May 7, 2018; Greenwich Sentinel
Generally, when we talk about risk management for nonprofits, there is a note of panic in the conversation, as we hold the image of organizations teetering with the uncertainties of government policies and funding, philanthropists changing the focus of their giving, and increasing demand for services. In fact, grantspace.org quoted the Alliance for Nonprofit Management as defining risk management as a discipline intended to identify and protect against any threat to an organization’s ability to deliver on its mission. It is a definition based on fear: fear of loss. A report covered by NPQ in 2016 represents another example of this approach.
In 2017, NPQ devoted an entire issue of its print journal to the subject of risk management in the nonprofit sector. The focus was on how to move from risk management to risk leadership, with an interview with David Renz providing focus for what that actually means. Not only do nonprofits live in a world of risk, but at times it is important to acknowledge that risk fully and even use it as a way to move forward.
A recent article in the Greenwich Sentinel by Michele Braun builds on this idea and proves some very simple how-to’s for nonprofit boards and leaders. Braun, director of the Institute for Managing Risk at the Manhattanville School of Business, argues that if nonprofits do not take any risks at all, they cannot grow, adapt, or respond to the needs of their clients. The question, instead, is how to be intentional about which risks to take on and how to avoid ones that could be detrimental to the organization’s survival.
Nonprofit leaders should ask a few key questions:
- What risks do we face that can derail our mission?
- What risks can we take that would help us accomplish our mission?
- What processes do we have in place for assessing and managing risk?
- Why haven’t we committed to be a risk-aware and risk-savvy organization?
Two easy steps to take, according to Braun, involve annually having a look at risk and your organization. A conversation among staff and representatives throughout all strata of the organization could lead to clearer understanding of what has changed internally and externally that might alter the risk landscape. Are there new threats or opportunities the organization should be aware of and act on? People from outside the organization should be included in this discussion, as they may see things from a different angle and set of experiences.
In addition, also on an annual basis, the organization’s insurance carrier should be asked to review coverage and services. Periodically, the organization should ask an insurance provider that is not their current carrier what they would propose as coverage. There may be something that the current provider is overlooking.
Inherent in what Braun is saying is that although we need to be aware of and prepared for risks, we need not always live in fear of them. A risk management policy can include more than simply how not to be devastated by a negative risk. It can also include ways to be aware of and take advantage of risks that will help us grow. By managing the process of taking a strategic risk, and with some forethought, your nonprofit can have the courage to do something new while minimizing the potential downside.—Rob Meiksins