Year-end actions for nonprofits

The end of the year is in sight. Therefore, this is an appropriate time for a charitable organization to review 2020 operations and activities. Particularly this year, it’s a good time to consider what this year’s COVID-19 pandemic revealed about the organization.

COVID-19 Lessons

The national emergency has highlighted vulnerabilities in many organizations and forced a pivot in the execution of the work. Now is the perfect time to get the organization’s continuity plan in place. Capture the lessons learned from this situation while the issues and solutions are fresh in the minds of the leadership team. Also, take the time to consider what could be done differently. Given what you know now, how would you approach the situation differently? What steps can be put into motion the next time a crisis strikes to preserve the ability to serve clients, support employees, and continue to expand the organization’s impact?

A continuity plan considers each aspect of the organization and how it will be managed or executed if something should happen to disrupt usual operations. While the thought of addressing every single aspect of operations could seem overwhelming or a waste of time, as 2020 has taught, the less time needed to make decisions and pivot, the better—for the well-being of clients, employees, and the organization.

The continuity plan is a living document, outlining potential threats or disruptions to the regular work of the organization. It is updated regularly and should be reviewed no less than annually. The threats or disruptions can include a flood, fire, extreme weather, electrical or internet disruption, government-mandated shut-down, or civil unrest.

Consider the following areas and how each could be resolved in the event of a disruption:

  • Communication with clients, employees, and vendors
  • Performing accounting functions and financial transactions
  • Delivery of client services
  • Payroll

The continuity plan should identify lines of authority, address responsibilities, and outline procedures to keep the organization running. The goal of the plan is not to address every possible situation, but to minimize or eliminate the impact of events on the organization’s activities and revenue. There are three broad categories that should be assessed as you begin to build the plan.


Identify and record the possible events that could affect operations and the functions that would be impacted by such an event. These events could be anything from a natural disaster, active shooter, ransomware attack, delivery service strike, or global pandemic.


Identify and document the specifications of key equipment and other items needed to continue to run the organization’s operations—such as computer files, important documents, or other items such as laptops, scanners, or client files.


Determine essential personnel (by role and responsibility) who will keep the organization moving forward during difficult times. This list could be different depending on the type of situation that arises. If there is only one person fulfilling a role, what are the plans if that person is suddenly no longer available?

After evaluating each of the disruption events that have been identified as potential threats, determine the areas of the organization that would be compromised. Address each area, who is in charge, who is supporting, and how resources would be allocated to answer the need. After the events, equipment, and employee considerations are tackled, take a step back. Each key person in the plan should review what has been addressed, identify any weaknesses, and assess any necessary changes. After multiple reviews of the plan have been made, it can be helpful to have the plan written up and assembled in a visually pleasing and easy to read format. If graphs, symbols, or charts will convey the message better than words, use them.

Finally, review the plan regularly to keep a fresh perspective and new solutions at the forefront. Make the plan available to all responsible parties and open to review and discussion. No plan is perfect; however, some planning may help address even an unexpected disruption.

Practical Consideration: No one person can anticipate every possible scenario or solution. It is better to begin, add to, and edit a plan than to have done nothing at all. The Department of Homeland Security, the Small Business Administration, and the IRS all have sections on business continuity or disaster recovery to help the organization develop a plan.

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