Highlights from the Ahead of the Curve Symposium Report on Risk Management: Defining, Assessing and Managing Risks at Nonprofits

Written by Keith Timko and Wendy Seligson

In 2016, the Support Center joined with other capacity building organizations under the banner, “Ahead of the Curve,” to host a symposium on risk management.  The goal of the symposium was to “advance the collective knowledge of the discipline of risk management within the nonprofit sector” by learning from leaders in the sector.


On September 28, 2016, about 200 executives, board members, capacity building representatives, consultants and academics convened in a packed, interactive day to share their knowledge and experience.  The full report, “Ahead of the Curve Symposium: Defining, Assessing and Managing Risks at Nonprofits” can be found here.    The report was co-sponsored by the Support Center and SeaChange Capital.


In planning the symposium, John MacIntosh, partner at SeaChange, expressed the goal that, before long:

“nonprofit leaders would develop a knowledge and practice for risk management similar to the depth of knowledge and practice which exists for strategic planning.”


Speakers and participants alike emphasized the importance of embracing risk and proactively managing it, linking this approach to creating healthy sustainable organizations.


On Friday, January 27, 2017 the Support Center is sponsoring a workshop on risk management “Putting Risk Management to Work at Your Nonprofit” presented by Wendy Seligson, author of the symposium report.  To register, click here.


A snapshot of the key insights and action steps from the Symposium follows:

Key insights from Symposium

  • Risk is not all about the “negatives.” Positive risks provide opportunities for growth and change and risk management provides a path for achieving a healthy, sustainable organization.

  • Nonprofits want support to expand and operationalize risk management. They don’t need to be convinced about its value. They want best practices, tools, networks, facilitation and consultants.


  • The discipline of risk management needs to be built around collaboration and communication within the nonprofit organization and integrated into the nonprofit’s planning and operations.


  • Financial and associated contract risks are a top issue, but not the only issue. Participants also identified other areas of major risk: governance/leadership, reputation, operational, compliance, quality of services, safety, growth, innovation and external risks.


Next Steps: Moving to Action 

  • Community Resource Exchange (CRE) is creating a risk assessment tool, with the goal of making it available to the nonprofit sector at no cost. It is known as the CREFT (Community Resource Exchange Fitness Tool). 


  • New York City capacity building organizations working together under the Ahead of the Curve banner have agreed to use the CREFT risk categories as the framework for risk management. These are: Leadership, Governance & Strategy; Personnel & Administration; Finance; Compliance & Legal; Programs & Services; and External Environment.


  • A new Ahead of the Curve website is being created to make information, materials and resources about risk management accessible to the nonprofit sector in New York City.


  • The Support Center and the other capacity building agencies in the Ahead of the Curve consortium are working collaboratively to raise awareness about risk management and connect nonprofits to resources and tools to integrate risk management into their operations.


For more information on the Support Center’s training and consulting services that support risk management and other change consulting practice areas, contact Carolyn Champ, Associate Executive Director, via email at [email protected]centeronline.org or 917-522-8302.

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