When natural disasters strike, non-profits play crucial roles in response and recovery efforts – but may also be directly impacted themselves. From making sure your team is safe, to navigating disruptions in operations and donor outreach, how can non-profits ensure they remain effective in the aftermath of a disaster? The following are practical considerations we hope will help you prepare and navigate a crisis in your community.
Prepare, Prioritize and Adjust as Needed
An effective emergency plan can cover a range of different disasters. Consider rehearsing scenarios ahead of time, take steps to safeguard your people and operations, ensure everyone knows their responsibilities, and have built-in contingencies to protect critical operations.
One of the most important aspects of a plan is to prioritize. Determine the steps your organization can take to communicate with stakeholders, coordinate response efforts, and eventually chart a path toward normalcy. If your organization is involved directly in recovery efforts, it may also help to plan for scenarios requiring a “surge” of services – for example, by providing additional food or healthcare support in times of crisis. Having an emergency fund for this purpose is helpful.
Preparation can speed up your organization’s response time but know that it’s difficult to plan with complete certainty, so maintaining flexibility will be important as well.
Establish Communication Channels
Non-profits usually have many stakeholders. Customers/clients, volunteers, donors, the local community, the media – all need to be informed of your organization’s status. Common goals immediately following a crisis include informing stakeholders about key issues affecting your organization, updating them on your plan going forward, and listening to learn about their immediate needs.
Communication channels must remain open with frequent updates, so that all stakeholders are working towards a common goal based on the most recent information.
Check in with Your Donors When Appropriate
When it’s safe and appropriate to do so reach out to your donors to check in and reinforce their importance to your organization. Donor engagement is always crucial but may be especially so during times of disruption. Disasters can upend planned events as well as the normal process of donor cultivation.
Be transparent, update donors on your organization’s status, and remind them of why you remain an important part of your community. The focus is not necessarily to ask for money, unless it is truly crucial for you to do so. Rather, crisis communication is important for maintaining your long-term relationship with supporters.
Know Where to Find Assistance
The federal government has resources to aid non-profits in disaster recovery. If your organization is in an area where the President has declared an emergency and if it provides qualifying non-profit services, it could be eligible for loan and grant support. This is primarily administered through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the IRS. Visit https://www.fema.gov/assistance/public to learn more.
Plan for the Long-Term
Disasters can have long-term “ripple” effects on people, organizations, and communities. Some of these effects are physical, such as the damage to infrastructure and housing. Others are mental and can complicate a return to normalcy. Studies have found that 15% to 75% of people who experience a natural disaster later develop PTSD symptoms[i]. Non-profits are on the front lines of long-term recovery efforts, but they cannot be successful without effective planning and financial resources. Consider your organization’s exposure to these long-term risks and develop a strategy to respond if a disaster should happen.
Planning not only protects your organization’s operations - it also educates your board and staff on the procedures that will occur if a disaster arises. Whether it's a hurricane, snowstorm, or wildfire, having a solid plan will help mitigate the effects that are out of our control.
Consult with an attorney or a tax or financial advisor regarding your specific legal, tax, estate planning, or financial situation. The information in this article is not intended as legal or tax advice.