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

August 18, 2010

Shift Happens

By Melanie Lockwood Herman

I’ve been engrossed in the pages of a new book this week: Surviving and Thriving in Uncertainty: Creating the Risk Intelligent Enterprise by Frederick Funston and Stephen Wagner. The pages of this text offer a refreshing approach to integrating the principles of effective risk management into organizational planning, strategy-setting and decision making. While the intended audience is business leaders, the book offers some provocative lessons that can be adapted and applied in a nonprofit organization.

One of those lessons concerns the importance of considering the environment that surrounds an organization as part of every risk management process. For many years now the Center has been advising nonprofit leaders to “consider the context” prior to identifying and analyzing risks. Funston and Wagner remind readers that the context or environment in which an organization operates is constantly shifting. To use their words: “shift happens.”

A metaphor I find useful for understanding the changing environment in which nonprofits operate is the concept of tectonic plates—pieces of the Earth’s crust that move slowly but whose movement may cause earthquakes, volcanoes, mountains, valleys and deep sea trenches. Like tectonic plates, shifts in the environment may be hard if not impossible to see while they are occurring, despite the fact that the results of the shifts may be dramatic and plainly visible.

Even though gradual shifts may be hard to see, leaders are well advised to consider steps that offer a better vantage point, such as:

  • Examining and challenging the nonprofit’s conventional wisdom (e.g., its funding model), envisioning its destruction, and looking for threats and opportunities in the rubble;
  • Tapping into the perspectives of a wide range of stakeholders;
  • Considering risks that have impacted neighboring or similarly focused nonprofits;
  • Reflecting on past trends that were under the nonprofit’s “radar”;
  • Seizing opportunities to learn more about the environment in which the organization operates and trends that may impact its goals, strategies and capacity to manage risk; and
  • Recognizing that shifts in your environment may create the need to adapt, expand or “shift” your goals and strategies.

Next week I’m attending a nonprofit management conference that will offer opportunities to see my world from a different vantage point. Each conference plenary and workshop I attend will offer lessons and insights ripe for adaptation and application. The Center’s fall conference offers comparable opportunities to learn and apply practical risk management wisdom from leaders who have “been there” and “done that.” Even though the specific circumstances facing your nonprofit will differ in some respects from the experiences of our expert faculty, we promise to deliver an experience that will broaden your perspective, challenge your gut instincts, and help you develop a practical game plan to boost and revitalize your risk management approaches and strategies.

To learn more about the 2010 Risk Management and Finance for Nonprofits, view the interactive brochure found here.

If resource or time constraints make your participation in the Summit impossible, consider opportunities for distance learning. Details on the Center’s informative Fall webinars can be found here. Next up is our program on the risk management components of staff and volunteer Orientation, Education and Training. Head “back to school” by attending our September 1 webinar or by joining us in Philadelphia this October 10-12 for the 2010 Summit.

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

Coming Soon: The Summer edition of Risk Management Essentials will be available on the newsletter landing page or via a link in next week’s enews. Look for articles on “Enforcing Board Member Responsibilities” and “Managing Reputation Risk.”

Health Care Reform Workshop Added to 2010 Summit Program

The Center is pleased to announce an addition to the educational line-up for the 2010 Summit scheduled for October 10-12 at the Loews Hotel in Philadelphia. Mandy Bartoshesky, JD, MPH, Regional Compliance for Gallagher Benefit Services will present Health Care Reform and Your Nonprofit: What You Need to Know Now on Tuesday morning, 10/12. Attend this workshop to learn the five steps your nonprofit should take in the wake of health care reform. The speaker will review and discuss important mandates that will affect nonprofit employers and employees, annual dollar limits, Grandfather plans, case studies showing the financial aspects and liability associated with compliance, and so much more!

The 2010 Risk Management and Finance Summit for Nonprofits offers numerous opportunities to improve your leadership skills and broaden your perspective. Attend fast-paced workshops presented by leading experts and leave the conference with new insights and practical tools you can use in your leadership role.

To view the interactive Summit brochure, click here. If you’re ready to register, click here.

REMINDER: The early-bird deadline and discount expire on August 31. All early-bird, paid registrants will be entered into a drawing for a new 16G iPad. Sign up to attend the Summit today.

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.

© 2010 Nonprofit Risk Management Center