NeighborWorks and its network organizations encourage nonprofits to take strategize on how to address sustainability, capacity and resiliency. National Preparedness Month
is a perfect time to do so. Why now? NeighborWorks's Senior Vice President of Organizational Assessment Kevin Morris shares some answers.
"We're actually doing well as a whole," he reports. "Our network went into the pandemic with increasing financial sustainability and healthy liquidity, enabling them to continue to provide critical services during the pandemic and secure new funding for pandemic-related services." NeighborWorks' COVID-impact survey shows that the majority of network members, while experiencing some disruption from the pandemic, did not expect recovery to be difficult. Morris says that vigilance is essential when it comes to plans for continuity during a disaster or business disruption.
"There's general maintenance that is needed for organizational health," he says. "There can be rapid atrophy if it's not attended to. It takes continued diligence." That's why NeighborWorks' strategic plan includes a focus on sustainability. "We know if our network isn't healthy, they can't deliver on their mission and that affects our community and affordable housing objectives as a whole."
Business continuity is important for every organization, Morris says. NeighborWorks' goal is for each of the nearly 250 organizations in the network to take a next step in business continuity preparedness for disruption in business. Those steps will vary. It could mean enhancing security online or creating a continuity plan or practicing a plan that's already in place. "If we just take one step, year after year, we will end up in a very different place than we are today," he says – a safer, more strategic place.
Basic steps include:
- Building a plan.
- Practicing the plan.
- Developing a culture within your organization that includes transparency and communication.
- Ensuring communications can continue if there’s a disruption to infrastructure.
New and sudden obstacles can arise at any time. As NeighborWorks network organizations have dealt with some of these obstacles, including a pandemic, they've taught others what they've learned from the experiences. A security breach for an organization in the Midwest, for instance, led to a webinar on what could happen and how to respond. A storm in Puerto Rico led organizations to think about how communication could occur when cell phone towers were down.
Valorie Schwarzmann, Homeport
chief financial officer & senior vice president, says commitment to ensuring sustainability during a crisis began at her organization when the country was roiled by the Great Recession. "The importance of having cash, maintaining strong relationships with community partners and organizations, and having a strong IT department was on our list of musts" "Obviously, we had no idea there would be a pandemic but we held up well because we had begun that commitment a decade earlier. We learned that there are people and organizations out there to help you in case of a crisis."
Schwarzmann says having a solid cash position was helpful at the start of the pandemic. "We reached out to community partners and said Homeport had $100,000 available to start a fund to help our residents with their rent after they lost their jobs and income. Our initial funding for a RAFT (Rental Assistance to Thrive) fund was matched several times over by the community and other funding partners. "When the pandemic hit, we were able to help our residents maintain some stability in a very turbulent time."
continuity plan included an emergency plan, a disaster plan and an IT plan. "A month before the governor gave the shutdown order, we pulled out our plans and started looking them over, deciding who would do this and who would do that," says CEO Stacy Brown. "We started updating."
At NDS Ohio, with a staff of 22 in the corporate office, the finance officer was the person who stayed
During Hurricane Katrina, this market stayed open in New Orleans.
in the office through the beginning of COVID. IT staff made sure staff members could connect via a private network from home. "It's important to have a plan for reasons like this," says Brown, who also sits on the Portage County Disaster Planning Committee. "When you listen to people planning, you think: We have to do this as well. So we beefed up our policies and ramped up." She urges other organizations to do the same. "We couldn't have done what we did if we didn't have a good skeleton already."
These are only a handful of examples from NeighborWorks network organizations. "We learned that our network was primed and ready to serve the community in new ways," Morris says. "They were able to deepen and change services during business disruptions. The goal is to make sure that in the future, organizations continue to be set up not just to survive but to transition in the best way to meet the community as new needs arise."
NeighborWorks America offers a number of web-based and classroom-based education opportunities to develop skills in disaster preparedness, including a one-week certificate program
. If your organization wants to take the next steps, consider the following:
Are You Prepared? Introduction to Disaster Preparedness & Business Continuity Planning
Introduction to Community Organizing for Disaster Preparedness
How to Start a Disaster Volunteer Program
Helping Your Clients Save Money for Disasters
Disaster Preparation and Response One Week Certificate in the Nonprofit Management and Leadership track
Organizing Neighborhoods for Emergency Response
Are You Prepared? Disaster Preparedness and Business Continuity Planning
Picking Up the Pieces: The First 30 days of Response & Recovery