Basics of Contingency Planning for NonProfits

One of the small steps we have taken during the past few weeks is to think about contingency planning. We are by no means experienced or experts in this, but we thought we could share a bit in the hopes of inspiring your own community group to do some contingency planning of your own during COVID-19. 

What is Contingency Planning? 

Contingency planning is supposed to cover a wide range of possible risks that might affect your nonprofit. Generally, these are divided into internal and external risks. Here are some examples.

Internal Risks 

  • What if one of our staff shares confidential client information outside of the organization?
  • If the computer where we store key financial information crashes, what will we do?

External Risks 

  • What if there is a major weather event on the day of our planned gala?
  • What if our website or database is hacked or breaks down?
  • If a key supplier stops being able to provide us with the items we rely on, what will we do?

Of course, right now, we know what the major risk is because it’s already here: a global pandemic. At the least, this means increased absences due to illness, caring for family members, school closure, quarantines, etc. At COCo, we have been preparing for a very specific scenario: what would happen if we get sick and are unable to work?

Individual Contingency Planning 

  • What are the main projects I am working on, and who are the key contact people for those projects?
  • Are my files organized in such a way that other people could find and understand them?
  • For any given project or issue, who is the person who would be best able to take it over?
  • What key passwords do other people need to have? Do I have a password manager that someone else could access if need be?
  •  Are there files that are confidential and only specific people should have access if I become sick?

Organizational Contingency Plans

Some questions we have been asking collectively:

  • What are the mission-critical functions that must continue during a staffing shortage? For us, a lot of it has been about payroll and invoices. What are your mission-critical functions?
  • Who should be cross-trained on tasks they don’t normally do? What are the tasks that only one person knows how to do?

 These are all extremely basic questions, and a real contingency plan would go much further. At the same time, we know a lot of groups (ourselves included) had very little in place, and this would be a good place to start as the pandemic continues. And if you do have things in place- we’d love to hear about it!  

Other Resources 

A lot of the other resources we found seemed difficult to transfer to the nonprofit or Canadian context. However, here are a few that might be useful

  • This guide has some good stuff about your communication to your staff (link)
  • Rowan University has good plain language about their contingency plan during COVID-19 (link)
  • Bridgespan gives a decent general overview (link)

Do you know of any good resources on this? Let us know!

You can read about COCo’s change of services during COVID-19 here (link).