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No Business Continuity Plan? Take These 4 Steps

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by Melanie Lockwood Herman

Fortifying a business or nonprofit during the current COVID-19 pandemic is understandably a top-of-mind issue for leaders. We are pleased to share a timely, practical article from the Nonprofit Risk Management Center, which provides guidance regarding four key continuity actions that every organization should consider.

If you’re regretting the fact that you never got around to finishing your nonprofit’s Business Continuity Plan, you’re not alone! Many nonprofits in the U.S. are in the same, unprepared boat. The purpose of this special edition of the RISK eNews is to offer a highly simplified, quick-start framework to activate when your nonprofit is currently facing an interruption to operations.

Follow these four steps to bolster resilience and minimize the long-term, costly impacts of ANY serious interruption to ‘business as usual.’

Step 1. Reach Out

Determine how best to quickly and efficiently communicate with ALL key stakeholder groups in your nonprofit. Your method could be a series of lists (think email addresses and phone numbers), a communications app with options, or a phone tree. Don’t waste time trying to find a slick or fancy communication tool. For now, choose one that will enable you to quickly communicate key messages about your operating status, cancellations, staff availability, etc. Assign clear responsibility for crafting those messages and make sure everyone knows who has authority—and who doesn’t—to click “send” on those critical messages.

Step 2. Make a Short MUST Do List and Do It

Identify a short list of 3-5 things your nonprofit MUST KEEP DOING no matter what to survive and thrive despite the interruption. For many organizations, that list will include processing payroll, providing vital services to vulnerable clients, and letting partners, contractors, and others know about your temporary change in status. Gather your best and brightest around a virtual table to determine the practical, plausible strategies to keep doing those MUST DO things.

Step 3. Shutter and Scale Back

Identify the services, programs, and activities that you will temporarily discontinue, delay, scale back or change for the immediate future: think 45-60 days. Determine the steps you will take to make those changes in operations immediately.

Step 4. Plan to Resume Operations

Brainstorm with your core leadership team some of the critical steps necessary to bring shuttered programs back online. Also, determine whether you’ll resume operations fully on a specific target date or restart one program or service at a time. As part of this step, identify any short-term projects or activities that build resilience for your agency. For example, could someone who typically answers the phones assist with an important information-gathering project, making telework a possibility? Assume that your staff and volunteer team want to support your work and are available to pitch in and pivot as needed!

We know it’s hard NOT to do these things, but we urge you to try:

  • Don’t beat yourself up (or cast aspersions on others in your agency!) for failing to finish that BCP before now.
  • Don’t obsess about creating BCP strategies narrowly suited to the cause of your current interruption; take steps and make plans that will be useful when the NEXT interruption occurs.
  • Don’t add unnecessary complications or contrivances to your immediate action plan: BCP is all about focusing on mission-critical activities and scaling back everything else.

In the short-term, the focus should be on communication and critical operations. Once normal operations resume, your organization can use lessons learned during this interruption to assist in crafting a more comprehensive, but still flexible business continuity plan. Reach out to our team— info@nonprofitrisk.org or 703.777.3504—if you need help evaluating your response to a recent interruption or creating a durable plan for ‘next time’.

About the Author

  • In a world that is fraught with danger, it is comforting to know that Melanie Lockwood Herman is holding on tight to the handlebars of the Nonprofit Risk Management Center. NRMC provides training, technical assistance, and informational resources to help nonprofits take a practical approach to manage risk so that they can fulfill their missions and stay out of trouble. A prolific author of a more than a dozen comprehensive (and comprehensible!) guides on various risk management topics, Melanie has delivered countless workshops, seminars, and keynote presentations for organizations simply unwilling to leave success to chance. Melanie earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Urban Affairs from American University (Washington, DC) and a Juris Doctor from George Mason University (Arlington, VA). She is a member of the District of Columbia Bar Association. In August 2019, Melanie was named to The NonProfit Times Power & Influence Top 50, whose editor has described her as “…the most in-demand expert in the nonprofit risk field…” and “the architect of the risk plans of some of the nation’s largest nonprofits.” The 2019 list honors leaders who “have distinguished themselves as initiators and leaders.” This is Melanie’s 11th appearance on the list: she was first recognized in 2007, and then again in 2008 and 2011-2018. In addition to her professional career, Melanie is an active volunteer in both professional organizations and community-serving nonprofits. She currently serves on the boards of three national organizations: the American Foundation for the Blind, the National Human Services Assembly, and Camp Fire. Melanie is the former chair of the Legal Section Council of ASAE/The Center for Association Leadership, and during 2010-2013 she served on the Not-for-Profit Advisory Committee (NAC) of the Financial Accounting Standards Board.

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