Here and Now: A Triage Tool for Nonprofits and Their Boards

As part of The Big Reset Series, here’s a relatively quick way to identify and prioritize action items in times of crisis and change without adding to your already-heavy burden. If you remember the TV series M*A*S*H (1972-1983), consider playing the role of Hawkeye (without the snark). As a new batch of soldiers was carried into Hawkeye’s field hospital, he did a quick scan to judge the severity of each person’s injuries, which to take on, how, and in what order.

Bring together a small group of the best thinkers among your team, board, and other key stakeholders. Pick people with diverse backgrounds and lived experiences who are truth tellers and calm under pressure. Agree on what issues to include, and don’t spend more than a half day. Use SWAGs—strategic wild ass guesses—rather than trying to assemble perfect information. By the end of your session, you’ll have a better idea of where immediate attention is needed, where you need to dig further to know what to do, and where you might even find new opportunities.

In addition to helping you prioritize immediate actions, using this approach can serve as a “fire starter” for discussions that engage your team, board, and/or funders. It will also give you guidance on where more data, constituent feedback, and/or planning are needed.

Or you can forgo the group approach and use the tool to help you frame your own areas of concern. Doing so may help organize your thinking as you prepare to engage your management, board, staff, funders, and others.

We've created the tool in multiple formats so you can choose which one would be easiest for your organization: a fillable Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, a fillable Google Sheet for easy collaboration, and an editable Microsoft Word document. In each format, you’ll find instructions and a set of 27 “here and now” issues that can be tailored to your organization’s needs. Whatever format you choose, you'll use color codes to indicate the severity level of each issue and then give some thought to the positive possibilities that emerge from this process.

You can also download a PDF of examples from real organizations who have used the triage tool to test its utility and apply it to their own situations.

Here's a preview of what the tool looks like:

Sample triage tool section.

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