Cover Story: Lives in the Balance
Debra Neuman is on intimate terms with the tsunami that devastated southern Asia in December 2004. Just as you would never refer to a friend as “the Bill” or “the Mary,” she calls the killer storm simply “tsunami” — no preceding article — as though the word should be spelled with a capital T.
It’s unnerving at first, but it makes sense. The storm killed thousands of people in an area where a few expensive resorts stood out among large patches of widespread poverty like diamonds set against a backdrop of pitch. As senior vice president of external relations for CARE USA, an organization that works exclusively with “the poorest of the poor” around the world, Neuman was keenly aware of the developing needs of storm victims and worked with her staff to raise funds to meet those needs. She certainly doesn’t consider the tsunami a friendly force, but it reached deep into the heart of the organization that employs her.
CARE USA, which recently was named 2005 Nonprofit Organization of the Year by the Direct Marketing Association Nonprofit Federation, raised $44 million for tsunami relief between Dec. 26, 2004, and March 31 of this year — without any significant disruption to its regular fundraising programs. The organization had set a tsunami-related fundraising goal of $50 million in the United States, which it eventually exceeded by more than $6 million — $10 million of which was donated online via www.careusa.org.
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, which raged across the Gulf Coast in August, many organizations are facing some of the same challenges faced by CARE earlier this year. Disasters of this magnitude require an immediate, all-out response in terms of service and, accordingly, fundraising, but it’s equally vital to keep an organizational sense of balance to avoid funding shortfalls later on.