Note from Beth: I’ve been working in the nonprofit technology sector since 1990 and there was an old saying, “It isn’t a matter if the technology fail, it is a matter when and what your Plan B is.” We always had some sort of back up plan. For Giving Days, having a solid crisis plan in place for the technology, weather, or an act of god is an essential best practice. Colorado Gives has hosted six gives days and has over $111 million dollars for Colorado nonprofits. They are not using the Kimbia Platform. This statewide gives day has a corporate partner that is very vested in their success and has worked with them to develop a robust crisis plan. I invited Dana Rinderknect, Director of Online Giving, to write a guest post about their crisis planning process.
Crisis Planning for Colorado Gives – Guest Post by Dana Rinderknect, Colorado Gives
Last Tuesday, May 3, 2016, was Give Local America Day, a day when community foundations across the country rally to support local nonprofits in what is marketed as the largest community-driven crowdfunding event of the year. As a self-proclaimed Gives Day Junkie, I love giving days. We have not participated in Give Local America Day, but ColoradoGives.org has completed six gives days and over the course of these we have raised over $111 million dollars for Colorado nonprofits. These days are an amazing tribute to nonprofits and donors coming together to not only raise money (and they raise lots), but to also raise awareness of the amazing work nonprofits are doing to support their communities and make them better places to live.
But this past Give Local America Day, technology did not work. It was the stuff nightmares are made of for both technology providers and program staff. In fact, most of the large gives days across the country have experienced some type of technology failure on their day of giving. Our provider once likened it to taking a yearlong class and this one 24 hour period is your final exam. It is because of this scenario that crisis planning and management is essential and ever evolving.
We sat down our first year, 2010, and created what I thought was a pretty good list of all the potential issues that could happen on our day. It ranged from a blizzard (our day is in December) to electricity outages to our technology going down. Colorado Gives Day that year went extremely well with only a couple of minor glitches related to sending out the “thank you for your donation” emails. In 2011, we added more to our plans including conversations around how would we communicate any issues and adding more scenarios to what could go wrong. And it did. Our site went down for what seemed like a life time but in reality was about 45 minutes. Have you ever held your breath for that long? I think I did! It was excruciatingly painful for everyone involved. We ended up, like several of the gives days did last week, extending our day for 12 hours that year. Then we worked on figuring out what went wrong, how we could have communicated better to all involved, and how we could minimize the effects of any future issues.
We are extremely lucky because we have a corporate partner in our efforts that is very involved in our success and works with us to be better at what we do. They have helped us hone in on our crisis management planning. What does this mean? It means that we started out by bringing together our technology provider, key staff members, and experts from our partner to spend an entire day looking at every single thing we could possible think of related to the day. The list is long and includes all aspects of technology from platform infrastructure and architecture to security both physical and technical. We look at a number of potential issues:
- What happens if the facility where we host our data servers has a power failure?
- What happens if we have a power failure at our location?
- What happens if the phones go down?
- What happens if we have some type of human error?
The spreadsheet we use has a line for each of the possible threats to our having a successful day. We then look at each line and determine the probability of it happening and what the impact would be. Combining these two things creates what we call raw risk – low, medium, or high. For all of the high and medium threats, we look at mitigating controls. How much can we keep this issue from happening or how much can we minimize its effects if it does happen? Who is responsible?
Once we finished this process, we sat down and worked on plans around what we would do if these happened. To formulate these plans, we included our entire staff. Some of these plans are very simple and some are, as you would expect, very complex. Each plan is reviewed in our staff meetings, so that everyone has a basic idea of the action plan if something were to happen. And we have actually used these plans other days of the year when we have had issues. They have also been a great way to look at our general operations. We do live in Colorado and snow is going to happen!
I am not going to lie; crisis planning is not fun and can really hurt your brains as you start thinking about everything that can go wrong. What I saw last Tuesday from an outsider is that those who had done this at their local level had a little less painful day than those who didn’t.
It has been several years since our technology glitch, and I still have PTSD when our phones start ringing even a little more than normal or the pages on our site don’t load as fast as I think they should. We are still continuing to hone our plans as we learn more, as the world of technology changes, and as we watch giving days around the country. I learned several things last Tuesday about things we should put in our plans to make them more robust.
When planning a giving day in your community, I don’t believe crisis management is generally something on the top of your list. These days are so much fun and there are so many wonderful things that happen that are way beyond just the dollars raised. But crisis management is something that needs to be considered and thought out carefully.
In the coming weeks, several blogs and articles will be written about what happened and how it could have gone differently. But, did I tell you I was a Gives Day Junkie? These days in general are still amazing and wonderful ways to introduce donors to nonprofits and the excitement of participating in making their communities stronger!
Dana serves as the director of online giving for Community First Foundation. She joined the Foundation in December 2007 after serving on the staff and board of several nonprofits, including director of resource development at Dental Aid, Inc., executive director at Family Pathways of Colorado, and development officer at Work Options for Women.
Update: Reflections on May 3rd from Civicore