Now is the time to start planning for the next series of unexpected events. We know that doesn’t sound like “fun,” but it is necessary, like planning for a hurricane and other weather disasters. No one knows when and where the next disaster will happen, but we do know it will. The same is true for the nonprofit sector: “disaster” is often lurking around the corner.
Traditionally, the board of a well-established nonprofit will focus on governance, oversight, and fundraising, and the boards of start-ups are more “hands on.” In these times, we suggest that all boards work closely with the executive director and staff to make sure the organization can persist in the most urgent of times. Here’s a public secret: You can’t leave this solely in the hands of the executive director, because one of the emergency situations could be the abrupt departure of this individual!
We have all learned a lot from COVID-19. The question today is, what will we do with what we have learned, and how are we preparing for more of the unknown such as a natural disaster or a major recession. The next disruption could be something as “simple” as your key fundraising person resigning – whether they be a volunteer or staff; or as mentioned above the abrupt departure of your executive director or CEO. In all cases a “business continuity plan” can help.
Such a plan should include your critical operations: those that are community focused, as well as your critical internal operations that underlie all other operations. Think about data backup systems, internet connectivity, generators, telecommunications, banking and financial operations, and the buildings you operate out of. It should also include updated contact information for all board members, staff, and critical volunteers. Importantly, your continuity plan should outline the types of emergencies your organization may face – things we don’t want to think about such as a mass shooting, kidnapping, embezzlement, fire, terrorism, civil unrest….
There are a lot of things that can go wrong: that is part of life. That’s why board members and the executive director need to keep their eyes open and understand the importance of planning for the unexpected. This includes making a commitment to what we are each willing to do, beyond providing guidance and oversight. Board members may need to play roles traditionally filled by staff. That could be providing bookkeeping or human resources services, serving as an interim executive director, or getting on the phone and personally calling the individuals and families you serve or advocate for. Emergency preparation should include identifying the skills of those on the board who can step up to back up staff when needed.
Your nonprofit may not have the luxury of waiting for a new staff person to be recruited: there may be times when board members are called upon to step up in what was a staff role.
None of us like thinking about the unthinkable, but we may better survive if we do.
Copyright 2022 – Mel and Pearl Shaw of Saad&Shaw – Comprehensive Fund Development
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