For this month’s Toolkit Thursday, I look at a risk management tool for organizations to plan for disruption to their daily operations.

In the face of COVID-19, many businesses have had to shift their focus or quickly react to accommodate operational challenges involving workplace access restrictions. And while it is impossible to anticipate every scenario that may require dramatic pivots like this, a Business Continuity Plan can help boards and managers of charities and nonprofits draft procedures and actions that can be ready to implement when faced with external threats.

Who can use it? Nonprofits and charities looking to draft contingency plans in the face of uncertain and unexpected negative and impactful scenarios.

What is it? A Business Continuity Plan is an internal document that details out the actions and procedures that an organization will undertake in the face of a variety of disruptive situations. The question a continuity plan answers is: what will we do to continue our operations in the face of hardship? This can be external events that confront a number of organizations like a natural disaster or public health crisis; or internal-focused events that may only affect your specific organization like an on-site fire or a cyber crime attack. A business continuity plan does not replace the need of the organization to assess risk and have risk mitigation tools like a risk register, but works in tandem to offer an operationally focused mitigation plan for very specific risk scenarios that key people in the organization can be tasked with implementing if the triggering event occurs.

When to use it? Although a business continuity plan will only be relied on in the face of an emergency, it is important to develop and circulate it internally before it is needed. This plan will highlight relevant scenarios based on the organization’s position in their industry and the internal weaknesses they have identified through risk assessment (for example, a small organization might have a lack of redundancy leaving it at risk for many employees being off work simultaneously, whilst a large organization may have IT constraints making shifting their entire workforce to remote working challenging). It’s also important to keep this plan fresh and up to date. As internal policies change, this plan will need to reflect internal realities. As external risks shift, the plan will need to accommodate this changing landscape.

Why? Oscar Wilde wrote “to expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect”. When organizations fail to plan for unexpected but impactful scenarios, they risk lacking the capabilities of reacting in time to minimize damages. The risk can be quite severe to employees, external relationships, and the ability for the business to continue operations in any meaningful way. Developing a business continuity plan also gives your employees insight into the risks confronting the organization as a whole and the reassurance that you as an employer are doing what you can to prioritize their health and future.  

For more details on this tool with some real world applications, see this article from Third Sector: The essentials: Continuity planning – Prepare for the worst

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