Friday, 22 August 2014

Business continuity and the non profit sector


"I always imagined a few people on the phones in a small office taking calls, not a big office with actual departments, and definitely not anyone thinking about business continuity and risks." Over the past year I have heard this line said to me in varying forms when I have explained that I give advice on corporate risk and business continuity in the non profit sector.

Not a common misconception and when being able to easily list the risks relevant to the financial services industry for example, applying that to the non profit industry along with the associations of what is important is not as easily obvious straight away.

Some Challenges and observations:

The varying degrees of academia in non profit organisations are expansive and the primary challenge is making it accessible and relatable to all.

The attitudes that this would take too long - it’s not required in our industry and focusing on delivering primary front line services was more important. But has anyone thought about those supporting functions?

"This will never happen to us anyway." At first, it made me feel uneasy hearing this but this is the best challenge to promote business continuity in any industry. Using the "if we don’t comply, we will get fined" card almost shifts the desired affect from wanting to provide great assurance to an exhausting check box exercise. The appetite and denial factor is a tough barrier to get around.

Forgotten plans - in most cases contingency plans were in people’s minds but just not on paper. Hearing various stories of incidents taking place which resulted in an instant panic before the swift realisation that "oh yes, we have a plan, we know what we need to" kicked off a series of reactions to get things back to normal.

Planning V’s practicing - countless months were spent planning and writing but practicing those BCP’s were missing. In recent exercises some feedback I got was that no one had ever tested their plans and found it really useful. The actions that were thought to take five minutes took twenty. This started a chain of actions which plan owners needed to implement in order to become more resilient in an incident. A friend said to me once that businesses don’t fail because of a bad business continuity plans, but because of bad choices. That stuck with me.

So what does BC look like in these industries?

We live in a robust and dynamic society and whilst a generic approach to start off a plan is valuable, they can be adaptable. I quickly realised that I was getting too hung up on wanting to make each teams plan look the same and what really mattered was that it absolutely has to work for the people invoking it, and if it is clear and coherent, that is sufficient.

It is without a doubt that the non-physical threats such as reputational risks, loss of funding from a major donor and employee scandals can have serious impacts on your operation, especially when the majority of funding is provided by the public generosity. If an incident occurred what would be the emergency funding protocol? It is things like this that needs the most consideration. Yes, every industry needs to consider the building, IT/data and staff but what about the intangible factors that essentially calls for a disaster.

Making those threats relatable is key and, the empowerment resulting in a shift in view of risk and business continuity only being related to IT and Financial services is essential. (Because of the varying levels of academics in these industries often sit under one roof).

What does this all mean?

All non profits, for example charities, are run like businesses. Fact!

Non profit or not, business continuity is on everyone’s mind, but they just don’t know that this is what it is. Yes, the variations of levels in what constitutes a threat differs from industry to industry but essentially, what matters most is the resiliency each organisation has to overcome any incident it faces.

RISKercizing until next time

Rina Bhakta is a Corporate Risk Advisor at the NSPCC. If you would be interested in being a member of a special interest group and want to talk/share ideas about business continuity and risk management challenges at your non-profit contact Rina via her blog RISKercize or via Twitter or Linked In.

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