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Posted by Remonde Brangman on Fri, Nov 21, 2014 @ 09:24 AM

RiskNot-for-profits are not known as risk takers. Unlike some commercial entities, not-for-profit organizations tend not to have pressure to take internal or strategic risks. Today’s world, however, holds its share of risks for not-for-profits. From unstable funding sources to regulatory pressure and stakeholder concerns, not-for-profits face numerous unique challenges.

Just as in the for-profit world, growth and success for not-for-profits hinge on the ability to control potential risk and exposure areas. Not-for-profit leadership must continuously adjust and enhance risk management procedures in order to ensure adequate coverage for their organizations. Below, we have outlined a 10-step approach to help not-for-profits manage their risks. Examining these best practices can help determine whether you need to update your organization’s risk management approach.

1. Establish a High Level Risk Management Committee

A cross-section of individuals within your organization should participate in risk management discussions. Create a risk management committee to help facilitate these conversations. Depending on your organization’s structure, this committee will be either a Board level or executive level function. Representatives should include key Board members (Chairman of the Board and/or Audit Committee Chair) and all members of senior management.

2. Develop a Risk Appetite and Taxonomy

Establish your organization’s risk appetite and vocabulary/common risk language. Your risk appetite should reflect quantitative and qualitative risk thresholds that would be considered harmful to the organization (e.g. a material loss could be defined quantitatively as any loss in excess of $100,000 or a threat that would cause a life-threatening injury requiring emergency intensive care or specialized treatment). These thresholds must be definable and measurable in order to be effective measures of risk. Establishing a risk vocabulary provides for consistency in the communication and interpretation of risk concepts and principles.

3. Identify and Rank Your Most Important Risks

With your risk management committee, pinpoint the key risks that face your organization. Consider the likelihood and potential impact of the exposure areas and identify approximately 10 that your organization should monitor closely.

Not-for-profits face unique external risk factors including unstable financial support, competition for grants and federal funding, inadequate oversight of financial resources and increased regulatory pressure for transparency.

Ranking your organization’s risks allows you to establish priorities for risk mitigation. While it is not essential to rank all risks, you should have a clear idea of where your most pressing issues fall in relation to other risks. Perhaps your organization has historically had difficulty managing donor expectations. Maybe a former employee embezzled money from your not-for-profit. Whatever the case, the high-risk areas your committee identifies will dictate the shape of your risk management plan. Hence, it is essential that the committee accurately identifies your organization’s most pertinent risks.

4. Establish a Risk Mitigation Strategy

Your organization can minimize its existing risks in a variety of ways. The commonly accepted approaches to risk mitigation include risk transfer and risk management. Risk transfer refers to the transfer of risk to an external third party (e.g., insurance). Risk management involves establishment of an internal control environment designed to mitigate the specific risk.

5. Evaluate Your Internal Control Environment

Managing risks is an ongoing process. As your organization grows or progresses through its life cycle, its risks will also change. Be sure your monitoring process keeps you current on the risks you take on. Create a system to alert management and your risk management committee to any new problems that may emerge, so that you can quickly and efficiently respond to the issue.

Do not wait for a triggering event. Organizations should update and review their risk management procedures periodically in order to maximize their strategy’s effectiveness.

6. Evaluate All New Business Ventures/Initiatives from a Risk Perspective

Include risk assessments as part of the process for vetting new programs or initiatives. Consider questions such as the following:

  • Does the new program expose your organization to unnecessary reputational risk?
  • Will it create additional financial strain or risk?

Proactively addressing exposure areas makes new risks much easier to control in the long term.

7. Develop Key Risk and Control Metrics

Identifying risks means nothing unless you have a way to measure impact. Determine how your organization can track the effect risks may have on your organization. Map the relevant internal control to the risk it mitigates. This way, if your organization encounters a risk-related issue, it can address the exact system of internal controls that failed to prevent the event from happening.

8. Develop Periodic Reporting of All High-Risk Activities

High-risk activities can bring immediate and impactful consequences to your organization. They should be among the most monitored areas of your operations. Keep detailed records of any programs or transactions that pose a risk to your organization. A thorough approach coupled with periodic reviews of the reporting goes a long way in identifying problems before they become major issues.

9. Enhance HR Policies

Since many not-for-profits do not face the same internal risks as commercial entities, risk management may not be a large priority within your organization. Performance evaluations to help incentivize participation in risk control strategies. For key risk control staff and personnel, include an evaluation of their risk management and control activities as part of their annual performance assessments.

10. Develop an Organization-Wide Training Program

Risk control should be part of your organization’s overall employee culture. To that end, develop and implement organization-wide risk control programs to help everyone understand what actions or activities increase your organization’s risk. A culture of risk management can help reduce the incidence of employee-related fraud or other risks. Employees may also be more likely to come forward about risks of which management may not be aware.

For further guidance on how to improve and enhance your organization’s response to its risks, please contact us here.


Remonde Brangman is a Risk Advisory Practice Leader located in our Bethesda, MD office. He can be reached at 301.951.3636 or

Tags: not-for-profit, risk, Remonde Brangman

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