Why Non Profit Risk Taking Will Pay Off

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We spend much of our time working with non profits talking about avoiding risk, transferring risk and mitigating risk. Certainly this always makes sense. But at the same time your organization must also become “Risk Aware” not “Risk Adverse”. Taking risks must be part of your every day life. It equates into “Organizational Success”. This will lead to Taking Risksinnovation, possible new strategic partnerships, mergers and/or growth.

At the same time you need to have an excellent risk management program. This will enable your organization to achieve a proper balance between prudent risk taking and the paralysis of trying to avoid all or most risks. I see this often at the board level. Instead of looking down all the time at data and information, turn and look out the window and dream a bit about what could be. The board room is a place where you can think of opportunities and imagine all the possibilities.

A nonprofit that takes more risks than it avoids can innovate and explore uncharted paths to accomplish its mission, while remaining alert to emerging threats that must be avoided in order to protect critical assets.

In my post last June “12 Hallmarks of a Risk Aware Non Profit” I talked about the 12 Hallmarks that make up the list. Today I am going to focus on Hallmark #1 – Takes More Risk Than It Avoids. These Hallmarks were developed by Melanie Lockwood Herman, Executive Director of The Nonprofit Risk Management Center in Leesburg, Virginia. Take a minute to jump onto their site and learn more. In future posts I will share more of the 12 Hallmarks.

Here are the 12 Hallmarks

  1. Takes More Risks Than It Avoids
  2. Heralds A Risk Management Champion
  3. Guided By Reality, In Addition To Scary Headlines
  4. Is Bold But Smart
  5. Cultivates a ‘Can-Do’ Attitude Among Paid and Volunteer Staff
  6. Sees The Whole Iceberg Not Just The Tip
  7. Understands That Hindsight Isn’t 20:20, But It’s Better Than A Blindfold
  8. Tells It Like It Is
  9. Is Transparent With Insurance Partners
  10. Values The Journey, Not Just The Destination
  11. Engages The Board In Battle
  12. Looks At Risk From Everyone’s Perspective

 Quote from Peter Drucker



In the equation of success, risk-taking does not equal making mistakes. Nonprofits that demonstrate Hallmark #1 know that. They take more risks than they avoid because they know that informed and thoughtful risk taking is an essential component of organizational success. Therefore, they take risks—all the time.

The Process

1) To manifest this Hallmark, your nonprofit will:

  • Encourage thoughtful risk-taking:
  • In a staff meeting, commend someone who has taken a risk.
  • Create an award that is rotated monthly (or given when deserved!) for a staff person who took a risk.

2) Raise awareness of risk-taking:

  • Ask a staff member to tell the rest of the staff about a risk taken at work and explain what happened. What was the outcome? What did you learn?
  • Inspire the board’s awareness about risk-taking that occurs by describing when and how taking thoughtful risks is encouraging innovation and moving the organization forward.
  • At any opportunity, engage the board in discussions of risk versus reward and the value of risk-taking.

3) Evaluate risk-taking: Explore why some risks do not pay-off but others do.

  • Keep track of the risks the organization has taken and those it has avoided.
  • Evaluate which risks resulted in positive outcomes—and which ones did not. Then think about why—and whether there were better alternatives.
  • This works well as the topic for discussion in a staff meeting, or as a warm-up during the strategic planning process, or as a task force project.
Picture by Jam Adams from Flickr


I would love any feedback on these topics, please feel free to leave a comment.

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