Why Your Nonprofit Needs a Continuity of Operations Plan

By Peter Gamache, Ph.D. & Jackie Sue Griffin, MBA, MS, Turnaround Life, Inc.

Many nonprofit organizations were simply unprepared for the disruption of services caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic. How well did your team adapt and overcome?

If the last several weeks have shown us nothing else, they have made clear each organization’s ability, or lack of ability, to navigate an extraordinary crisis; you should now know if you staff and volunteers are trained and equipped to respond.

If your offices were flooded, if there was a devastating fire, if your building was without power for weeks at a time, would your nonprofit be able to continue to deliver your services and programs?

Or would your community suffer without you?

Here are five simple steps for creating a Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP).

Know Your Mission. Be clear about what your organization does and who you are. Your mission should be one paragraph that states why your organization is important. And it should guide the core services and actions your nonprofit would immediately resume after a disruption.

Know Your Organization. List all stakeholders in your organization, both internal and external. Determine which of them should be contacted in case of emergency and what information would be shared with them. What you share with a vendor will differ from what frontline staff and even board members must know.

Create a contact list with your employees’ roles and responsibilities—daily and during an emergency response. Everyone in your organization can have a key role when it comes to an emergency.

Know which crises could affect you. Consider what types of crisis could affect your organization and what impact that could have on your operations: things like pandemic, fire, flood or even losing a key vendor. What weather patterns might affect you? Are you in a flood zone or an area prone to earthquakes? What if a bridge were closed or tunnel blocked? What if stay-at-home orders are issued again later this year—or next year, or in five years—in response to another health emergency?

Know your external and internal processes. Certain business processes will be vital to your ability to continue to deliver on your mission. The lack of others may merely cause inconveniences. List these operations in priority order. Keep in mind that the priority might change when facing different risks. Be sure to keep in mind external processes such as power and telecommunications, your supply chain and logistics that are of key importance.

Use all of this to create your plan.  With all of the information above, you will have everything you need to create a COOP for your nonprofit.

A COOP template often looks like this:

  1. Step 1.  Identify and Assess Potential Risk
  2. Step 2.  Understand Your Organization and its Vital Elements
  3. Step 3.  Create a Plan that includes Preparedness, Mitigation, Response, Reality Check, and Recovery
  4. Step 4.  Train, Test and Keep the Plan Moving Forward

Some of the areas to be considered are:

  • Chain of command,
  • Data privacy and back up
  • Onsite security
  • Communications to employees and the public
  • Alternate vendors or subcontractors
  • Logistical concerns, insurance reporting, finance, etc.
  • Alternate services

Understand that your nonprofit’s COOP is a “living document.” It will change. Revisit and update your COOP every six months.

Here at Turnaround Life, Inc., we aim to help organizations and programs that make it possible for people to turn their lives around. For more information about us, visit our website.

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