I use food to encourage my grown son to visit. Recently, we needed to go over some insurance paperwork, so I sweetened the deal by making a Shepherd’s Pie. The last time I made this dish, I mistakenly used applesauce instead of gravy, and I was determined not to mess it up this time.

I browned lean ground bison. I chopped the onions, carrots and celery to just the right bite-size. I made the crust from locally-grown potatoes mashed with heavy cream and unsalted butter. When the smell filled the kitchen and the filling bubbled below the mashed-potato crust, I took it out of the oven and set it on the table. My son sat down, serving spoon in hand — and we heard a loud crack. The glass casserole dish, inexplicably, imploded.

My husband found us debating whether we could spoon some of the pie from the middle of the dish, without getting any glass in it. It sounds insane to write it now, but at the time, my son and I were both so invested in the perfection of the meal that we were briefly willing to consider the risk of eating broken glass.  In the end, we carefully disposed of the whole mess and went out for Chinese food.

We are lucky to have the cash and a restaurant nearby. For many families, the loss of the evening meal would have meant going to bed hungry.

And so it is in the nonprofit world – those with reserves and access to resources are able to survive the occasional disaster. A few years ago, when the stock market took a dive and Dartmouth College’s endowment fell 23 percent, the institution tightened its belt, but is stronger today than ever.

Of course, very few schools are like Dartmouth – more are like the “colleges in the middle” described in last year’s Chronicle of Higher Education. Not every nonprofit has the ability to bounce back from hardships — even if they do everything right. So much is out of our control.

As we begin another new year, think about how your institution would bounce back from disaster. Do you have enough reserves to keep delivering on your mission? Do you have access to resources that will help you realize your vision? Or will you be looking at a spoonful of ruined supper, wondering if you can risk a bit of broken glass?

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