Why Disaster Preparedness Is a Critical Imperative for Every Nonprofit — Regardless of Mission
As we have seen in recent years, our country is hurting. According to reporting from ABC News, from 1980 to 2022, there were 8.1 significant climate events. Between 2018 and 2022, the number is 18. That's sobering, of course, but as a nonprofit executive, have you ever considered that it increases the chances that your donors will be affected and maybe even come to you for assistance, depending on your work?
If you haven’t thought about that question, it’s probably something you and your nonprofit board leadership should consider because all nonprofits should focus on disaster preparedness. I get it. We're all exhausted by the continual flood of challenges and hoops we must overcome. We've had a pandemic, recessions, war, inflation and technology that many view as an existential threat to workers. The list is long. However, it doesn't mean we should ignore disaster preparedness.
The fact of the matter is that because the unexpected is striking at any moment, and we no longer know what's coming next, the best thing you can do as a nonprofit leader is to be ready. By being prepared for any disaster — regardless of your mission — you stake a leadership position in your community, allowing you to continue to deliver on your mission and perhaps do the unexpected to help your donors and volunteers get past disaster.
The Moral Imperative on the Sector
Nonprofits hold a very special position in society. Because their focus is to make a social impact and not make a profit, they are tax-exempt. Because they don't pay taxes and donors generally get a tax write-off for their contributions, it means nonprofits have a special obligation to society. Some, including me, would argue that it's a moral imperative.
As a result of these realities, and because we're experiencing a time of unprecedented disruption, nonprofit leaders should rise to the challenge. They shouldn't ignore the humanitarian, environmental and social firehose of challenges to focus exclusively on their respective missions. In fact, they support their missions by preparing for disasters (opens as a pdf).
It has happened during any disaster. When there's been a significant event, it has affected not only missions served but also donors and volunteers. The most straightforward examples of this are hurricanes Katrina, Sandy and Ian. They were devastating and affected everyone in their eyes. Climate disasters don’t discriminate. So, how do you prepare?
Establish a Disaster Fund
When creating a restricted disaster fund, ensure funds are separate from general operating expenses. A nonprofit could and should focus on two critical things for the time these funds get tapped.
A percentage of the funds should be used in the case of a catastrophic emergency to keep the doors open. There should be at least six months of operating revenue.
Another vital use for the loss and disaster fund is assuming responsibilities that may go beyond your mission to support your community.
Recently, we learned harrowing stories about people jumping into the water to escape the Maui wildfires, which destroyed so many lives. My question is, even if your nonprofit doesn't focus on disaster relief, shouldn't your organization help anyone, as you can, should they lose their homes in a disaster? When people are hurt, they will turn to you.
A restricted disaster fund allows you to provide essentials like food, clothing, and maybe even a place for families to sleep, depending on your facilities. Yes, the chances are that these things aren't your direct mission. However, increasingly, in the view of people, nonprofits need to lead in social disruptions or risk becoming irrelevant. So, how do you fund a disaster fund?
1. Fundraising Campaigns
For one, you can create a fundraising campaign now. Speak to the realities we all face and that your nonprofit wants to serve as a leader in your community with a restricted disaster fund. Let people know that a certain percentage will ensure your doors remain open in case of disaster, and another portion will seek to help the community.
2. Partnerships and Collaborations
One of the activities that more nonprofits should lean into is to create community partnerships and collaborations. As we know, a disaster affects everyone in a community. So, partnerships are an excellent way to have the nonprofit sector in your community come together to plan. An approach is to create a joint venture fund for disasters that local nonprofits administer.
3. Disaster-Resilient Facilities
As we know, climate change impacts everyone, and no one's safe and unaffected. Another disaster preparedness activity nonprofits in our nation’s communities should do is to look into disaster-resilient facilities. In short, decide where to direct your team and supporters in case of a disaster. Designating a haven is one of the most critical things you can do for your community.
4. Communication Management
If you want to lead a disaster preparedness effort in your community, you can use technology to help. Establish communication channels in your internal planning and any you do with external partners. For donors and supporters, ask them to opt-in to disaster communication, reinforcing the fact that you're serious about responding to any risks. And know this, artificial intelligence will be an integral piece to this in the near future in ways we can only imagine.
You don't need me to tell you that a lot is happening in society and that disruption has become a regular event. That said, any and every nonprofit should prepare to lead their communities in a disaster. Whether your mission concerns education, the environment, or youth sports, it doesn't matter. Every nonprofit can get involved in preparing to be at the heart of disaster relief in their communities. Remember, it's not just about protecting your nonprofit. Preparedness also supports your mission in your community.
The preceding blog was provided by an individual unaffiliated with NonProfit PRO. The views expressed within do not directly reflect the thoughts or opinions of NonProfit PRO.
Paul D’Alessandro, J.D., CFRE, is a vice president at Innovest Portfolio Solutions. He is also the founder of High Impact Nonprofit Advisors (HNA), and D’Alessandro Inc. (DAI), which is a fundraising and strategic management consulting company. With more than 30 years of experience in the philanthropic sector, he’s the author of “The Future of Fundraising: How Philanthropy’s Future is Here with Donors Dictating the Terms.”
He has worked with hundreds of nonprofits to raise more than $1 billion dollars for his clients in the U.S. and abroad. In addition, as a nonprofit and business expert — who is also a practicing attorney — Paul has worked with high-level global philanthropists, vetting and negotiating their strategic gifts to charitable causes. Paul understands that today’s environment requires innovation and fresh thinking, which is why he launched HNA to train and coach leaders who want to make a difference in the world.