Business Continuity Planning: Taking it from the Backburner to Front and Center

By Whitney Claire Thomey

Certain aspects of the risk management discipline are more compelling than others. It's easy to see how Enterprise Risk Management harnesses the power of your organization's strategic initiatives and bolsters the opportunity for your mission to grow and succeed. Having candid conversations about daily risks can become a simple standard practice that helps keep preventable risks in check. And annual reviews of insurance policies are necessary and routine to protect the mission from liabilities.

However, business continuity planning (BCP) often feels like a burden and is an uncomfortable, time-consuming topic to discuss thoroughly. Therefore, it rarely receives the attention that it deserves. Instead of focusing on the negative implications that disruptions cause to your organization and your mission -- which often leaves BCP stuck on the backburner -- realize how having a clear plan to deal with business interruptions empowers and protects the vital work that your organization does to serve your community and constituents.

Why important?

The first step in moving your organization's business continuity plan to the front and center is establishing its value to the organization. So, why is business continuity planning so vital to a mission-driven organization?

Know in advance the critical operations

From a power outage to a pandemic, disruptions never occur on a predictable schedule. Business continuity planning shifts your organization from a defensive state to an offensive one, making sure that nonprofit leaders won't have to scramble to respond rapidly and improvise when unexpected outages pop up. Being able to pivot quickly can make or break stakeholder trust. A primary function of your business continuity plan is to establish which operations are mission-critical, which services and processes you can do without for a finite period, and which activities can be wound down or halted indefinitely.

When a disruption does occur, response time is crucial to ensure that indispensable services are available, allowing your mission to continue with minimal downside impact. Ideally, business continuity plans are created far in advance, under low-stress conditions, making it possible for cool heads to prevail during the disruption.

One-stop-shop for contingency information

Your business continuity plan collects all kinds of essential, necessary information that make it possible for vital operations to continue in the face of any type of disruption. And it's likely that your organization already has many of the answers! However, it's the potency of collation that makes a BCP so powerful. By taking the time to collect and catalog procedures, processes, and points-of-contact, you remove the stress associated with being able to quickly access required resources while also dealing with a crisis in real-time.

The hidden benefit

We have established that contingency planning helps identify in advance the operations and services that are mission-critical to your organization. You've seen that it can be leveraged as a one-stop-shop for essential resources and points of contact for your vendors and services. But did you know that there's an inherent hidden benefit to contingency planning?

You might be surprised to learn that the true benefit of contingency planning lies not in quickly selecting Plan B or Plan C when a disruption occurs. The actual advantage lies in the process. When teams come together to execute planning exercises to brainstorm what disruptions might happen, how they will affect the organization, and what can be done to mitigate the damages they build resilience. Essentially, it flexes the muscles needed to make thinking on your feet a salient and normalized practice. Therefore, it's not just the final plan but also the time spent discussing and preparing a business continuity plan that helps prepare your nonprofit.

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Whitney Thomey is Project Manager at the Nonprofit Risk Management Center. She welcomes your questions about any of the topics covered in this article at 703.777.3504 or

Visit the Nonprofit Risk Management Center website for complete information.