Planning for the worst case — strategic plan or crisis management plan?

The School of Worst Case Scenarios

Guest Blog Post
By Dani Robbins reprinted with permission from Nonprofit Evolution blog
planning2I always joke that I went to the School of Worst Case Scenarios, because when presented with any decision, I try to figure out the worst thing that could happen. It amuses my clients, yet it’s a helpful exercise. Once you know the worst case, you can roll of the dice, create a plan to avoid it or decide it’s not worth it.
Information is just information. It’s what you do with information that makes the difference.
There are a few plans and policies that will help you avoid or at least address a worst case scenario.
Strategic Plan
A Strategic Plan will keep you on the path that the leaders of your organization have elected to follow. There is less potential for failure on an agreed upon path.
If you don’t currently have one and your agency is not in the midst of a crisis, almost any time is a good time to do a Strategic Plan. There is one caveat: I’m not a huge fan of strategic planning with brand new (less than 6 months) Executive Directors. Give your new Exec 6 months before beginning a planning process.
All agencies should have a plan to align their staff and board as to where they’re going and how they’ll know when they get there.
Crisis Management Plan & Crisis Communication Plan
The only time I flat out recommend against starting a plan is in a crisis. Even if you went to the same school (of worst case scenarios) as me, crises still happen. The middle of a crisis is not the time to conduct a strategic plan. In fact, a crisis is the time to pull out your crisis management plan, and also your crisis communication plan.
Having these in a crisis will greatly mitigate the worst case scenario coming to pass and will increase the capacity of your staff to rise to the occasion. I recommend annual trainings on crisis plans.
A Crisis Management Plan will inform your team as to what to do in a wide variety of situations. Bomb threat- check.  Intruder in the building- check.  Shots fired in the neighborhood – check! Missing child- check.  Other things that are equally bad- check.
Knowing what to do is greatly preferable to guessing when the world is falling down around you. A good plan and well trained staff can be your salvation.
If you are starting from scratch, make a list of all the bad things that could reasonably happen and then a plan for what your team should do in each case. Draft a few press releases for the files. Train your staff on responding to the media and if you don’t have one, create a crisis communication plan for your board to appoint a spokesperson. Select a crisis response team and keep all of their names and contact information at the end of the plan.
I used to update that list and send out the entire plan every time I went on vacation. I considered it insurance.
A Crisis Communication Plan appoints a spokesperson and an alternate or two in case the initial person and the first alternate are implicated in the crisis. (Like in the case of the Exec and the Chair having an affair while married to other people; honestly, I couldn’t make this stuff up.) I usually recommend it be the Executive Director, Board Chair and Chair of the Marketing Committee.
Crisis avoidance is easier than damage control. The School of Worst Case Scenarios isn’t a party school but it can save your agency’s reputation and greatly enhance your career longevity.
What’s been your experience with crisis? Do you have great stories to share? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience.  Please share your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.
dani sig

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