A $50 million cautionary tale for Nonprofits and Foundations: Why planning for disasters is CRUCIAL

This post reinforces to foundations and nonprofits the need for business continuity/disaster recovery planning and the necessary crisis communication plans so you can communicate with your donors and partners in times like these. 

This has been quite a week for nonprofits around the country, including those who carry out their mission in Middle Tennessee where I live and work. It has also been a challenging one for community foundations that help support these nonprofits through funding support and connecting them with services. I can feel their pain seeing what happened with the recent ‘disaster’ they experienced with what was to be a national day of giving. You see, I work with nonprofits and companies to boost their organizational resilience and that includes anticipating, planning for and recovering from disasters.

The ‘disaster?’ A technology glitch with Give Local America, the national umbrella organization which over 54 city and regional campaigns were using for a national day of giving interrupted campaigns across the country. Give Local America is operated by Kimbia, an online fundraising platform.

Nonprofit and foundation staff have been preparing for months for Tuesday, May 3rd for what was billed as a national day of giving to raise much needed donations for the important work done by nonprofits.  Foundation staff trained nonprofits and recruited sponsors; nonprofit staff redirected their time for targeted communications and videos and to prime the pump for donor giving. Good causes that have a national reach like The Elephant Sanctuary here in Tennessee to local causes like clean water and summer camps for homeless children in places like Nashville, San Antonio, and Seattle were affected.

I liken Tuesday to the Super Bowl when it came to its high profile giving opportunity. The national giving goal was projected to be over $100 million dollars! Last year over 9,000 nonprofits across 50 states participated, raising $68.5illion dollars. Here locally, the goal was to exceed last year’s total of $2.64 million, a substantial chunk of change.   At the center of it all was Kimbia, the online fundraising tool, donors would use to support local organizations of their choice. The platform had different skins to make it appear to the donor that it was run by the local area community foundation. Here in Nashville, the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee called it “The Big Payback.”

Things were going well at kickoff on Tuesday morning.  The Community Foundation of Middle TN’s pace was well underway towards passing the $2.64 million raised last year. Then at approximately 9:00 am Kimbia began experiencing issues and donors were unable to make a financial gift for the organization(s) of their choice. This sent everybody into a confusing spiral: donors frustrated by not being able to give or to not know if their money went through; donors who thought the problem was with the nonprofit or the community foundation; nonprofit staff having to field communications with limited information coming from the 3rd party vendor. Most importantly, money that nonprofits had worked so hard to attract was only a trickle of what had been anticipated.  Final tallies are still being compiled of the loss as some regions were able to resume scaled down campaigns later this week. Kimbia reports on its website that it was able to generate $29 million for nonprofits despite the technology glitch -- a far cry from its $100 million dollar goal. The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee reports $1 million was raised  with more being tallied but projections will be far less than the $2.6 million raised last year. In San Antonio, one of the largest sites, they were able to raise over $3,687 million of a $6 million dollar goal.  If these totals are representative of national results among the 54 sites, nonprofits across the country will be far short of anticipated goals potentially by $50 million.

Tuesday - and in the days following - area community foundations have been in crisis management mode. Most of the participating regions made the decision to shut down the giving platform for fear of damaging their reputation with their donors because of Giving America’s inability to process funds. Here is what Kimbia reports posted on its website later in the day as to the problem:

At approximately 9 a.m. CDT, we began to see latency issues. The root cause of the issue now appears to be a hardware issue on one of our hosted database nodes which caused a cascading effect, impacting our ability to deliver forms and process donations that was further exacerbated by new functionality related to leaderboards, prizes and mobile applications.

Central in business continuity and disaster recovery planning -- planning that organizations undertake to be sure its key business processes can return to normal after an interruption) and have the means to recover in the event of a technology failure - whether it is in healthcare, financial services, or nonprofits are two concerns:  what is the financial impact if a critical business function goes down and what is the impact upon my organization’s reputation.  By those two accounts, Tuesday was a disaster. As a representative of a participating organization stated on the Kimbia web portal used for communicating during the crisis: “We have been trying to put a band aid on a bullet wound all day in order to earn the trust back from our supporters and donors. We’ve been chewed out by people under the assumption this website was operated by those in our agency. We have put hundreds of staffing hours, sleepless nights, and our most prized and delicate donor lists towards today, only to be cheated and disrespected.”

Even though Kimbia could restore some functionality and resume a scaled down service and area community foundations decided to extend the campaign for Thursday, a fraction of the dollars for critical programs was captured. Even more of a concern was donor trust in nonprofits and foundations and nonprofit leadership in foundations that partner with 3rd party vendors who promise to ‘streamline’ a service such as giving.   

It is not my intention to pile on the good folks at Kimbia and their partners. This post reinforces to foundations and nonprofits the need for business continuity/disaster recovery planning and the necessary crisis communication plans so you can communicate with your donors and partners in times like these. What this week’s event highlights is the need for adequate due diligence in verifying that the companies or organizations we partner with to execute services have thorough plans to deliver services after an interruption.   If you are a nonprofit leader or board member or an officer of a Community Foundation that participated in the Give Local America campaign, I share these tips of what you can do now and moving forward.

Moving Forward:


  • Update your crisis communications plan. If you don’t have a written plan, create one.


Nonprofits and foundations need to have prepared and ready a crisis communications plan.  The work was not done in the lead up to the launch of the national day of giving with the preparation of donor lists and marketing.  I received communications from many nonprofits before Tuesday’s launch. But I didn’t receive one from any participating nonprofit (or foundation) once they experienced an interruption in service alerting us that there was a problem and informing me of the status.  Most importantly, vendors providing services to clients need adequate crisis communications plans and to communicate timely so customers downstream can communicate. The service provider did a poor job in this area.


  • For nonprofits and foundations that use 3rd party vendors for services, review the capability of your vendors to deliver services in the event of a business interruption.  


Here are questions you should be asking and asking for documentation:


  1. Do they have a disaster recovery plan? Is it maintained?
  2. What is their capability to failover to an alternate system or location? What is their practice for monitoring?
  3. What is their testing policy? How extensive is it, what do they test, and how frequently?


Reviewing Kimbia’s posts during the  business interruption it does not appear that they  had the means to failover its data and applications to an alternate environment and be back up and running in a timely manner.  Creating an “active/active” environment can be expensive, but given that Kimbia stood to capture anywhere from $3 million to $5 million based on the range of 2.99% to 6.00% transaction fee it was charging to the different regions of its $100 million dollar goal the dollars are there for such infrastructure, especially in light of the risks. That failure on the provider’s end, has customers downstream assessing the future. An officer and board member’s comment on the Kimbia website crystallizes how important it is to ask these questions and the impact on organizations when problems arise:

“For certain, the momentum of 3 years of growth is now lost. The “simple system” each non-profit advertised, in both prior years and this one, has failed, and the trust is now compromised. As an officer and board member of my non-profit, I must be willing to do three things: 1) explain what happened, 2) apologize for the inconvenience, and 3) recommend how to prevent any such re occurrence. For #3, one solution now under consideration is to not partner with any national or regional fundraising strategy, and do it ourselves, just as we did prior to three years ago. And why? because it’s obvious that the national and regional organizations do not know how to scope out their most important partner, let alone adequately test the systems.”

Nonprofits have realized that momentum for giving days has been growing in recent years, and they have invested significant resources and staff time seeking to adapt to these trends. No doubt they feel a certain pressure if they don’t by the donor or that they may be missing out on needed donations from individuals. As foundations bring the 3rd party service to the nonprofit and the community of donors, it is important for foundations to take responsibility getting thorough answers and documentation as part of their due diligence of providers.


  • Develop a business continuity or contingency plan for your organization.


Your nonprofit or foundation is not immune from disasters large or small. No matter your size nor your mission, your organization needs a contingency plan.

If you are interested in resources and how you can move forward on any of these suggestions, we can help you get started. Here’s a link to an online document library of resources Patmos  prepared for the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce and its member organizations to help them with disaster preparedness.  And here is my email address (jhilley@patmosconsulting.com)  if you have a question or we can be of assistance.



Remembering Dr. Maya Angelou: helping students and humankind find our voice

Maya Angelou died today.  She was 86.  Initial news said she died peacefully at her home.  Although not certain, I think this is the same house, where as a student of hers at Wake Forest  back in 1983, I presented my final exam on the stage she created on her living room floor.  My final exam involved presenting a speech I had to write in the persona of the abolitionist and freed slave Frederick Douglass for her class “Race, Religion, Politics and the South”.  Not the easiest exercise for someone from white privilege and an all-white fraternity.

This woman, who had lost her voice for years as a child (I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings) helped me find mine, just as she has helped countless other students and people worldwide find theirs. Today I am remembering that first day as a senior in her class in Wingate Hall.  The window behind me was open and the beach song Fill Me Up Buttercup was wafting in from the jukebox of my fraternity.  Ms. Angelou was in front of the class and I could almost feel her beckoning me forward into an unknown future with her voice -- that voice!  Who can ever forget the rising and falling of her voice?

I will never forget her first lesson.  There must have been about 25 students waiting for our famous teacher to arrive.  She walked in and in short order asked students to introduce their fellow students to her using full names with titles.  Within 15 minutes we knew full names of individuals who had been strangers, and we received our first lesson on the importance of names and identity; a lesson delivered in part poetry, part lecture.  Years later, when I saw my former teacher standing on the Capital Steps delivering her poem, “On the Pulse of Morning”, at William Jefferson Clinton’s presidential inauguration in 1993 and hearing her powerful words naming nations, ethnicities and people calling us all to our common identity standing on the Rock, planted by the Tree beside the River. I was beaming with pride saying I have witnessed some of those truths and glimpsed some of those rich images when they were gestating in the aliveness of what she created in the classroom  with her students! Remember who you are! Claim it! Call it forth in others! And greet others in the spirit of that knowledge!

In that same house, Ms. Angelou greeted my own father and mother when they came to the  party she held for graduating students.  Much to my consternation, my mother, with the best of intentions, presented Ms. Angelou a copy of the Junior League of Monroe, Louisiana’s Cotton Country Cookbook known for its butter intensive recipes and thinly veiled glorification of bygone southern days.  Ms. Angelou, ever hospitable, welcomed the cookbook with its pen and ink illustrations of slaves picking cotton and remarked something along the lines of “I am sure there must be wonderful recipes here.”  Another lesson taught to this student: the lesson of hospitality.

Ms. Angelou introduced me not only to my classmates that first day, and then to a host of other poets and clarion voices such as Frederick Douglass but to a deeper self which called forth a new voice for me. Where that eventually led me was to seminary, and then to post-graduate work and study in misanthrope South Africa, learning from voices long silenced. I went on to minister in the church, and work in nonprofits with urban youth to help them access college and organize for better economic conditions in their neighborhoods.  

News of her death has me reminiscing of days long ago, and feeling blessed for the long reach of her influence.  Using your own authentic voice is a tricky thing whether you are 68 or 53 or 22. No matter our age, we all struggle to find it – and keep it– this sense of who we are in relation to the world and God – what I call our relational competence.  She had little patience for anyone who spoke in front of her class with a “small voice” and would challenge us to reach down and project with confidence, purpose and poise.  I’m now in my 50s, and my voice can get a little tired, it isn’t always certain as it was in my youth, and it can be a bit warbly when it comes to addressing the social issues of the day. But today, I think about Maya Angelou’s voice and my own becomes stronger.  I find myself wanting to right the societal wrongs, tell my wife and kids I love them, sing and make a joyful noise, and most of all, to be a bit more gracious and hospitable to those around me just as she was to all, including my well intentioned mother.    I moved on from Wake Forest, never taking the time to reach back and to say thank you to her.  So today I say – with a strong voice - “Thank you, Maya Angelou!”


Photo:  www.wfu.edu. Gallery http://mayaangelou.wfu.edu/photos/


What happens if Joe doesn’t come to work…ever again?

Chances are you know Joe.  Every organization has a “Joe”, no matter the size of the company.  He is the one who keeps the IT systems going and the critical applications your sales team daily depends upon spinning.  Joe is the one everyone in the department turns to when a decision needs to be made. Joe is the only one the investors want to talk to.
At your work, you may be that “Joe.”


But what happens if , one day, Joe doesn’t come in... for good?


Lack of a succession plan for key leadership and employees can cause havoc in an organization as it struggles to function following a planned or unexpected exit of a key leader or employee.  It is an invisible problem until it hits.  When it does it can spell disaster.  
Effective organizations pay attention to the importance of succession planning.  And effective succession planning involves keeping your eyes on the three balls of continuity of leadership, risk management and strategic leader development so the invisible doesn’t become a problem when your organization faces planned or unexpected exits of your key employees.  


Click here
to view our slideshare to view our thoughts and tips on things you can do today to make sure you don’t have a big problem tomorrow.View our slideshare with 9 slides containing useful tips on succession planning



Disaster Plan Required for Magician’s Rabbit

It appears “Marty the Magician” (a.k.a Marty Hahne) has until July 29th to write a disaster plan for the star in his magic act:  Charlie the bunny. 

According to a Washington Times article: “Agriculture Department tells magician to write disaster plan for his rabbit” (@washtimes on Twitter), the United States Department of Agriculture has told him he must have a plan for what to do with his bunny during and after a disaster occurs.  Marty Hahne writes:  

“My USDA rabbit license requirement has taken another ridiculous twist,” he continued. “I just received an 8 page letter from the USDA, telling me that by July 29 I need to have in place a written disaster plan, detailing all the steps I would take to help get my rabbit through a disaster, such as a tornado, fire, flood, etc. They not only want to know how I will protect my rabbit during a disaster, but also what I will do after the disaster, to make sure my rabbit gets cared for properly. I am not kidding–before the end of July I need to have this written rabbit disaster plan in place, or I am breaking the law.”

I will leave it to the blogosphere to carry on about the over-reach of government to legislate or to overly complicate a rather simple matter.  I can understand where the USDA is coming from having written preparedness plans for a local Humane Assn. and having worked in disaster relief following Hurricane Katrina.  I know of the challenges authorities face – and the animals themselves - with caring animals following a disaster.   

As one who prepares disaster plans for companies – both regulated and unregulated – I am here to help Mr. Hahne address the concern they expressed in their 8 page letter with extensive and detailed plans that can dwarf their 8 page letter! (Check out a link I have at the bottom of this post to take you to free planning resources.)  But, it seems like these simple steps would suffice:

Before a Disaster Strikes

  1. Prepare a family preparedness plan. (This is important if Charlie resides at your home.)
  2. When performing out of town, before you go do a quick web search to familiarize yourself with available pet store, feed store, and veterinary services in the town where you and Charlie are performing.
  3. Prepare an emergency “go box” of lettuce, carrots, and water and keep separate from your main “office” (e.g. performance stand, hat, cape and those Houdini contraptions you magicians use).  Keeping the “go box” in your car is a good plan.
  4. Familiarize yourself with the exits and safe locations where the performance is taking place.
  5. Other mitigation actions involve scanning the crowd to evaluate what children may be overly aggressive or have ill intent towards Charlie.

During a Disaster

  1. Place Charlie in your magician’s coat or cape pocket and follow the appropriate emergency procedure (e.g. evacuate, shelter in place). – This is the essence of your plan! If it calls for an evacuation, walk and don’t run and try not to scream.

After a Disaster

  1. See if Charlie is okay.
  2. Use your common sense.
  3. If you are unable to care for Charlie, make sure your wife can.  If she can’t, use your alternate back-up and location which could be that wonderful elementary school teacher in your town whose classroom has a class bunny and hamster (but no snakes).

Unlike with the rabbit, business owners can’t stuff employees in their pocket or hat and run when there is an emergency.  For business owners who have human employees and not animals in their care, we shouldn’t need the government mandating that we have detailed plans.  But we do need to have emergency plans and continuity plans because it makes good business sense to be able to protect your most important assets. 

We at Patmos make it easy (our recent blogs will take you to a plethora of free planning templates).  I hope you will take advantage of some of our resources to make it easy for your company to plan.

We are also here to help Marty Hahne who evidentially the USDA is required to be trained.  To Mr. Hahne: I am willing train you for free if you will teach me a magic trick.

Download our Emergency Plan template.

Get our Free Risk Assessment Guide and Disaster Scenarios



Patmos’ experience in helping businesses and nonprofits in Middle Tennessee become more resilient is utilized by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce 

This week the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce released its online resource library on its website to help Middle Tennessee organizations prepare for future disasters and business crises (Disaster Resource Library).  Nashville staffer Lindsay Chambers heralds the project in her blog “Be Prepared: Creating a Continuity Plan for Your Business.”  (Read Ms. Chambers’ blog).

Patmos, LLC was pleased to be part of this effort by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce to boost the resiliency of businesses in Middle TN.  The Nashville Chamber selected Patmos, LLC to develop this disaster preparedness and recovery plan for the Nashville region’s business community. 

John Hilley, President of Patmos, worked with Chamber executives to prepare online planning resources, including the online disaster planning resource that is especially geared to the smaller business (fewer than 100 employees) to help them address the most pressing concerns.  An additional planning resource developed for the larger size organization that may face industry regulations concerning the protection of data (e.g. healthcare, financial organizations) will be made available on the Chamber website at a later date. Patmos involved the crisis communications expertise of Aileen Katcher of Katcher Vaughn & Bailey Public Relations (KVBPR) to develop a crisis communications plan that the Chamber would use to ensure effective communications in the business community during future disasters.

Ms. Chambers recalls the impetus for the online disaster planning resource in her blog:

“Following the 2010 flood, Mayor Karl Dean tasked the Chamber with creating a Business Response Team to help connect local business owners with the resources to recover quickly. The most important lesson we learned from this experience was the need for businesses to prepare for disasters before they strike.  As an outgrowth of the Business Response Team, the Chamber created an online disaster planning resource.

The statistics are staggering in terms of the survivability of businesses hit with a significant interruption. According to The Hartford’s Guide to Emergency Preparedness Planning, created by The Hartford Financial Services Group:

  • 43% of the businesses that experience a disaster and have no emergency plan never reopen
  • only 29% of those that do reopen are still operating two years later.

Often, being prepared is the key to recovery.  This online tool helps close the gap for small businesses who know they need a plan but are not sure about how to go about creating one.

 Click here to visit the Chamber’s Disaster Resource Library

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About the Nashville Chamber

The Nashville Area Chamber (@NashChamber)  is Middle Tennessee's largest business federation, representing more than 2,000 member businesses in 10 counties (Davidson, Cheatham, Dickson, Maury, Montgomery, Robertson, Rutherford, Sumner, Williamson, Wilson). Through a wide variety of programs and initiatives, the Chamber works to positively impact the economic vitality and enhance the quality of life in the region, while supporting the growth and prosperity of Chamber-member businesses.

About our partner in this project, KVBPR:

Katcher Vaughn & Bailey Public Relations, Inc. (www.kvbpr.com; @KVBPR) develops innovative public relations programs and crisis communications plans for health care and civic growth and development clients. KVBPR helps align client’s interests with the people who are important to their long-term interests and success. The firm is a partner in WORLDCOM, a global partnership of independently owned public relations firms.

About Patmos, LLC

Patmos, LLC (www.patmosconsulting.com; @PatmosLLC) provides services for corporate and nonprofit clients focusing on organizational resiliency. Patmos' diverse and unique set of experiences and skills – business continuity and disaster recovery planning, aligning processes and systems, leadership development, change management with heart, risk assessment and strategic planning -- provide the fundamentals which organizations need to survive and grow, while adapting to today’s challenging and complex realities.  John Hilley is Founder and President of Patmos, LLC.