your nonprofit the most wins and you pick it as your best step option from all you learned.

Step 4:  Get Mission Satisfying Results (R)

While some doors may offer exciting and informative outcomes and even high ladders, if they don’t bring you toward your mission, then you need to select another option. Ultimately the door you choose, 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 choose 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.

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