Develop Court Sense

Court sense for nonprofits

In the nonprofit sector, “court sense” means understanding the environment that impacts your organization. You can’t hone your court sense in a vacuum — or an echo chamber. It’s valuable to take time regularly to step out of your comfort zone, and out of the weeds of daily tasks and pressing issues. A disciplined way to put your court sense into play is through annual and multi-year planning cycles.

Your job is to look up, look forward, and look around. Be ready to react to changing conditions and threats, and to identify new opportunities to innovate and to take risks. To thrive in a complex world, you can’t just slog forward every day checking off boxes in a linear fashion. You have to anticipate problems, process new information, and adjust your strategy. This is systems thinking. And systems thinking requires court sense.

Driving forces

In thinking about the long-term direction of your nonprofit, it’s critical to assess driving forces. Driving forces include demographic shifts like the rise of millennials, issues surrounding equity, diversity, and inclusion, and the global interest in reducing reliance on fossil fuels. Micro driving forces can be unique, possibly fleeting opportunities, such as a community partner’s strategic program shift, changes in tax law, or a lapse in government funding.

With “court sense” you’ll see everything that’s happening around you, and can rapidly adjust to change.

Conversation Starter

Develop Court Sense

A complete set of conversation starters to accompany the chapter.


Develop Court Sense Toolkit

A complete set of tools to accompany the chapter.

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8 Practical Insights for Nonprofit Leaders


Culture matters. It’s a core organizational asset.


Respecting and trusting your people is the foundation of all good management.


Always listen for and even seek out signs of trouble. Bad news is good news if you do something about it.


Develop “court sense” to see everything that’s happening around you, and to rapidly adjust to changes.


Commit to doing “the whole job.” Investing in organizational capacity contributes to excellence and impact.


With limited time and resources, it’s essential to prioritize and then focus.


Planning is essential but success comes from the implementation of your ideas. “Book It and Ship It.” Make a decision and manage the consequences.


To create a culture of accountability, reinforce individual ownership of problems. Always ask, “Who owns the monkey?”