Recent strings of hurricanes, floods and forest fires have uprooted chapters along their path. Alumni and chapters around the country watched headlines nervously, worried if chapter members were in danger. Along with personal safety, chapters hit by natural disaster have to deal with:
- Destroyed or damaged buildings, furnishings, equipment, and files
- Lost data when there’s no backups
- Disrupted schedules
- Personal losses
In our Chapter Rescue series, we’ve covered all kinds of potential crisis situations that your chapters could face:
- Financial mismanagement
- Financial fraud
- Compliance issues
- Data privacy
- Website disasters
- Struggling chapter leaders
- Leadership succession challenges
- Outsourcing and hiring issues
- Copyright infringement
Unlike the scenarios we’ve covered previously, you can’t prevent a natural disaster, but you can help your chapters prepare and recover from one. Knowing what to do before and in the critical hours after an event can ease anxiety for your chapters.
Preparing Chapters For Natural Disasters
Many schools and cities have disaster plans in place to help students know what to do during an emergency. While each circumstance will be unique, make sure your chapters are adhering to the school or city preparedness plan. They should also sign up for the school’s text notification system so they are receiving the proper emergency alerts.
While the safety of your members is your first concern, you should also provide chapters with a business continuity/disaster recovery (BC/DR) plan. The plan should prioritize critical chapter functions and outline how they will perform those functions during and after a disaster. Having a plan for these items will let your chapter leaders focus on getting their lives back to normal.
The BC/DR plan should lay out what to do in terms of communication, hardware, and other assets. Make sure that you have a backup file of each chapter’s articles of incorporation, as well as their federal and state tax exemption letters.
Support for Chapters Recovering from Natural Disaster
After you know that students and their families are safe from harm, the relief work will begin. Triage the situation and refer to your BC/DR plan. Ready.gov is your best bet for information on how to respond to specific disaster types.
Be available for chapters by keeping in regular communication with chapter leaders. You can also choose to communicate with the entire chapter by utilizing online collaborative platforms, like Slack, or use a private group in your online community—whichever method is easier for chapters to use.
Keep communication lines open with your National staff and volunteer leaders. Let them know what is going on and how they can help. Providing updates on your organization’s social media accounts or email list can help keep questions from the larger community at bay. While their concern is appreciated, this will keep your energy focused on chapters instead of responding to a myriad of inquiries.
Chapters may not only suffer material loss as the result of a natural disaster, they often bare the weight of emotional pain due to stress and fatigue. They are not only trying to get their chapter back up and running, but dealing with distress at home, school and work too. Arrange for emotional support services and mental health counselors to assist chapters.
Give chapters a break on meeting administrative requirements and dues payments. Take them off reminder distribution lists for administrative obligations—they have enough on their plate. Offer to take on financial responsibilities (tax filing, bills, etc.) while they recover.
Establish a dues waiver program for members whose finances are suffering because of the disaster. Remove members temporarily from email (and postal) distribution lists that could be sensitive considering their situation.
When they are finally out of crisis mode, provide them with some fun to alleviate their stress. Get ‘self-care’ goodie bags together, send them some special treats or host a fun event.
As with all of the crisis scenarios we’ve addressed in our Chapter Rescue series, the key is to help chapters move forward. We hope none of your chapters ever has to deal with one of the eleven crises covered. If you’re proactive and take the steps to prevent what’s preventable, then you may never have to rescue a chapter in crisis.