Here’s a quick summary of actions, responses, questions, advice and, perhaps most importantly, the ‘unknowns’ concerning Hurricane Sandy and fundraising.

Every fundraiser is affected. Doesn’t matter whether your organization is in disaster relief or not, or where it’s located. This horrific tragedy comes right after a hard-fought political fundraising season, right before the all-important year-end giving season, and in the middle of a dicey economic climate. The dreaded perfect storm for most fundraisers.

First, some facts on early giving. As of Friday evening (Nov.2), here are some preliminary giving figures.

  •  According to CNN, the American Red Cross had received $35 million from the general public as of Friday (Nov 2) morning.
  •  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimated that as of mid-day Friday businesses had contributed more than $38 million in cash and employee-matching or customer-matching programs to the Red Cross and other relief agencies.
  •  These early contributions are “comparable” to gifts received in the first days following other international disasters – such as tsunami that rocked Japan last year and the 2010 Haiti earthquake. In total the Red Cross raised more than $300 million for Japan and $475 million for Haiti.
  • Network for Good processed about $715k in contributions – also similar to Haiti and Japan.
  • United Way, the Salvation Army, World Vision, the United Methodist Church and dozens of other organizations have mounted text-to-give and online fundraising efforts. You can see a roundup of activities here.
  • NBC Universal networks mounted a major on-air fundraising effort with a star-studded special on behalf of the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund. It raised a reported $55 million.  Click here for that story.
  • The ABC Network also announced a relief effort, designating today (Monday) as a “Day of Giving” where shows like Good Morning America and others would be used to generate donations from viewers.
  • The sports world also responded. The NFL and NFLPA joined together to donate $1 million to the Red Cross; Green Bay Packer Charles Woodson announced a $100,000 donation; and the New York Yankees donated $500,000.

If past patterns of disaster giving are any indication, contributions will shoot up significantly in the next few days and reach their peak pretty quickly.

Follow developments and updated activities and results here …

Here are some sources that are likely to be regularly updated and will keep you informed on the activities of various organizations and the response of donors.

I especially want to call your attention to the work of a relative newcomer in the area of disaster fundraising — The Center for Disaster Philanthropy, a brilliantly unique donor-centric organization designed to increase the efficacy and transparency around disaster giving. The CDP works mainly with institutional donors — private foundations, community foundations, corporate foundations and high net worth individuals. See the Center’s take on Hurricane Sandy here.

Disaster Advice for Fundraisers 

Whether your organization deals with disasters and relief as part of your mission, or your organization has simply been caught up one way or another in this maelstrom, take 58 minutes and listen to the recording of this Chronicle of Philanthropy session moderated by Reporter Raymund Flandez that ran on Friday.

Featuring Terry Axelrod of Benevon and  Robert Ottenhoff of The Center for Disaster Philanthropy, this session is a ‘must listen’ for any fundraiser or nonprofit leader concerned with disaster relief or with the impact of a disaster on their organization.

In case you don’t have time to get to the recording today, here are Terry Axelrod’s tips for the top actions organizations should take in the aftermath of a disaster.

Fundraising in the Wake of a Disaster: Top Seven Things to Do

“In the shock and aftermath of a disaster, it is easy to forget the basics. Here are the top seven things to do when fundraising after a disaster, compiled from real examples from Benevon groups after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina:

  1. Remember that you are not alone. There are people out there who want to help you. You need to reach out to them.
  2. Huddle (literally or figuratively) with your insider group of donors or supporters, if they are not in the midst of the disaster with you, and let down your hair. Tell them your concerns, your worst fears, and allow them to problem-solve with you, bringing all of their creativity and resources to bear.
  3. Make a list of the top five things you need — no matter how big or small. Update this list daily.
  4. Use email and social media — if you have access to the Internet. Tell people the stories, in words, photos, or videos, of what has happened and ask for their support. Tell them exactly how to send you money or in-kind donations. Use contacts in other parts of the country to manage the process if necessary.
  5. Keep updating your supporters electronically, daily. Keep thanking them and asking for more. People respond to immediate requests. Nightly e-mails, tweets or Facebook posts with more stories and specific needs will keep people coming back to check in. Keep telling them exactly how to get you what you need.
  6. When the disaster is over, thank them personally. Host an event for the disaster donors. If possible, arrange to have some of the people who benefited from their gifts present to tell their stories and thank the donors personally.
  7. Write down the lessons learned and share them with us all. Save this list.

What about direct mail?

As I began working on this post, Jeff Regen, head of Merkle’s Nonprofit Division, weighed in with some great information and advice for direct mailers.

Jeff reported that the US Postal Service (USPS) is reporting widespread office closings in the Mid-Atlantic, Northeast and Appalachian Region (snow).

  • Appalachian – 48 offices closed, 183 without power,
  • Baltimore/DC Metro Areas – no significant closings
  • Long Island – 63 offices w/o power
  • NY/NY – 15 without power
  • Northern NJ – 197 w/o power
  • South NJ – 26 closed; 80 without power.

Mail is being delivered into these areas much more slowly than normal. As you would expect, this situation changes constantly as power is continually being restored throughout the region.

Here’s the advice Jeff and the folks at Merkle are giving to their clients.

  • “Obviously there is nothing that can be done to mail that has just recently dropped into these markets. Unfortunately it is a major fundraising market for most nonprofits and therefore our clients should expect some short-term decline in individual giving. We are trying to run some reports to estimate the potential, but not sure we will have anything specific to pass along – if we do I’ll let you know immediately.
  • “For those clients that are in the process of mailing a November campaign, I would recommend delaying mail into the affected areas for at least a week or two (depending on the timing of the next campaign).
  • “At this time we are not recommending that clients cancel any campaigns being mailed into the affected areas. This is  because in similar situations after a peak of disaster contributions revenue drops off quickly and normalcy returns – this is not to suggest there won’t be a slight blip in giving.
  • “We also recommend that clients maintain a personal cultivation program (major donors, etc) and that they reach out to those most valuable contributors who live in the affected areas to just make sure they are ok – either via phone or email. No request for money – just thought we’d check to see how you are doing.”

I added the emphasis to Jeff’s final point. If ever there was a time to demonstrate your care and concern for donors it’s now.

Effects on Year-End Giving?

As a general rule the effects of a disaster on non-disaster fundraising are temporary and minimal. However, this time Sandy may prove the exception, because: 1) donors in the geographic area affected represent a big part of the wallet of American giving; 2) many corporations and foundations — many of which are based in this area — will turn their attention to relief and recovery for the next several months; 3) all of this is occurring in midst of a tight, hotly-contested election and an economic climate that is all but certain.

Given all this, prudent and aggressive fundraisers should:

  • Focus your communication and solicitation efforts on the ‘best of file’.
  • Make your case in the context of the disaster (See Terry Axerod’s 7 Tips above).
  • Plan to invest more in telephone calls, conference calls and donor communications – especially follow-up communications — to ensure your organization is front and center in your best donors’ minds.

Tom and I will update this in the coming days, so please share your thoughts and experiences so we can pass them along. What are you seeing so far?


This article was posted in: Communications, Direct mail, Nonprofit management, Social media, Telemarketing.
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.