If you have problems viewing this enews, click here.

Nonprofit Risk Management Center A source for tools, advice and training to control risks ... so you can focus on your nonprofit's mission

August 19, 2009

Mastering the Basics: Learn to Walk Before You Run

By Melanie Lockwood Herman

During a lunch meeting today with three colleagues from our Toronto affiliate—the Insurance and Liability Resource Centre for Nonprofits (www.nonprofitrisk.imaginecanada.ca) —the Centre’s Manager, David Hartley reminded me that many of the Canadian nonprofit leaders who attend the Centre’s workshops are eager to undertake the equivalent of a risk management marathon without the requisite warm-up and training period. David recently advised a nonprofit leader that although developing a CEO succession plan was a laudable move, creating position descriptions was a requisite first step. Walk, before you run.

Our conversation at lunch reminded me of a wonderful scene from the new film “Julie & Julia.” In the film Julia Child is embarrassed during her first day at a Parisian cooking school when she realizes that her knife skills are less than those of her fellow classmates. Her careful slicing of an onion leads to some snickering by her fellow students, each of whom deftly slices and chops onion after onion. Upon arriving home from work that evening, Julia’s husband Paul finds her in the kitchen with an enormous mound of chopped onions. Practice makes perfect! The scene is a wonderful part of the story of Julia’s transformation as a chef. It’s also a terrific reminder that like French chefs, we need to master the basics before moving on to the equivalent of a risk management soufflé or duck stuffed with meat and baked in pastry.

At the Nonprofit Risk Management Center we’re fortunate to encounter nonprofit organizations and dedicated leaders who are at various stages of their respective risk management journeys. We welcome calls from leaders who are just getting started with the basics, as well as the opportunity to work with leaders who are exploring sophisticated strategies to better integrate or strengthen their risk management programs. In recent weeks we have advised leaders of large nonprofits about topics ranging from adopting an “enterprise risk management” framework, to developing long-term plans for a captive insurance company or sponsored insurance program, designing easy-to-use training materials for a large audience of affiliates and elevating the discussion of risk-taking and risk management to the board room.

A reminder about the “basics” is good for all of us. Consider the following examples.

  • Position descriptions—A position description is the starting point for success on the job. Take time to create position descriptions for all vital roles in your nonprofit (paid and volunteer). Make certain you include key duties and responsibilities and give applicants (and new hires/new volunteers) opportunities to seek clarification.
  • Risk management goals—Goals for your risk management efforts are necessary if you hope to know if you’re “there yet.” What are you trying to accomplish? For some nonprofits, risk management goals including inspiring confidence in service volunteers and the board, reducing mishaps and ensuring an appropriate, compassionate response in the event of an incident.
  • Written agreements with partners—During a roundtable I attended this week one of the participants asked the leaders gathered “what guidelines should I follow in developing a sponsorship program?” My response to the participant was to consider “what could go wrong” and take the time to memorialize the expectations and requirements of both parties in a written contract. Too often partnerships get off and running without a summary of the parties’ expectations.
  • In-service training—Many nonprofits provide training for new employees and volunteers. This training helps new recruits get off to a good start. But don’t forget about the importance of in-service training, to hone skills, introduce new policies and procedures, and improve teamwork. In recent weeks we have developed a series of webinars for the staff of a large youth-serving nonprofit with nearly 3,000 affiliates. Programs like these are an affordable alternative to on-site training. As a bonus, online programs can be viewed at the staff member or volunteer’s convenience.

In the Center’s forthcoming book, Ready…or Not: A Risk Management Guide for Nonprofit Executives, we explore various ideas that we believe are vital to the integration of effective risk management in a nonprofit. We also write extensively about the importance of mastering the basics before moving on. Nonprofits that master the basics are in the strongest possible position to pursue higher level risk management strategies that will fortify their missions for the long term.

The program for the 2009 Risk Management and Finance Summit for Nonprofits, September 21-22 in Austin, TX will showcase seven sessions addressing not-to-be-missed risk management fundamentals. These featured sessions include:

  • Risk Management 101: Practical Ways to Manage Risk in a Changing World —Ideally your risk management program creates an environment where your organization can take more risk, not less. This session will focus on basic risk management strategies and terms before moving on to small group discussion around real-life risk management challenges. Attendees will learn to apply the lessons from the workshop in a practical way to address how an organization might deal with risk every day. Strategies and exercises will help attendees walk away from the session with the tools to build and strengthen a sound risk management foundation for their organization that adapts to the everyday challenges of a changing world.
  • Culture Change and Risk Communication — Inspiring sound risk management practices in a mission-driven organization requires more than a process or framework and an hour in the conference room. Truly effective risk management efforts in the nonprofit sector take place when culture change is the guiding vision for the effort. As leaders appreciate the nuances of a risk-aware culture, an integral step is to communicate effectively. The co-presenters for this workshop will discuss proven strategies for inspiring culture change and effective risk communication. Some of the concepts discussed at this workshop are covered in the Center’s brand-new book, Ready…or Not: A Risk Management Guide for Nonprofit Executives.
  • Managing Special Event Risks — Special events are commonplace in the nonprofit sector. Whether your nonprofit hosts a single annual event or numerous events of different types and stripes throughout the year, special events bring a new breed of risk to your operations. Special events often require special attention on venue selection and logistics, security, the involvement of spectators and the general public, and the reliance on brand-new or spontaneous volunteers. The presenter for this practical workshop is the co-author of the Center’s soon to be released book on Managing Special Event Risks.
  • Mission-Driven Risk Management — Actions speak louder than words! Has your nonprofit leadership team taken the time to incorporate risk management practices that are aligned with your organization’s mission? This session will help attendees understand why risk management cannot be an ‘add on’ or just another task ‘as assigned.’ Sound risk management practices can be used to sustain corporate stewardship in helping your organization achieve its mission.
  • Crisis Management — If a crisis is, “a change—sudden or evolving—that results in an urgent problem that must be addressed immediately”* most nonprofit leaders bring vast experience to the discipline of crisis management. What nonprofit CEO or Board Chair hasn’t faced a crisis? This workshop will explore the bases for effective crisis planning, crisis management and crisis communications, including how to adopt a “state of the art” approach to surviving a crisis facing your organization, regardless of the source or trigger.

*Managing Crisis, Harvard Business Press, Pocket Mentor

  • Partnerships and Collaboration: Risk Management Lessons from Success and Failure — Nonprofit leaders are drawn to collaboration like bees to honey and moths to a flame. There’s nothing like a good old fashioned collaboration to bring out the sweetest aspects in people and their organization, but watch out for the partnership that might burn when you least expect it. This Summit workshop offers a practical approach to managing partnership and collaboration risks with inspiration from a soon to be released publication on this topic from the Nonprofit Risk Management Center.
  • Project Risk Assessment — Many nonprofit leaders worry about lurking risks. Have we identified everything that could go wrong? Control self-assessments (CSAs) have become increasingly popular with both auditors and managers as a way to identify and control risks internally. This facilitated technique brings out the best of an organization and its employees to identify its objectives, activities, risks, and controls. Participants at this Summit workshop will learn basic steps and methods to implement this powerful tool as well as other strategies, including working with consultants, to conduct a practical, results-oriented risk assesment.

The full conference program, including details on our dynamic plenary speakers, can be found at the following link. The registration fee for the Summit is only $495. The registration fee includes resource materials for all conference workshops, breakfast and lunch on both days of programming, and generous doses of inspiration and practical information. To register for the Summit, click here.

Questions?! Call the Nonprofit Risk Management Center at (202) 785-3891 or write to: info@nonprofitrisk.org.

Summer Issue of Risk Management Essentials Now Available

The Summer issue of the Center’s newsletter, Risk Management Essentials, is now available. To download a PDF of the newsletter, click here. To view the articles featured in the new issue online, click here. To request copies of the printed version for distribution within your organization, contact Sue Weir Jones at (202) 785-3891 or Sue@nonprofitrisk.org


© 2009 Nonprofit Risk Management Center

(c) 2009 Nonprofit Risk Management Center