Decision-Making:
The Clark Three-Step Process

Photo by Jeffrey F Lin on Unsplash

By Roberta S. Clark

Throughout our lives we have to make decisions – some are insignificant (restaurant choice) and some impact life and/or business strategies (deciding whether or not to take a new job, messaging for a new fundraising campaign, etc.). Our decisions are rarely made in a vacuum; we have colleagues, family members, community stakeholders and random individuals who share their opinions (invited and uninvited) of what they believe we should decide in any given situation.

In both the personal and professional realms (often intertwined in the nonprofit world), many people express frustration when their idea is not the one chosen by the decision maker or decision-making process. Some people may pull their emotional and/or financial support from individuals, nonprofits or other businesses when they do not agree with a particular decision. The consequences are real.

Consensus building is ideal, but not always obtainable. Sometimes we do not feel like compromise is an acceptable result; sometimes we believe working toward a common decision is the best possible result; and sometimes we just are not sure what the best result looks like.

So what is the formula for making “safe” or “accurate” decisions? I do not believe there is a one size fits all answer, but I have adopted the following three-step process:

  1. What are the facts?
  2. What are realistic expectations?
  3. What is wise?

What are the facts?

When a someone wants or needs you to make a decision, they often only give you their opinion to make the case for their preference before you know all of the details of the situation.

“We should not plan a family/work event/program that night because I do not like that date.” We should be starting with substantiated facts, not any of our respective opinions. Questions which help us confirm facts might include:

  • What kind of experience do we want to create?
  • Who do we want to participate?
  • Have we queried desired participants for their input on scheduling?
  • How will we deem the experience to be successful? Who/how many attend? A particular outcome from the experience?

Ideally, decision-making starts with real data; after confirming substantiated facts we should welcome different perspectives in order to make the best decision for the circumstances.

What are realistic expectations?

Realistic expectations are not always desirable expectations. If we care about outcomes we cannot bury our head in the sand when facts are uncomfortable. Gathering and analyzing facts helps us determine what is realistic. Making decisions based on realistic expectations gives us the chance to set and meet goals – meeting goals can help propel support and growth.

We are in the midst of a pandemic impacting lives and businesses in ways many of us never could have imagined. Nonprofit organizations are trying to figure out how they will survive. It is not realistic to expect annual campaigns will reach their goals. Planning for the future should be based on a new campaign expectation – based on the best information which can be substantiated from donors along with consideration of potential changes in staffing and/or programs in order to remain a viable organization. If we put our head in the sand and just hope it will all work out – the train will have left the station when it comes to leading our organizations towards success and sustainability.

What is wise?

Social media and the internet in general have become the broadcaster of all thoughts. The online world allows us to engage in electronic dialogue and to be challenged with diverse perspectives (some of them, sadly, hateful and harmful). There are all sorts of security concerns with how we use social media, but there are also concerns about how we consume and use the details we read on a daily basis. Ideas shared online are public and permanent and can be used in ways which the author did not intend.

As someone who tends to focus on that which can be substantiated and aspires to have stakeholders on the same page with information, I have to remind myself that sometimes everyone does not need to know everything. Sharing details of a person’s unfortunate situation or a particular organization’s current challenge is not everyone’s business all of the time (this does not include when situations impacts safety and/or incidents which have legal implications).

Is it wise to share or repost an opinion which does not further anything of value and may do harm to an individual or business? Sometimes calling an individual or organization out “feels good;” but is it always a wise thing to do? It may feel awful to call an individual or organization out for an incident, but could that action help others? There is no one size fits all situation and the answer will vary based on the facts.

Why would anyone want to be the decision maker?

So often I observe that people I know seem terrified to be “the one” to make a decision. After all, if we make a mistake, everyone will know whose idea it was. Living life entails decision-making! We need to make daily decisions for our own and our loved one’s well-being. Many of us must make decisions as part of our work responsibilities; it is what we get paid to do.

If we are not willing to make a mistake we miss the opportunity of learning from our mistakes. It is no fun to be wrong, particularly when our decision may impact others. Take time to process decisions well – confirm facts, get input from stakeholders, set reasonable expectations, make a plan and work your plan. And, when you are wrong, be humble enough to to admit it and learn from it.

Roberta S. Clark is a Jewish communal professional who holds dual MA degrees in Jewish Education and Jewish Studies from Gratz College. She is the executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Oklahoma City.

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