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posted on Oct 11, 2019

by Maria Lahiffe

Does your team have an established decision-making process? How do you make difficult decisions? How do you make sure a given decision is the best you could have made? Can you justify your decisions to others? By following a consistent, objective decision-making process, you can ensure that your team makes the best possible decisions, which can be justified to anyone who asks.

1.      Establish a positive decision-making environment

To start, it is important to clarify what decision is being made, and why. Although this may seem obvious, it often is not, especially for more complex decisions such as how to allocate scarce resources.

A positive environment for decision-making is one in which the team is prepared to apply an objective process to collecting and interpreting information. It is worthwhile to establish ahead of time, the criteria which the group will use to evaluate alternatives which are generated through the process.

Everyone needs to feel comfortable asking potentially difficult questions. In addition, everyone needs to do their homework, to come to group sessions as well-informed as possible.

Finally, it is important to keep the process moving forward. Analysis is essential to good decision-making, but not to the point of paralysis. In the end, a decision needs to be made and acted upon. Be prepared to make the best decision you can given your constraints, then be prepared to change course in the future if necessary.

2.      Generate potential solutions

This is where strategic analysis tools, such as SWOT, PESTLE, and others, can be useful to collect information and identify information gaps. You can drill down into a problem or opportunity by asking questions, starting with How, What, Where, When, and Why.

3.      Evaluate Alternatives

The most important factors to use in evaluating potential solutions are

  1. consistency with the organization’s mission, vision, and values,
  2. consistency with existing priorities
  3. risk, and
  4. feasibility.

Consistency with mission, vision, and values

It is important to bring everything back to your organization’s core purpose. It can be tempting to go with alternatives which are simpler to implement, but over time this can erode the very reason your organization exists.

During your strategic planning session, you should have established clear boundaries between what you do and do not do. Respect those boundaries, unless you decide to re-evaluate them during a future strategic planning session, where they can be fully evaluated.

Consistency with existing priorities

Step back and look at all of the organization’s priorities. Is this alternative consistent with those priorities? For example, if this alternative will place demands on staff time, what effect will that have on other programs? Is that effect desirable? If this alternative will cost money, then from what lower-priority budget line will the money be reallocated?

Risk [1]

Risk is best evaluated by considering the potential negative impact and the likelihood of each alternative.

Read our previous posts to learn more about risk analysis and why our gut sense of risk is usually not accurate.

Any critical risks must either be avoided if possible (by choosing a different alternative), or have well-defined plans in place to mitigate their effects. It is worth developing at least rough plans for what to do in the case of medium-level risks. Low risks can usually be ignored.


For each alternative, consider: is it realistic and implementable? Does it fit within your organizational constraints? Examples of organizational constraints include budget, resource availability, requirements established by funders, and stakeholder needs.

What do you do with all this?

Use a table to track your decisions and the criteria you are applying. You can account for relative importance of the criteria by multiplying each column by a different weighting factor. [2]


Criterion #1

Score 1-5 x WF

Criterion #2

Score 1-5 x WF

Criterion #3

Score 1-5 x WF

Option #1




Option #2




Option #3




WF=weighting factor

4.      Decide

If you have done the first three steps well, the best option will likely be apparent. If not, then you will need to decide what other factors to consider in making your choice, such as maximizing impact, minimizing cost, or minimizing risk.

Whatever additional criteria you choose, make sure they are objective, and applied consistently to all of the alternatives.

5.      Check your decision

If your decision is a significant one, it is worth auditing the process you went through to make it, possibly with an impartial third party.

6.      Communicate and implement the decision

Unless you are working or collective board, you will not be the ones actually acting on the decisions you have made. It is important to communicate the decision clearly enough that it can be implemented according to plan. You may also need to obtain buy-in for decisions which involve a significant change in direction. Make sure to allow for that, to set up your organization for success.

Decision-making is one of many skills you need to be effective on a governing board. Come to an upcoming workshop to learn more.

Click here to register Thursday, November 21, 2019. 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Volunteer Ottawa offers a comprehensive suite of courses related to all aspects of running a non-profit or a charity. Click here for our event calendar. Subscribe to our Event RSS Feed to be among the first to know when a new workshop is added to the schedule.

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Related blog posts:

[1] Mind Tools Editorial Team, "Risk Impact/Probability Chart: Learning to Prioritize Risks," Mind Tools, [Online]. Available: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newPPM_78.htm. [Accessed 30 August 2017]. [2] Mind Tools Content Team, "Decision Matrix Analysis: Making a decision by weighing up different factors," Mind Tools, [Online]. Available: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTED_03.htm. [Accessed 11 October 2019]. [3] B. E. Bensoussan and C. S. Fleisher, Analysis Without Paralysis: 12 tools to make better strategic decisions, New Jersey, USA: Pearson Education, 2014.
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