Many non-profit organizations face the challenge of planning amidst both adverse and positive factors in their external and internal environments. This study firstly examines what various professional literature presents as important factors to consider in planning. Secondly, a case study of World Learning’s approach to planning is done with a view to exploring what the interface between theory and practice might be. Thirdly, from the analysis of the literature review and the case study, a model for planning in turbulent times is proposed.

The research question for this paper was, “what does professional literature suggest as important factors and processes to consider when planning for, and implementing change? How is World Learning’s change process consistent or not consistent with the above, and is there a model that might enhance outcomes based on this analysis?”

The research methodology applied included extensive literature review, conducting interviews with senior management, and administering questionnaires to staff of World Learning, administering questionnaires to alumni, as well as interviewing representatives of some nonprofit organizations in Washington, D.C., and New York.

The analysis of data gathered showed that the complexity of the environments in which non-profit organizations such as World Learning operate requires that a situation or context analysis be done before any planning, and only then can the institutions make targeted decisions aimed at resolving strategic issues or problems. In addition, the scope of environmental scanning depends on, among several factors, resources available, time, and the opportunity cost or benefit of engaging in an elaborate, long-term, participatory strategic planning process. Further, that the analysis of World Learning’s change process indicates that the approach of first stabilizing the organization financially is consistent with professional concepts of planning for survival. However, the involvement of more key staff from the beginning of the process would have ameliorated some of the emotional turbulence that ensued.

Most non-profit organizations face similar complex environments. They usually depend on other institutions, agencies, governments as well as individuals for their financial survival. Knowing how to plan not only for survival, but for the satisfaction of their key stakeholders is inevitable. The model conceptualized from the data analysis process has the following elements: understanding the general context, distilling the context to the essentials, deciding on type and level of participation, establishing your values, developing and implementing your strategy, as well as assessing progress. Non-profit organizations such as those involved in training, development, relief work and micro-enterprise development would benefit from this model on planning in turbulent times.


Business Administration, Management, and Operations