When disasters strike, nonprofits must direct donor empathy in the right directions

December 5, 2013

When disasters strike, nonprofits must direct donor empathy in the right directions

Nonprofits looking to help provide relief in the wake of the recent typhoon in the Philippines may find themselves working harder to boost donations for the disaster. According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, donors are not as quick to respond to international disasters as they are to ones that strike closer to home.

In many cases, media reports on the casualties drive donor contributions. The Chronicle pointed out that weeks prior to the typhoon, a massive storm hit India. However, the Indian government did a successful job of evacuating residents and kept the death toll low. This meant less international media coverage and in turn, less international donations. More recent reports have also lowered the death toll in the Philippines from an early prediction of 10,000 down to 2,500.

It is too early to say whether or not this will affect the donations of those already following the story. Regardless, there is much aid needed in the Philippines, and those supplying it have had a difficult time reaching the areas hardest hit by the disaster.

Nonprofits can help by focusing on long term needs
One way groups committed to providing aid for disaster victims can help is by focusing on providing assistance after the smoke clears. Donations and dollars tend to flood into disaster agencies immediately following a disaster, but trail off as cleanup continues. However, for victims that lost homes, limbs, jobs, cars or loved ones, assistance will be needed long after the storm has cleared.

Speaking with  Robert Ottenhoff, president of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, The Chronicle gained some insight on how nonprofits – and donors – can do the most good.

  • Provide the right kind of help: Ottenhoff points out that there are far too many untrained volunteers reporting to disaster areas. While their hearts are in the right place, these volunteers often create a larger burden for local relief workers.
  • Cash is king: While donors may worry that their cash donations won't reach victims or won't supply the kind of the help they want to offer, it's worth explaining that cash can do the most good. Immediately after a disaster, organizations don't know what products they need. Donations of food and other goods may have no way of reaching the area and may not be needed. Send cash and let local organizations put it into action where it will be the most useful.
  • Use more donations for prevention: Ottenhoff also says that organizations are learning that donations for relief funds need to be spread around and contributed to preparation and mitigation. Natural disasters will continue to occur. It's better to help minimize the devastation and casualties beforehand than rush in after the damage has been done.

Organizations should always consider how fundraising can best help their given cause. While they may fear scaring donors away, it's OK for an organization to let the public know what it needs and what it doesn't. Nonprofits must be diligent and continually analyzing fundraising efforts to determine how they can best help those in need.

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