28 Apr Three Disaster Plans Every Nonprofit Should Consider
In the past five years, the United States has experienced record-breaking wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods—not to mention a global pandemic.
Disasters, natural and man-made, are a fact of life. We expect them to happen. But anticipating a disaster is not the same thing as being prepared for one.
Because of the crucial role that they play in disasters, it’s critically important for nonprofit organizations to be prepared to “keep the lights on” and be ready to respond fully, in collaboration with government agencies and the private sector.
Here are three types of plans that every nonprofit should consider developing in terms of disaster planning:
Have a continuity plan for your major operations
You know that safety warning they give you on flights? Secure your mask before helping others. It’s the same idea for nonprofits. You need to make sure your own house is in order so that you are prepared to help others in need when disaster strikes.
Shoring up your business continuity not only better prepares your nonprofit in the event of a catastrophe, it also contributes to the resiliency of your community. When businesses, nonprofits and other key entities are able to stay up and running, this keeps local residents employed and maintains access to vital resources, which helps everyone to bounce back faster from disaster.
Here are some key areas to focus:
- Technology and data backups
- Chain of command, primary and secondary
- Alternate sites, services and staffing
- Alternate suppliers, vendors and subcontractors
- Financial concerns such as insurance reporting
This list just scratches the surface. For a more comprehensive guide, download the “Continuity and Recovery Plan Template” developed by the Los Angeles County Department of Health. It’s an excellent guide that will serve as a useful template for your nonprofit.
Have a communications plan to nail down your messaging
In the immediate aftermath of a major disaster, there will be a dearth of information while needs within your target population could be greater than ever. We all felt this during the height of the pandemic when supplies of PPE and basic necessities like toilet paper were hard to come by, but there were many questions about how to stay safe and healthy.
You’ll want to be prepared for the deluge of queries from staff and board members, volunteers, donors, the media, concerned citizens, and, of course, people in direct need of assistance.
It boils down to being able to communicate who, how and when your organization can help in the event of a disaster. What services will you provide? Which community will you focus on? Will you take donations (both cash and in-kind) and how will you distribute them?
To be able to answer these questions, start with your organization’s mission and decide how you should apply it to different types of disasters. As you do this, consider your organizational assets, strengths, and (current and potential) partnerships with allied agencies. What is the best way that your nonprofit can respond to any given disaster given your core competencies and capabilities?
Lastly, you’ll want to prepare your messaging and FAQs so that you’re not scrambling to put these materials together while fires are still burning (literally and figuratively). For example, you might have specific landing pages ready to launch on your website. (To see an example of these, visit the Good360 disaster response page: https://good360.org/disaster-recovery). You could have posts ready for soliciting donations on social media and other channels.
Have a plan for the long-term recovery
Most disaster giving happens in the first six weeks when media coverage is fresh, but quickly drops off when the news cycle moves on.
While immediate disaster response is very important, particularly to save lives and property, many hard-hit communities are left to fend for themselves months and years after a catastrophe—which is how long the recovery might take.
The ultimate goal is to build back better by creating resilient communities that are not only better able to withstand the next disaster but are also able to thrive.
(Read our blog post on how “Nonprofits Can Better Prepare for Disasters and Build Resilient Communities.)
Consider the long-term needs of your target community. Think in terms of months, years and even decades, not days and weeks. If these needs include access to goods such as clothing, household items, small appliances, school and office supplies, and other necessities, Good360 may be able to provide them through one of our donation programs.
Think about creating partnerships with other organizations to create a local network of nonprofits devoted to building community resilience.
The importance of disaster planning
In 2021, there were 20 weather and/or climate disaster events that occurred within the United States with losses exceeding $1 billion each, according to data from the National Centers for Environmental Information.
With FEMA grants averaging well less than $10,000 per recipient per disaster, there is a great need for both the private and non-profit sectors to pick up the slack and provide assistance as well.
It’s imperative for your nonprofit to be well prepared to help in this effort. It starts with taking disaster planning seriously in times of blue skies so you can be as resilient as possible when a catastrophe strikes.