Q: Terry, your comment on The Chronicle of Philanthropy post-Hurricane Sandy call last week regarding making your mission relevant in the wake of this disaster was timely for those of us who work in local Red Cross chapters around the country. Like all nonprofit organizations, we too must raise our current year's budget for our ongoing work. Naturally, and quite appropriately, the outpouring of financial gifts at this time are all earmarked for the disaster and its aftermath. Would you expand a bit on the example you used, as I think it could be helpful for other types of nonprofits as well.
Joni in California
A: I very much appreciate your comments, Joni. I have been hearing this same comment from Red Cross chapters around the country. Most people do not realize that none of those disaster-relief dollars "stick" at the local level. If anything, people may consider their disaster giving as a substitute to giving to their local Red Cross chapter. Furthermore, because of the nature of this disaster, it is awkward to be running any type of parallel campaign for the local chapter. It's quite a cause for concern, and even more so during the year-end giving season. Thank you for bringing it to the attention of our readers.
The example I referenced on last week's call came from a northern Red Cross chapter Benevon was working with during Hurricane Katrina. Like chapters across the country, this chapter had sent many volunteers down to New Orleans to help with rescue and recovery efforts.
The chapter wisely put on a series of evening events for local donors who had given nationally to the Red Cross for Katrina relief. The program was a panel of volunteers sharing firsthand experiences and observations, the first one being, "if anything even a fraction of the magnitude of a Katrina were to happen here in our local community, we would not be prepared." In other words, each of the volunteers had come home more resolved than ever to help the local chapter with local preparedness efforts. These evening events sparked many local donors to give locally and eventually the local chapter had a "preparedness campaign" headed by many of the same volunteers and early donors.
For those who are not with Red Cross chapters, the takeaway from this example is to find a way to make your organization's mission relevant to the urgency that everyone feels regarding preparedness. Living with no power and no heat may be an everyday occurrence for your homeless clients, fear of life-threatening abuse may be a way of life for the women and children in your shelter, just being able to relax in one's own home may be a source of comfort like the music your arts group provides.
Without seeming insensitive or opportunistic, reference the disaster and make whatever small connection you can authentically make, and then get back to telling your group's great story.
On a personal note, Joni, I know I echo the sentiments of so many readers in expressing my thanks for the rigorous day-to-day preparedness work that goes on in every local Red Cross chapter. All the more reason people should continue to give locally as well!
P.S. Here is the link to the recording of last week's call hosted by The Chronicle of Philanthropy on Fundraising after Hurricane Sandy. I thought the questions asked were particularly interesting and relevant right now.