Safeguarding Operations with a Business Continuity Plan for Nonprofits & Human Service Organizations

Safeguard operations during hurricane season and beyond with a tailored business continuity plan for nonprofits. Learn how to assess risks, ensure communication, and prioritize safety.​​

September 15, 2023 / Helene

Hurricane season is looming over human service and nonprofit organizations across the country, prompting threats of flooding, power outages and dangerous conditions that could leave residents and employees in danger. Fortunately, a cohesive, thought-out business continuity plan for nonprofits and human service organizations can ensure leaders are able to quickly respond to any disaster, ensure communication is intact and provide essential service to their communities. But a nonprofit business continuity plan is something that needs to be planned for in advance – when disaster is about to strike, time is of the essence. 

What is a business continuity plan​ ​for nonprofits and human service organizations?

An organization’s business continuity plan is the process of maintaining or restoring the functionality of a business in the event of a major interruption. While this includes hurricanes, a major interruption could happen because of a fire, flood, a cyber-attack, the loss of an employee with key operational knowledge and other scenarios.  

Similar to traditional businesses, nonprofit organizations have risks related to property or reputation that will vary based on the location, size or services they offer. However, nonprofits are unique in the sensitivity of their services as well as their place in the community. When an event like a hurricane happens, nonprofit organizations will be dependent on aid in relief efforts. As such, nonprofits must communicate effectively and move quickly in the event of an interruption event. That’s where a human service and nonprofit business continuity plan comes in. 

Building a business continuity plan​ ​for nonprofits and human service organizations 

Because a nonprofit business continuity plan is based on an organization’s unique set of risks, each organization’s plan will be a little different. A crucial first step to building a plan is conducting a risk assessment to gain a keen understanding of a nonprofit’s risks and how an interruption event could affect various aspects of their services. An assessment prior to constructing a business continuity plan for nonprofits should include:   

  • Hazard identification: Highlight what kinds of events an organization is at risk for such as a hurricane or earthquake.  
  • Assets at risk identification: List the people and property at risk as well as any regulatory obligations that must be upheld.  
  • Impact analysis: Highlight how an organization might be affected by an event, which might include property damage, casualties, environmental contamination, etc. 

Armed with this information, organizations can formulate a business continuity plan that covers each unique risk that impacts their operations. While every organization’s business continuity plan will vary, there are a few nonprofit specific considerations leaders should keep in mind:   

  • Responsibility & testing: While leadership will likely be the main people putting a business continuity plan for nonprofits together, it will require the effort of many. A team of people should be listed in the business continuity along with their roles outlined. Those people should then be trained on the plan and their knowledge should be tested. Running drills is a great way to ensure people understand their roles and expectations. Training should occur at hire, when there is a change to the plan and annually at a minimum.  
  • Communication is key: One of the most critical needs in the event of an emergency is communication. Organizations should have a plan for how they will communicate with key personnel and stake holders, equipment and service providers, emergency responders, third-party vendors, facilities managers, incident response teams and others. This plan must include protocols for if power were to cut out or the ability to use phones was interrupted.  
  • Safety is top priority: Given the populations that many organizations care for as well as the services they provide, life safety must be considered in a​ business continuity plan for nonprofit and human service organizations. In the event of a hurricane, for example, a nonprofit might have to manage evacuation or shelter in place protocols. For a residential facility, this will mean safely transporting residents and ensuring they have access to the medication and medical equipment they require. Such safety measures must be clearly laid out in the business continuity plan.   

Creating a human service and nonprofit business continuity plan can be an overwhelming process as it covers many facets of a nonprofit’s operations and calls upon leaders to prepare for the unexpected. Leaders should consider enlisting the help of an insurance professional who understands the specific needs of nonprofit organizations and the many dangers a major interruption could present.   

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