Overview

The project manager is responsible for planning for and responding to unexpected and unanticipated issues that may impact project success. Contingency planning, brainstorming, and problem solving are essential tools for continuously guiding the program toward successful achievement of program goals.

Healthy Start Specifics

Healthy Start programs vary widely in terms of setting, location, and priority population. However, all Healthy Start programs provide critical services to their community. It is essential that care be taken to ensure continuity of both services and programs, and this is largely done by identifying and controlling for risk.

Examples of risks likely to be experienced by Healthy Start programs at some point are:

  • Changes to funding
    For example, your program has long received Healthy Start grant funding as well as state and municipal funding, but in the new budget year, state funding is cut or ended entirely.
  • Changes to staff
    For example, your longtime community engagement coordinator, who has managed many fruitful relationships as well as your CAN since program inception, falls gravely ill.
  • Churn in population
    For example, the majority of your participants live in a nearby housing development, and news comes that the housing development is going to be taken down, and the residents will be displaced from your zip code.
  • Changes in status or circumstances of partner organizations
    For example, a partner who is a primary source of referrals goes out of business or changes its processes such that they no longer refer to Healthy Start.
  • Change in location
    For example, your physical program space floods or rent doubles.

There are also risks that are far less likely, but all organizations should have a plan to mitigate them. These include:

  • Legal or ethical misconduct
  • Fraud
  • Compliance issues
  • Damage to reputation
  • Reporting of inaccurate or improper information (intentionally or unintentionally)

Risk Management Planning
To begin to mitigate risk, programs can conducting a risk assessment to determine what risks the program must accept, what it may choose to accept, and the likelihood of various risks. A second step is to creating risk management plans –which include contingency plans and sustainability plans–that address the potential risks.

Risk Classification Matrix: A risk classification matrix can be helpful for determining where various risks fall in terms of threat to the organization, and how much planning should be done for them. Plotting each potential risk on the matrix below can assist in determining an appropriate response. For example risks that are Low Impact and Low Probability (such as a volunteer that works one day a month leaving) require minimal planning, while those that are High Impact and High Probability (such as a large grant payment to the organization is delayed) require thorough consideration and contingency planning. When considering probabilities, use a longer term timeframe like 3 to 5 years.

Impact High Difficult/Insurable
(ex. change in population, building floods)
Critical
(ex. loss of referring organization, changed or delayed funding)
Low Low Importance
(ex. volunteer turnover, change in internet provider)
Routine
(ex. human error in record keeping or communication error)
Low High
Probability

As a rule of thumb, those risks that are plotted in the high probability side of the matrix (right side of matrix) require ongoing monitoring and those that are in the high impact quadrants (top row of matrix) require ongoing management.

Risk Assessment Table: Once the possible risks have been identified and classified, a risk assessment table can help with prioritizing and planning. This can be easily created in a spreadsheet and filled in, as in the example below.

Once risks have been classified and mitigation strategies developed, the next step is to implement the mitigation strategies and conduct ongoing monitoring of all aspects of the risk assessment matrix, updating it when risks change or lessons are learned from ongoing mitigation strategies.Remember that risk is a reality and cannot be avoided entirely, so planning for it is your best defense!

Risk Area Risk Description Probability Impact Mitigating Actions Responsibility
Partners Partner changes referral patterns High High Cultivate relationships with other organizations that may be able to provide similar referrals.

Create formal referral protocols to lessen likelihood of sudden change with a change of leadership or similar.

Community Engagement CoordinatorProject Director
Funding A grant application is submitted late, and therefore the line of grant funding is ceased for the coming grant period. High High Create a grant submission protocol that assigns responsibility to two different staff to ensure that grants have been submitted successfully and mandates that grants are submitted 5 days before the due date to allow time to address issues. Project Manager

Bookkeeping staff

Once risks have been classified and mitigation strategies developed, the next step is to implement the mitigation strategies and conduct ongoing monitoring of all aspects of the risk assessment matrix, updating it when risks change or lessons are learned from ongoing mitigation strategies.

Remember that risk is a reality and cannot be avoided entirely, so planning for it is your best defense!

Other Resources

  • Why All Non-Profits should Periodically Assess Risk: Provides a framework that all not-for-profit or social service organizations can use as a starting point to implement a periodic risk assessment. Identifies risks facing many organizations, describes the goals of a risk assessment, and suggests steps to mitigate and control risks.

 

Contracting