Once considered haphazard and uncoordinated, international relief and rescue efforts have come into their own as vital fundraising campaigns. Whether responding to the grave effects of a natural disaster or to the plight of malnourished children in third-world countries, organizations such as American Red Cross, CARE, UNICEF, Food for the Hungry, International Rescue Committee and a host of others have heeded the global call.
The efforts have come a long way since the 1970s and ‘80s, when the demand for an internationally organized disaster-relief response system began to grow. Since then, organizations have developed educational tools to increase public awareness and streamlined the dissemination of relief services.
And as the global community grows more interdependent in its communication and commerce, the need for international relief services during natural disasters and military conflict has become increasingly critical to the well-being of all nations, experts attest.
By the numbers
Reeling from rough economic times and the events of Sept. 11, 2001, nonprofit mailers had an arduous year in 2002. After the terrorist attacks, the rush of donations to various domestic relief and related charities tapped out some donors by late 2001 and early 2002, according to Wirthlin Worldwide, a strategic research and consulting firm serving the nonprofit sector.
“Many [nonprofit] organizations debated what they did with their direct mail after September 11,” confirms Henry Most, a business analyst for Names in the News, California, a list-management and brokerage firm. “International relief organizations might have had a slightly easier time, though, because their messages were relevant to what was going on.”
Based on Wirthlin’s 2002 year-end survey of donor behavior, more than six in ten (a surprising 63 percent) of Americans donated as much to charities in 2002 as they did in 2001. Sixteen percent actually gave more. So far in 2003, the numbers are encouraging for many sectors, especially in international relief.
According to Target Analysis Group’s donorCentrics Index of National Fundraising Performance for the first quarter of 2003, the international-relief sector experienced a donor-retention rate gain of 14 percent from Q1 2002.
The National Index median showed a 5.1 percent increase in reactivated donors from 2002 to 2003, with international relief boasting a sector-leading 20.2 percent jump.
Many sectors are moving back to 2001 giving levels after some 2002 declines, Target Analysis research suggests, yet recent levels are still below that of 2000. The median revenue generated for Q1 2003 declined 0.8 percent compared to Q1 2002, but the international-relief sector managed to see modest gains.
“The number of donors in America who have a compelling need to give to overseas causes has certainly diminished over the years,” asserts Mark Collins, deputy vice president of development for the International Rescue Committee, a 70-year-old organization that provides relief services for refugees and other displaced people. “There has definitely been a softening of donations from direct mail, but this year, [IRC’s] direct mail [revenue] is going to be above budget, partly because of the Iraqi refugee crisis.”
When an organization’s cause gets front-page coverage, it can only benefit relief efforts. Collins says that during the Kosovo and Bosnia refugee crisis, as media outlets inundated America with grisly images of women and children dodging heavy fire, many new donors emerged to show support for the IRC.
“At that time, our active donors went from 40,000 to 100,000,” he notes.
International relief organizations receive gifts from a diverse cross-section of the donor population. Jeanette Cassano, vice president of Names in the News, California, who works closely with organizations such as UNICEF, says that prospective donors to international relief organizations are socially conscious and have a deep interest in world affairs and humanitarian causes.
“International relief organizations are, for the most part, mainstream charities. They appeal to everyone,” Cassano says. “But typically it can be a progressive umbrella of individuals.”
As with most nonprofits, donors to international relief causes tend to be older, highly educated and well-read. They are concerned about peace, justice and sovereignty in the world, so many read news/political magazines and newspapers on a daily basis. The New York Times, The Economist and Mother Jones subscriber files are popular choices when prospecting to secondary markets.
Collins thinks of IRC donors as centrists — middle-of-the-road folk whose political ideals might be more moderate.
“Not necessarily liberal by any means,” he says. “Because the people needing relief are often victims of despotic rulers and dictators, a lot of international-relief donors tend to be pro-democracy and pro-American.”
But the best indicator that someone will give to a particular organization is if they have expressed concern by writing a check for similar causes.
If nothing else, the globalization of economies has lead nations to view international issues from the perspective of a global village. And while the international-relief community’s response to tragedies continues to evolve in sophistication, so do its fundraising practices.
“I can’t take donors to Kosovo, Bosnia, Iraq or Liberia and show them the strife, so I have to do it in a mailing,” Collins concludes.