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Crisis and Disaster Planning

This is part of a special series, brought to you by the Standards for Excellence Institute, to provide nonprofit leaders with a brief nonprofit governance and management tip weekly over the course of 2020. We hope these short tips will be helpful to you and the nonprofits you serve. If you have suggestions for future topics, please forward these to

Not a week goes by when we don’t hear about some nonprofit that is tackling the impact of some type of disaster.  Whether it’s a fire, a health emergency like an epidemic or pandemic, a natural disaster, or a violent act, nonprofits big and small are tackling disasters on an on-going basis.  International disaster and relief organizations, hospitals, health and human services, food and housing organizations, and animal rescues are often a part of the first responder teams in many emergencies – and many of these organizations continue to provide support long after the immediate event.

At my organization, I am sincerely grateful for my colleagues who head up our efforts for disaster preparedness.  The time and effort that is invested in ensuring that our emergency plans are up to date, that emergency supplies and water are replenished, that drills are carried out, that our team is trained, and that emergency communications strategies are available and ready to be employed is essential for ensuring not just the continuity of our services, but protecting the safety of our team. 


The Standards for Excellence: An Ethics and Accountability Code for the Nonprofit Sector encourages all nonprofits to have written board-approved administrative policies addressing crisis and disaster planning that are periodically reviewed by the board.


Nonprofit services are vital to many communities. So maintaining capacity to serve others is crucial. Having a crisis and disaster plan can help ensure that nonprofits:

  • Prepare for emergencies, to the extent possible
  • Respond quickly and clearly to all constituents
  • Continue to offer its essential programs
  • Resume full operations as soon as possible
  • Safeguard and protect vital organizational resources


The Standards for Excellence educational packet on Administrative Policies includes helpful resources and samples of a crisis and disaster plan; roles and responsibilities of the nonprofits’ disaster/crisis response team; a nonprofit risk assessment worksheet; a business continuity plan worksheet; and a sample emergency crisis communication plan. 

This educational resource packet and the full series of all packets  - including sample policies, tools and model procedures to help nonprofits achieve best practices in their governance and management - can be accessed by contacting a licensed Standards for Excellence replication partner, one of the over 150 Standards for Excellence Licensed Consultants, or by becoming a member of the Standards for Excellence Institute.

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About the Author: Amy Coates Madsen

Amy Coates Madsen is the Director of the Standards for Excellence Institute, a national initiative to promote the highest standards of ethics and accountability in nonprofit governance, management, and operations, and to facilitate adherence to standards by all organizations. The Standards for Excellence Institute is a program of the Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations where Amy has served for more than twenty-two years. Amy is responsible for coordinating all aspects of the association’s comprehensive ethics and accountability program and efforts to replicate the program nationally. She serves as a frequent trainer and writer in the areas of board conduct, program evaluation, program replication, fundraising ethics, and nonprofit management. She has taught courses on nonprofit ethics and accountability at the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies Certificate Program on Nonprofit Management. She has held positions at the Trenton lobbying firm of the Princeton Public Affairs Group, and the Public Policy Liaison Unit at the world headquarters of Catholic Relief Services. Amy received her Master of Arts in Policy Studies degree from the Johns Hopkins University – Institute for Policy Studies in Baltimore, Maryland; and her Bachelors degree from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia. Amy is a member of Phi Beta Kappa. Amy serves on the Internal Revenue Service Advisory Committee on Tax Exempt and Government Entities (ACT). Amy is a former member of the Disaster Action Team of the Central Maryland Chapter of the American Red Cross and is qualified to provide disaster preparedness training to children and adults. She has also served as the former President of Central Maryland CAN TOO and was a member of the Board of Trustees of the largest United Methodist Church in Baltimore City. She serves on the board of her children’s preschool PTA and is a volunteer with the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland. Amy is currently leading an effort to establish an endowment for the Virginia Tech University Honors Program.