Scenario think (step 4)

Welcome to the last article in the series of scenario thinking. We hope you have enjoyed reading the articles and, most importantly, we hope it has inspired you to use creative thinking in your strategic planning.

If you haven’t read the previous articles, we highly recommend you do so before you read this last article. Click on these links: Scenario thinking step 1, step 2, and step 3.

Right, we’re at the final furlong. We’ve created narratives for our future scenarios, and now the next step is to act upon them. We’ll explain this section with a case study.

We had the pleasure of working with a medium sized charity made up of eight participants. We split the group into two and asked each sub group to dive into their scenarios by imagining the opportunities and challenges that could emerge from them. This involved getting the group to perceive the future as a reality. In this particular case, the subgroups were asked to consider how they could maximise income from their network of local charity shops in light of a ‘bargain culture’ developing as a result of the recession?”

Pretending comes to all of us. As children, we were always daydreaming and acting out scenes of what we wanted the future to be. We get mixed reactions when we ask people to create a reality of the future but after a few warm up exercises, people soon relinquish the hold that their conscious mind has on them and allow their subconscious mind to take over. In this case, we asked the group to use crude materials i.e. cardboard, wood, print outs to reconstruct a scale model of what their charity shop would look like in the future.  A number of new ideas were generated.

The next step was to get the sub groups to evaluate the ideas against a set of criteria in order to take forward the most promising one. We used various evaluation techniques such as force field analysis and pay-off tables. This enabled the subgroups to get into a generative dialogue constantly refining and testing the ideas, sometimes often synthesising ideas together, to create a superior model.

One of the reason why we got involved in training and facilitating fundraisers to use creative problem solving skills was the energy and enthusiasm that emerges from them; and, it’s at this stage where this happens in abundance.

Once again, thank you for reading this series in scenario thinking. We hope you enjoyed it. Please do get give us your thoughts. Our email address is


No logical thinking please, we’re fundraisers!

It’s not all logic?
It would be wrong of us to patronise you by saying that something is not quite right when an area of your fundraising isn’t performing as well as you expected.

But, we’d like to say that instead of approaching the problem from a logical perspective, you’d be in a better position to use creativity to solve your fundraising challenges. Again, we might be treading on your toes if we say that logical thinking derives from your existing knowledge base (forgive us) but we are trying to focus your attention on what happens when a new challenge emerges, one that your knowledge base doesn’t solve as easy as you had hoped?

Why restrict stretching your knowledge base?
One could easily plagarise a solutions from a top charity but another’s solution never really fits perfectly into another person’s problems and two, copying a solution rarely inspires people who need to drive it forward. Almost like inviting a group of people to a Michelin star restaurant and ordering their dishes on their behalf.

Another point, we’d like to mention is that why copy a solution from someone else? Doesn’t that just prevent you from extending your knowledge base? The less you attempt to stretch your thinking to generate new solutions, the more you are widening your inability to solve future problems. It’s as if you are chopping off a leg but still trying to run in a race in the hope that you won’t come last.

You see, logical thinking is a bit like boring sex. Relying on what we’ve learnt in the past soon feels like its time to fake a headache. If we work in a sequence of steps based how we’ve overcome past problems, we miss out on opportunities and overlook threats.

Creativity is the answer.
Be willing to use creativity to break away from conventional thinking and explore the plethora of possibilities by diverging your thinking. Creative thinking techniques can enable you to achieve this. Then evaluate the possibilities, a method of synthesising the most meaningful possibilities, in order to decipher true insights into the challenge.

If you’d like to learn about creative problem solving, please contact us. We’re happy to share our knowledge on the subject. Our email address is

What is creative problem solving?

Creative problem solving is a structured process for solving problems when you want to go beyond conventional thinking to arrive at a better solution.

Why would you want to go beyond conventional thinking? Solutions to problems have lifecycles – the are born and die. A solution’s lifecycle is dependent on a problem’s behaviour. As long as a force doesn’t disrupt the behaviour of a problem, it won’t change, and as a result, a solution to a problem won’t need to change either. Are you still with me?

Some solutions to problems never change, for example, people have for years solved the problem of a bleeding finger by applying an elastoplast. Think for a few seconds what would happen if the problem changed? Let’s say for the sake of argument that medical trials revealed that the material used to manufacture an elastoplast caused blood clots? The problem has all of a sudden changed.

The user will need to come up with a new solutions to stop the bleeding and the manufacturer of an elastoplast will need to find a new solution to produce a new elastoplast. Old ways to stop the bleeding will not solve the problem. The user and manufacturer can’t rely on conventional thinking which relies on what we have already stored in our memory banks to solve problems. We need new solutions, and to do this, we need to rely on our creative minds.

OK, some problems don’t require lengthy thinking. There are a number of variables which determine the weight of the problem.

One thing is certain is that for people who can’t afford to wait for problems to change, creative problem solving provides them with a process to mitigate possible problems.

Scenario think (step 3)

If you haven’t already read the first and second steps in our series of ‘Scenario Think’ articles, please click on Step 1. and Step 2

Creative thinking is made up of two states of minds: divergent thinking (what is divergent thinking?) and convergent thinking (what is convergent thinking?). In a divergent state, we create choices and in a convergent mind, we make choices. In a group, you’ve already identified the driving forces in Step 2. The next step is to help you to converge the forces into rich and informative scenarios.

While all driving forces are important, they are not equally important. So get the group to prioritise the driving forces according to two criteria:

1. Degree of importance to the focal issue or question

2. Degree of uncertainty surrounding those forces

Create a matrix and plot the driving forces accordingly. The goal is to identify the two or three driving forces that are most important to the focal issue and most uncertain.  These driving forces are called “critical uncertainties”.

The next step is to get the group to create scenarios. The best way to do this is by placing the critical uncertainties on axes (see below).

                 Government’s review of public spending


                              State of the economy


These “axes of uncertainty” represent a continuum of possibilities ranging between two extremes which you decide. Then, cross these two axes to create a framework which will allow you and the group to explore four possible scenarios for the future.

Do this in quick time, because the longer you take the faster your insights will fade away, so get the group to bring the four scenarios to life. For e.g. what if there is a double dip recession and more public spending cuts? What would the situation look like? What if the economy picks up yet there is further public spending cuts? How would this affect your charity?

There’s an artist within all of us so why not grab some paper and colouring pens and create a story board for each of the scenarios. Drawing is a good way to debunk assumptions and reveal how you conceive of and order stories that you are telling. Really illustrate a character rich story line describing the context of the scenarios.

As the members envision each of the four possible scenarios through their drawings, they will start to judge the validity of the combined critical uncertainties as useful alternative stories of the future.

Then, get into a generative dialogue with members of your team and test the various combinations of critical uncertainties by inviting all the members to share their reactions. The idea is to get into a generative dialogue until you’ve arrive at a framework that will serve as a strong platform for your strategic issues.

Lastly, write up narratives for each of the scenarios. In our creative problem solving workshops, we get sub-groups to capture their narratives on video rather than write it. This reveal richer motivations, concerns, perceptions and reasoning.

In Step 4, our last article in the series, we’ll focus on acting on the scenarios.

If you feel that you would like to learn more about LIFE and how it could extract the best out of your creative potential to improve your fundraising, please contact us at or dial 0208 643 8224.


Why use creative problem solving in fundraising?

It’s the most common question that we get asked because most fundraisers often associate creativity only with artists, singers and writers.

Creative problem solving helps fundraisers when a set of conventional or logical rules and regulations to overcome a problem is no longer valid because of a change in the environment.

When there are changes in the environment for e.g. supporter behaviour or introduction of new technology that greatly changes the paradigm of soliciting funds, old ways of solving new problems don’t work.

When fundraising managers apply old solutions to new problems the inevitable outcome is time gets wasted, costs increase and poor judgements are made.

When old solutions are inappropriate to new situations creative problem solving can help. It enables fundraising managers to stretch their thinking beyond the boundaries of their existing knowledge base using imagination and intuition.

By doing so, fundraising managers can explore the problem and avoid missing out on opportunities or overlooking threats.

We worked with a corporate fundraising team who knew intuitively that the rules and regulations that they had been using were no longer adaptable to solve a pressing problem.

Their old problem solving which had become habitual felt like being stuck.

Using creative thinking techniques through a problem solving process enabled them to avoid making wild assumptions. It allowed them to fully explore, discover, and create solutions which were more adaptable to new situations.

It’s true that not all fundraisers will accept the merits of creative problem solving. Some charities are lucky that old ways of doing things will always work well into the future.

Yet, there are many fundraisers who are seeing the impact on their fundraising caused by environmental disruption.

We hope you will appreciate that equipping yourself with creative problem solving skills will therefore have a direct impact on sustaining competitive advantage.

If you’d like to learn more about how LIFE Fundraising can develop your fundraising team’s creative problem solving skills, please contact us at or call 020 8643 8224. Thank you for reading this post.

How to kick start creative momentum?

Yesterday, we facilitated a creative problem solving process workshop. It was with a great bunch of fundraisers from a top 50 charity in the UK.

Like most groups of fundraisers who we work with, some members find it difficult to create momentum in their thinking.

We thought, we would deliver four simple techniques to create momentum. These techniques are effective when you need to generate ideas on your own or in a group.

We call them the 4Rs:

1. Reversal
2. Random
3. Related
4. Re-express

Turn your challenge inside out. View it from the opposite. Break the rules. For example, “In what ways might I write a strong impact report would turn into “In what ways would I write a poorly written impact report look like?

Pick three random words (nouns) and explore what it makes you think of. Then seek relationships between thoughts and the challenge statement. For example, the word apple could lead to thoughts such as Steve Job, pip and Isaac Newton. If the challenge is “what ways might we engage our supporters better?”. This could lead to ideas such as creating an app, sending seeds to first time donors or conveying a case for support that’s defying the laws of human suffering.

Related worlds
Seek a solution that has worked before and relate it to your challenge statement. It’s really important to bring the related stimulus to life. We worked with a group who used Gok Wan’s “How to look good” programme to improve the way major donors feel good about the charity. Strange as it might sound this led to a great fundraising idea.

Describe your challenge statement in a different way so that you see it differently. You can draw the challenge statement or see it from a different person’s eyes. This can really open up ideas and opportunities.

The need to generate better ideas is essential to sustain and grow income growth. The implications of this is that fundraisers generate ‘better-sameness’ ideas which often doesn’t inspire supporters, and as a result, minimises income potential.

We’ve worked with many charities on how to generate better ideas in their brainstorming session as part of training fundraisers to use creative problem solving skills.

e: t: 020 8643 8224

Scenario thinking (step 2)

Before you read this post, you ought to have read the first step in Scenario Thinking if you haven’t already (Scenario thinking step 1)

So…we got as far as Objective Finding, which means that we’ve now sensitised ourselves to the objective.

Now the next step is to explore the focal issue. This is by far the most important step of the whole process because we’re going to explore the many “driving forces” that could shape your objective. Driving forces means forces of change outside your fundraising department that will shape the future dynamics in both predictable and unpredictable ways. Driving forces include factors in the external environment—market, supporters, competition, social, technological, economic, environmental, and political/legal.

Get a group of fundraisers and list as many driving forces that affect your fundraising and could have an unexpected impact. Get into a divergent mindset so remind yourself of the rules of divergent thinking (Rules of successful divergent thinking). One of our favourite ways to achieve this is to create a massive collage all over a workshop wall. Grab an assortment of magazines, newspapers, leaflet etc. and ask the members of the group to build a collage to visualise the driving forces. Get them to deface the collage by drawing and painting on it. This illustrates the members understanding and preceptions of the forces and helps them verbalise complex or unimagined themes.

Driving forces can be either divided into “predetermined forces” or “uncertain forces.” Predetermined elements are forces of change that are relatively predictable over a given future time frame, such as further public spending cuts, a foreseeable shift in demographics, and the rise in social networking. Uncertain forces are unpredictable driving forces, such as the nature of individual supporters’ behaviour or how grant funders will set criterias in light of the huge influx of applications. Divide the forces into these groups then step back and leave well alone.

Next week, more fun. In step three, we’ll explain how to synthesise and combine the driving forces that you have identified to create scenarios.

Thank you for reading this post. If you’d like to learn more about LIFE Fundraising and how we can help develop your creative thinking skills on real fundraising challenges i.e. creating a successful fundraising strategy, please contact or call 020 8643 8224.

How Atari and HP missed out on the biggest deal ever!

So back in the early eighties, Apple Computer Inc. founder Steve Jobs attempted without success to get Atari and Hewlett-Packard interested in his and Steve Wozniak’s personal computer.

As Steve recounts, “So we went to Atari and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us? Or we’ll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary; we’ll come work for you.’

And their experts laughed and said, ‘No.’ So then we went to Hewlett-Packard, and they said, ‘Hey, we don’t need you. You haven’t got through college yet.”

The more of an expert you are the less you see the woods from the trees. What an almighty assumption by HP and Atari. I wonder what their Market share is.

RIP Steve Job

Scenario thinking (Step 1)


Ok, the boss has asked you to rally your team mates to formulate a three year fundraising strategy. What a task! Where do you start? How do you go about it? Help!

There’s no two ways about it. Strategic thinking can feel like treading water in a deep ocean. It can be a real headache. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

For those who like to swim in shallow waters, the best option is to just clone what’s been done in the past and expect the best to happen – often this means that they’re hoping large legacy donations will make up the short fall.

For those who really want to push the boundaries and fulfil their fundraising potential, they’re sensible enough to prepare for the positive and negative uncertainties that will happen in the short to long term future.

Like boy scouts, it’s always best to be prepared for the unexpected. For example, most international development charities haven’t prepared for the high attrition rates from their committed givers caused by the recession. If they had anticipated that this could be a likely scenario two years ago, they would have had a stronger retention strategy in place today.

The bottom line is things do change in the future. No charity is immune. We just can’t continue to do all of the same things yesterday tomorrow. It’s just madness. So how do we create fundraising strategies that anticipate for uncertainties?

What is scenario thinking?

Scenario thinking is a creative process through which stories (yes stories!) are developed and then used to inform fundraising strategies. It’s a way of thinking about and managing change, a way of exploring the future so that fundraisers greet it better prepared.

For example, a social welfare charity was well prepared for the introduction of free mobile fundraising by Vodaphone. Two years ago, they had created a scenario that this technology would become accessible to all charities, and in the last two years, they have been building their supporter base with mobile telephone numbers. They now have a responsive mobile communication plan which is yielding excellent returns.

The scenario thinking process begins by identifying forces of change in the world, such as new technologies i.e. mobile fundraising or the shifting role of government i.e. public spending cuts, that may have an impact on fundraising.

These forces are combined in different ways to create a set of diverse stories about how the future could unfold. Once these futures have been created, the next step is to try to imagine what it would be like for a charity’s fundraising to live in each of these futures.

1st step: Objective finding 

As mentioned. scenario thinking is a creative process which requires plenty of imagination. In the coming weeks, we’ll walk you through each step of the process starting with the first today: OBJECTIVE FINDING.

The goal of Objective Finding is to clarify the issue, and to use that issue as a compass throughout the remaining four stages.

The process begins with learning more about the fundraising challenge that is facing the charity, and the underlying assumptions that members of the fundraising department hold about the nature of the challenge. How it will play out in the future. The most effective and efficient way to surface assumptions, which may be deeply held by members of a team, is by using a creative thinking technique called “Predict Next Year’s Headlines”.

Creative thinking technique “Predict Next Year’s Headlines”.

Each member of the fundraising department is invited to project their fundraising into the future, identifying how they want to develop and sustain supporter relationships.

Each member imagines that they are reporters for a newspaper asking open ended questions to each other about the external and internal environments.

These could be along the lines of:

  • If you could have any question about the next three years answered, what would you want to know
  • What do you believe is predetermined for the next three years? If you looked back from three years from now and told the successes of your fundraising, what would be the story? Why?
  • If you looked back from three years from now and told the failure of your fundraising, what would be the story? Why
  • What are the most important strategic issues/decisions for your fundraising on the immediate horizon?
  • As a fundraiser for this charity what do you want your personal legacy to be? What do you fear it might be? What do you aspire to?

You get the gist.

Why not get down to B&Q and grab two rolls of lining paper. Roll it out along the office wall, and draw a vertical line in the middle which represents today. Left to the line divide the paper into three equal sections by drawing vertical lines again. These represent the last three years. Do the same for the right hand side which of course represents the next three years. Use this simple tool, to capture each member’s thoughts and insights. Get into a generative dialogue and start to build on patterns that the information reveals.

The interviewing process may confirm that the challenges and issues thought of were the most important at the outset and the most pressing. Or you may find that it is another issue, one not so obvious at the beginning that frames what really must be addressed.

This process enables the group to view a challenge from different perspectives rather from one angle and therefore creates choices (see my earlier post: what is divergent thinking?). This enables the group to debunk assumptions and direct their thinking on the right track. Often fundraising managers work on strategies on their own. In our opinion, this is suicide because one person can fall into the trap of seeing the future through ‘tunnel vision’ eyes. When this happens strategies and tactics can lead to constant revisions which often is a sign that it’s flawed!

Once the group have learned more about the nature of the challenge, issues, and underlying assumptions, they are ready to frame the focal issue or question—the issue or question that will direct their scenario thinking process.

When creating a focal question, it is important to make it as objective as possible and set it within a chosen timeframe. For example, we facilitated a cancer charity whose focus was: “Over the next three years, should the charity focus on its small percentage of wealthy supporters to generate the majority of its income or focus on large percentage of less wealthier supporters?”

Next week, we’ll go through the next step: Problem finding in which we’ll explore the focal objective thoroughly. Before we send you this, you might like to read our earlier post “why problem finding?”

If you’d like to learn more about LIFE Fundraising and how it can help develop your team to use scenario thinking to prepare long term fundraising plans then contact or call 020 8643 8224.

Thank you for reading this post.

Creativity formula

Successful creative thinking contains three important elements:


Ideas can’t be generated out of nothing – only god can do this. For successful creativity, we need:

1. knowledge about the fundraising problem under consideration or else our imagination cannot be productive. 

2. imagination to manipulate (divergent thinking) or else our abundant knowledge cannot help us live in a world of change.

3. an ability to evaluate (convergent thinking) to synthesise and develop our ideas