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

June 23, 2010

Bank on It

The 2010 Risk Management & Finance Summit for Nonprofits will be held at the Loews Hotel Philadelphia, this October 10-12. The hotel is located in the architectural landmark PSFS building, the nation’s first modern skyscraper. The Summit hotel is conveniently located within walking distance of shopping, theater, eclectic South Street, and historic as well as cultural attractions. While at the Loews you’ll pass the building’s impressive bank vault on your way to the conference registration desk. Pause in front of a bank of safe deposit boxes to sign in and pick up everything you’ll need to begin your Summit journey. If you plan to attend this year’s conference you can “bank” on:

  • Entertaining and thought-provoking keynote sessions, including a kick-off keynote by Randy Park, author of The Prediction Trap;
  • Fast-paced and informative education sessions covering topics ranging from Managing Reputation Risk to Financial Risk Management, Cyber Risk and the 10 Biggest Legal Risks Facing Nonprofit Organizations;
  • An exhibit area hosted by leading providers of insurance and financial services products. Meet representatives from firms that specialize in serving nonprofits;
  • Easy access from transportation hubs. The Loews Philadelphia is 20 minutes from Philadelphia International Airport and 10 minutes from Amtrak’s 30th Street Station; and
  • A memorable experience from start to finish in an historic building in the center of Philadelphia’s vibrant business and historic districts.

To see the detailed program, click here. To reserve overnight accommodations at the Loews, click here. If you’re ready to register, click here.

Short, Sweet and Shallow

By Melanie Lockwood Herman

The sense of frustration that overcomes me when I cannot remember something that seems vital in the moment has become a recurring, increasingly unpleasant phenomenon. Like many of my generation I instinctively blame the inability to recall information on my aging brain. I blame my inaccurate recall (e.g., “cappy hampers” instead of “happy campers”) on the fact that I have “too many balls in the air.” My daughter delights in comparing me to her paternal grandmother, who is legendary in our family for comical “cappy hampers” utterances.

This week I’ve been reading a terrific new book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, by Nicholas Carr. In his thought-provoking work Carr posits that immersion in our e-world changes the chemistry of the human brain as well as personal learning habits and preferences. According to Carr, we have become shallow learners addicted to the “short, sweet and bitty.”

As we habitually skip and skim through reading material we miss the richness found within. It’s a Cliff Notes and Headline News world. The author reminds us that so much of learning is found in contextual understanding, which is far more difficult—if not impossible—to appreciate while skimming. The same is true in the world of risk management. It’s impossible to understand a nonprofit’s exposure to harm by reading a short description of the organization’s programs, participants or screening protocol. And understanding how these activities come to life and the environment in which they occur is essential to accurately measuring the nature of risk and adequacy of risk response measures.

Later in The Shallows, Carr explores the difference between computer memory and biological memory, noting that biological memory is “organic…It exists in time, changing as the body changes.” The author tells us we are mistaken when we believe that memories can be offloaded to networked hard drives. Human memories are “contingent,” changing over time, with the quality of memories inextricably linked to how the information is processed. Information processed by a human brain continues to “cook”—just as a steak continues to “cook” after you remove it from the grill.

The same is not true with information stored by an artificial, computer “brain.” Notes Carr: “Biological memory is alive. Computer memory is not.” According to memory expert Nelson Cowan of the University of Missouri, and contrary to one of my favorite excuses for forgetfulness, “the normal human brain never reaches a point at which experiences can no longer be committed to memory; the brain cannot be full.”

As I read The Shallows I couldn’t help begin to link its lessons to a common but inadvisable risk management strategy: offloading risk management to a system, “program” or information system. While many of us would love to find a slick system that does the heavy lifting of managing complex risks, there is no substitute for harnessing human brains for this critical task. The nature of the brain—the lack of an “off” switch and the biology of continuous processing—makes it the ideal tool with which to understand and cope with risk in your nonprofit. As your agency’s risks evolve and morph over time, your brain is uniquely equipped to process new information with old and guide you to actions that are best suited to the changing environment in which your nonprofit exists.

The concept that storing information in our brains is of little use—since the Web makes it so easy to retrieve the information we need—leads us astray from the process of building our “personal store” of memories and in doing so, sharpening our minds. As quoted in The Shallows, clinical psychologist Sheila Crowell says that the “very act of remembering… appears to modify the brain in a way that can make it easier to learn ideas and skills in the future.”

It’s time to ban the excuses about our “aging” brains and our misplaced pride in multitasking. The nonprofits we love and serve deserve so much more.

Melanie Lockwood Herman is Executive Director of the Nonprofit Risk Management Center. She welcomes your feedback on this article and questions about the Center’s resources at or (202) 785-3891.

Melanie’s most recent books include Ready…or Not: A Risk Management Guide for Nonprofit Executives. Information on this book and other recent Center publications can be found at

Pass it On!

If you enjoy reading the Center’s enews and know others who would as well, please use the Forward email link that appears at the bottom of this issue. The link offers an easy way to share this issue with a colleague. When you use the link your colleague will receive an invitation to subscribe.

Forward Email

© 2010 Nonprofit Risk Management Center