When hurricanes and floods are in the headlines, you can be sure many chapter relations professionals (CRPs) are watching nervously, worried about colleagues and members in the threatened area. Chapters that have been through a natural disaster need all the help they can get to deal with:
- Destroyed or damaged buildings, offices, furnishings, equipment, and files
- Lost data when there’s no backup for a damaged server
- Lost productivity when staff and volunteers are operating without their usual resources
- Personal losses
In this series on chapters in crisis, we’ve covered all kinds of crises unique to volunteer-run membership organizations in the 21st century:
- Financial mismanagement
- Financial fraud
- Compliance issues
- Data privacy
- Website disasters
- Struggling chapter leaders
- Leadership succession challenges
- Outsourcing and hiring issues
- Legal risks and liabilities
Unlike these other crises, you can’t minimize the likelihood of a natural disaster, but you can prepare for one.
We are assuming, in these posts, that chapters are subsidiaries, a situation that brings more risk to National, but also supposedly provides more control. Even if your components are independent, you’ll benefit from the advice we share on a crisis we all fear: natural disasters.
Helping a chapter recover from a natural disaster
Pull up the chapter’s (or your association’s) business continuity/disaster recovery (BC/DR) plan. Uh oh, you don’t have one? Then, triage the situation while keeping in mind the different issues you’ll have to address. Ready.gov is your best bet for information related to all kinds of disasters.
Association Forum provides advice on what associations should include in a business continuity plan, so you can follow that to some extent. If you’re an ASAE member, search the library in the Collaborate community for BC/DR plan samples too.
Keep regular communication going with your primary contact (or someone they appoint) at the chapter. You may find an online collaboration platform, like Slack, is better for communicating than email because you can send messages to a group or to an individual—and can easily search for items in those conversation threads. Or use a private group in your online community—whichever method is easier for the chapter team to use.
Disasters often bring out the best in people, but at a cost: stress, fatigue, and emotional pain. Keep this in mind as you try to help chapter staff, volunteer leaders, and others involved in the recovery effort. Many of them are not only trying to get the chapter back up and running, they’re dealing with property damage (or worse) at home and work too. When the time’s right, you may want to arrange for an employee assistance program (EAP) counselor to meet with chapter staff and/or leaders.
Keep National staff, volunteer leaders, and members aware of what’s going on at the chapter and the different ways they can help. The afflicted chapter’s members and staff will appreciate knowing they’re part of a community that cares.
Give the chapter and its members a break on meeting administrative requirements and dues payments. Take them off reminder distribution lists for administrative obligations—they have enough on their plate.
Extend memberships so members don’t have to worry about dues for several months. Establish a dues waiver program for members whose finances are suffering because of the disaster. Remove members temporarily from email (and postal) distribution lists for event and product promotions.
Consider a matchmaking assistance program. Set up an online form that chapter members can use to request assistance with office space, housing, and other needs. Make those requests visible so other members in the area can provide the needed assistance.
Or, use your online community to arrange matches, like the Educational Theatre Association does for their Disaster Relief Matchmaking Program. They launched the program in 2017 for Texas chapters affected by Hurricane Harvey. Since then, the program has continued to help match schools that need help after a disaster with schools willing to provide help.
Assist the chapter with their administrative and financial responsibilities (compliance reports, tax filing, bills, etc.) while they recover so their situation isn’t made more complicated by noncompliance.
When they’re out of crisis mode, find out if there’s anything you can do to alleviate their stress—think “self-care.” You may want to give them special treatment for some time. Perhaps a few sponsors can subsidize their attendance at association events they wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend.
Preparing a chapter for a natural disaster
Provide templates for a business continuity/disaster recovery (BC/DR) plan—even a basic plan is better than nothing! The business continuity plan is the chapter’s action plan. It prioritizes critical business functions and outlines how the chapter will perform those functions during and after a disaster. It defines the responsibilities of key staff and leaders during and after a disaster.
The disaster recovery plan is part of the business continuity plan. It lays out the plan for restoring vital systems, such as communications, hardware, and other IT assets. Its goal is to minimize downtime and get operations back to normal as quickly as possible.
If chapters are required to fill out a checklist along with an annual report, consider adding a BC/DR plan to the list.
Offer to keep a backup file of critical information for chapters. Think of it as a digital safe deposit box that includes:
- Copy of articles of incorporation
- Copy of federal and state tax exemption letters
- Copy of signed affiliate agreement
- Copy of bylaws
- Federal EIN number
- Attorney General registration number, if required in their state
- Copies of certificates of insurance
- Copies of meeting minutes
- Copy of the BC/DR plan
We hope none of your chapters ever has to experience one of the 11 crises we’ve covered in this series of posts. If you’re proactive and take the steps to prevent what’s preventable, then you may never have to deal with a chapter in crisis.