Like millions of folks a good deal of my attention over the past 10 days has focused on the rising waters and the flood of destruction and misery inflicted on the people and animals of Houston by Hurricane Harvey.

As we await developments surrounding a potentially fresh disaster– Hurricane Irma now barreling toward the U.S. — I wanted to share some impressions from the week of the Houston storm.

Tom ended yesterday’s post on Disaster Giving noting that the fundamental task for disaster relief fundraisers is to instill trust as they begin to build relationships with the wave of new donors.

“Relationships begin with trust”, Tom noted.

He noted that one of the most important ingredients in building trust is to demonstrate how gifts are in fact being used on the ground….” donors want to see some specificity and accountability regarding how these vast emergency funds are being used.”

The day before Tom’s post I received a detailed email from the American Red Cross reporting on how my gift from five days earlier was being put to work.

The subject line of email: “Stories from Our Texas Shelters” introduced body copy making clear that “Thanks to your generosity, those fleeing their homes found a safe, dry place to stay, nourishment and warmth, and emotional support during this traumatic time.  Please take a moment to learn more about some of the families you are helping.”

The email was backed with details of what my support helped make possible, punctuated by mini-case stories and poignant pictures of the Red Cross’ work in a Houston shelter.  When finished that email I decided to double my previous contribution.   You can read–and view– the full email here.

What About My Other Causes?

Like many donors, in addition to contributing to disaster relief organizations, I also contribute regularly to a variety of causes.  And so I was interested in how their messaging might relate –if only tangentially–to the Houston disaster.

In the course of those 10 days I heard from three organizations of the organizations I give to.  Two were first-rate. One was awful.

The First-rate.

  • ACLU. On August 25th I received message from the ACLU (“We’ll see you in court, President Trump). The message decried President Trump’s “cowardly” use of the nation’s attention on the hurricane to deflect from his pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his decision barring the enlistment of transgender individuals in the military.

The message went on to indicate the actions the ACLU would be taking. BUT THEN…rather than ask for money on its own behalf the letter ended: “The complete impact of Hurricane Harvey may not be known for days, but in this moment—regardless of the chaos Trump is creating in our country—we must support those who are at risk right now in Texas and surrounding communities.  That’s why I’m asking you to make a contribution to the Central Texas Red Cross, who is working to help those displaced by the hurricane.

  • Food for the Poor. Although this organization’s mission is primarily to serve internationally and I wasn’t expecting it to weigh in on Hurricane Harvey.

I was pleasantly surprised by their message letting me know that a day after the storm they had already sent “two truckloads of food, water, blankets, cleaning supplies, paper towels, toilet paper, diapers, wipes and personal hygiene products. And an additional truckload including more than 8,000 hygiene kits and 1,600 20-gallon totes with lids to help displaced residents secure their belongings. No request for money. Just a powerful and relevant update.

The reactions of those organizations to Hurricane Harvey made me proud.  My measure of trust in their goodness and effectiveness increased substantially

Now the bad. 

  • The Democratic Campaign Committee (DCCC) No one’s perfect, but these guys mastered the art of the ugly, banal and incompetent during Hurricane Harvey.

Each day during Harvey I received an urgent message having absolutely nothing to do with Harvey; not even an acknowledgement that someone other than the Democrats’ campaign committee might be suffering.  Here’s a sampler of the subject lines:  “Begging You Roger”…We Will Fail”….”We’re Desperate”.   The angst of the subject lines was made even more anxious reckless hyperbole and a stupid ask string –all idiotically slapped on top of a  “Triple Match”.


Finally, as the Houston waters rose above flooded car tops they reached out again reminding me that even though Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and even Carole King had asked over and over I clearly was in danger of missing the midnight, “End of Month” deadline for making my contribution. The accompanying graphic said it all:



I hit ‘delete’.  Went back to The Red Cross and gave them another gift. My trust in the DCCC shattered, the relationship ruined.






This article was posted in: Communications, Donor Centricity, Donor retention / loyalty / commitment, Nonprofit management, Uncategorized.
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.