It’s enough work just to keep your association running according to your daily processes and procedures. Add in a natural disaster, a scandal, or a lawsuit and you could have a catastrophe on your hands—unless you’re prepared.
Identifying the risks to your association and implementing appropriate processes to manage them will ensure that your organization runs as smoothly as possible in a crisis.
From employee policies to insurance plans, backup-systems to emergency response teams, your toolkit for crisis needs to be ready at all times. Consider these 12 events below and determine how prepared you are to effectively manage them.
It’s a sad fact that shootings can happen anywhere. It’s not inconceivable that a disgruntled or mentally ill member, home buyer, or employee could enter your association office with a firearm. Consider hiring a pro to help you create an evacuation or lockdown drill, or seek training on decision-making skills in a crisis situation. Also, ensure that your employee manual addresses firearms in the workplace. For example, do you have a weapon-free office? Do you allow members to carry licensed weapons at your events1?
The Ebola scare in the United States jolted the nation into wondering what would happen if a contagious disease got out of control. This doesn’t mean you should sit down with your board and discuss Ebola protocol. But consider how the association might operate if employees could not travel to the office. (Even a bad flu could take down your whole staff at once.) How might key services operate? Consider crafting an emergency shared services agreement with a neighboring association3.
The financial meltdown of 2008 may be a distant memory, but what lessons did you learn that will prepare you for the next inevitable downturn? Is your policy on financial reserves up-to-date and being followed? What insurance and policies do you have to protect you from financial theft4? The new required Core Standards annual financial review is a great jumping-off point for a full financial planning assessment.
Most associations have on-site as well as off-site electronic file backup storage, but even the cloud is not impervious to outages and cyber attacks. What would you do if you lost your membership database or if professional standards information was leaked to the public? Have a policy for safeguarding personal information (including members’ credit card numbers)2 and regularly assess the vulnerability of your computer network.
From sexual harassment to discrimination to defamation of character, a lawsuit against your REALTOR® association can pop up anytime. If you do not have a lawyer on retainer, research a few options in advance and have the numbers handy. Another way to prepare for lawsuits is to take steps to avoid them. For example, your protection against employee-related lawsuits may be an updated, thorough employee manual reviewed by National Association of REALTORS®’ policy department.
Your short- and long-term strategic plans likely account for a modest growth in membership, but do you have a plan if membership drops? What programs will you cut or scale back first? How will you implement staff reductions without risking a lawsuit8?
What will you say to the media and members if a board member absconds with association funds, a staff member is arrested, or a member commits a violent crime? Who will make the statement, and how will you contain and calm the situation? Consider crafting a crisis communications plan, which includes establishing a crisis team.
Good things can just as easily catch you off guard. Don’t miss an opportunity to promote your association for its good deeds. Also, jump on the bandwagon if a member receives an award, wins an election, or writes a book. Invite members to keep you in the loop about their accomplishments and have a plan to get the word out.
A terrorism attack could take any form. It could shut down public transportation or roads, it could prompt an evacuation of your town, or it could force you to cancel a conference or event. Event cancellation insurance is always a good idea, but also consider how member services could be affected by a terrorist attack and how to enable staff to work from home.
Dozens of REALTOR® associations have experienced natural disasters and fine-tuned their procedures as a result5. What’s your plan for keeping staff safe and getting the word out about office closings or members who may need help? Do you maintain a list of emergency resources for members on your website6? What procedure will you follow if you association office is consumed by fire7?
If you check your office e-mails while on vacation because you think your association can’t get along without you, imagine a worse scenario. Does anyone else know where you keep the safe key or the login details for online banking? Write down some just-in-case instructions for immediate actions related to daily association operations and keep them in a safe place. Include your computer passwords, duties for the interim AE, and where to find various insurance policies for your family.
Don’t panic. Know what your duties and legal responsibilities are. Assign duties to staff and practice disaster scenarios at least once a year. Prepare now by crafting a plan for almost any situation your association could face9.
1Every state’s laws are unique, but you can learn association and brokerage gun policy basics.
2Read NAR’s legal guide to data security procedures.
5Read up on how to craft a disaster plan.
6The Mississippi Association of REALTORS® crafted a resource page for members.
7Search the REALTOR® Association Resource Exchange for “Crisis Management Plan.”
9NAR is developing a model Crisis Communication Plan for associations to use in the event of a tragic incident. Look for the announcement in the INS soon.