Good Organizations Scramble; Great Ones Plan

Runner Joselyn Fine, 34, who would have run the ING New York City Marathon, spends the afternoon volunteering by unloading an
Runner Joselyn Fine, 34, who would have run the ING New York City Marathon, spends the afternoon volunteering by unloading and organizing emergency supplies near Midland Beach as New York recovers from Hurricane Sandy on November 4, 2012 in Staten Island, New York. AFP PHOTO / Mehdi Taamallah (Photo credit should read MEHDI TAAMALLAH/AFP/Getty Images)

Caryl Stern and I go way back. Caryl and I worked together when she was at the ADL and I was at the helm of GLAAD. She was a champion for LGBT inclusion in the work of the ADL. I admire her greatly. She also wrote a terrific book called Hate Hurts: How Children Learn and Unlearn Prejudice. One of my very favorite things about her is that she is out and proud as a working mom. Working Mother loves her -- she's made the list of the "25 Most Powerful Working Moms in NonProfits" (2011) and also, "25 Working Mothers We Love." Pretty awesome, right? I myself would be happy to be crowned "Reasonably Good Mom On My Block."

Caryl is currently President and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, joining the organization in 2006. I had the chance to interview her last week amidst the chaos in NYC (and in my NJ home).

Caryl was working from home as was everyone at UNICEF USA HQ in NYC. No other choice. The office was six feet under (basement) and four feet under (lobby). And it wasn't just water in that basement. It was mud and seaweed. And servers.

Caryl told me that after 9/11, UNICEF-USA would never be caught with their servers down again. Way too much at stake. Last year alone, UNICEF responded to 292 emergencies in eight countries worldwide. And so UNICEF-USA had a plan.

Within 48 hours of Sandy's impact, the organization had re-routed phones / customer service lines, and its remote server in Harlem was up and running, There were 25 people needed in Harlem to keep things moving. Most of the 25 people were not part of the UNICEF IT team. Those 25 people just did what needed to be done.

I asked Caryl if there were any lessons she learned that would improve what was already a strong crisis plan. "We had a plan for being in touch with our 125 NY staff members that included back up email addresses but we hadn't considered that our team might not have access to their personal email." They have already created a system that includes an acknowledgement of receipt of email.

Good lessons.

So one more thing. Let's be honest. When you think UNICEF, you don't think about email servers. You think about their remarkable work on behalf of vulnerable kids all around the world.

And then you think of the orange boxes. Sadly, I gave out no Halloween candy at my house this year (the good news is that I didn't eat any of it). Halloween is one of UNICEF's biggest days for fundraising ($167 million over 62 years!). The picture is there, right? Cute little tigers, princesses, pumpkins -- each one holding that orange box. Irresistible. So each year, next to your bowl of candy sits a bowl of all your loose change.

Tallies from the 'Trick or Treat for UNICEF" have not yet come in but if my neighborhood and my grocery store shelves are any evidence, revenue will no doubt be down. This weekend I am going in search of my loose change just as I do every Halloween season. I'll tally it up, double it and donate it to UNICEF.

Because I admire Caryl. Because UNICEF does great work. Because time is indeed money in the nonprofit business. And because a good nonprofit moves quickly to mitigate damage. A great one already has a plan.