When the Haiti earthquake hit back in January, the outcry and response were swift and plentiful. In this new era of the iPhone and other mobile devices, the biggest buzz in the fundraising sector was generated from the mobile-giving explosion following the disaster. But the biggest takeaway for fundraisers — all of them, not just disaster-relief organizations — is that donors have certain, higher expectations these days, and your organization must meet them.
That was the emphasis of the session "Beyond Crisis: How Haiti Changed Everything" presented by moderator Kristin McCurry, managing director of MINDset Direct; and speakers Mark Melia, deputy vice president for charitable giving at Catholic Relief Services; Alicia Meulensteen, director of direct response at the ASPCA; Amanda Seller, director of international fundraising at the UN Refugee Agency; and David Whitehead, senior vice president and chief development officer at the AARP Foundation at the 2010 Bridge Conference held last month in National Harbor, Md.
When you look at it, only Catholic Relief Services is a true disaster-relief organization, yet all the presenters’ organizations got involved in the Haiti earthquake relief efforts. The main reason? Their donors and supporters implored them to.
“[AARP Foundation is] not a disaster-relief organization, but we felt very flat-footed during and after Hurricane Katrina,” Whitehead said. “People were calling us and asking us what we’re doing about Katrina; they expected us to be there, to help. So we responded to that and were ready when Haiti happened.”
“The people displaced in Haiti weren’t refugees, so we couldn’t go right in,” Seller added. “But for two or three days — we were sending out news as we were figuring out our plan — we were getting contacted by our donors, major donors, multimillion-dollar donors who wanted to reach people affected by the Haiti earthquake now. In some cases, we recommended the donor give to another organization if we couldn’t immediately help — the most important thing is the relationship with donors.”
That relationship between donor and fundraiser has never been more powerful. To stay on good terms, fundraisers must respond to donors’ wishes in a way that is appropriate for their missions. Here’s how each of these four organizations reacted to the Haiti earthquake to meet their donors’ expectations.
The ASPCA doesn’t usually do much international work. The U.S. animal welfare organization does most of its work stateside. But for the Haiti earthquake, ASPCA wanted to be involved with animal rescue for the displaced animals after the human rescue was underway. So ASPCA joined Animal Relief Coalition for Haiti (ARCH), pledged $100,000 to the Haiti efforts and sent one person down there for three weeks to help ARCH.
While ASPCA was adamant about helping and the partnership with ARCH clearly upheld its mission, “we were very careful about not putting too much out there [in terms of publicity],” Meulensteen said. “We didn’t want to raise too much money, more than was needed for our goal. So it was on a smaller scale, purely e-mail-based communications.”
UN Refugee Agency
Even though those Haitians in need were not refugees, the UNRA, with the help of donors eager to give, wanted to negotiate a way to provide aid. However, Seller said, UNRA struggled to get the message out as it was working on a strategy. So the refugee organization sent out news to keep its supporters informed until a plan was in place, offering suggestions of other organizations their donors could give to for immediate action on the Haiti front.
Finally, UNRA did raise $10 million to $20 million to help benefit those displaced in Haiti. “It was not a huge fundraising activity for us, but it was a great relationship-builder.”
After being taken aback by its donors’ outcry for AARP to help after Hurricane Katrina hit, the elderly quality-of-life organization started to develop a network to expand its reach and initiatives. AARP created an association with HelpAge International, an international organization dedicated to elder citizens’ rights and disaster relief, and established a relief fund for older victims of the disaster.
HelpAge had already been in Haiti for eight or nine years, Whitehead said, which allowed AARP and HelpAge to mobilize quickly. Within 48 hours after the earthquake hit, the electronic campaign went out.
“I thanked the Lord we had an agreement in place,” Whitehead said. “The CEO walked in and asked what we were doing about Haiti. I had an answer and told him what we needed, and we were off.”
AARP provided half a million dollars and on the third day got a matching support contribution, and generated $1.5 million overall. One of the things AARP stressed to its supports is that even five ears after Katrina, the effects are still felt; the same will happen with Haiti — AARP and HelpAge are in it for the long haul.
“We now recognize that we’ll be in this business for a while. We created a general disaster-relief fund. We aren’t a disaster-relief organization, per se, but our members expected us to respond, so we did,” Whitehead said.
Catholic Relief Services
As a traditional disaster-relief organization, CRS was experienced and ready to respond to the Haiti earthquake. It also got a bit lucky. When news broke of the quake, the staff was having a meeting. In that meeting, there just so happened to be the West African correspondent, who speaks French. "So within 10 minutes of the news breaking, he was able to talk to our regional correspondent and immediately work to take action," Melia said.
He added that “donors didn’t wait around for us; they came to us.” CRS raised millions of dollars and was able to provide food, water, sanitation, shelter and medical care to hundreds of thousands of Haitians. But it also raised questions such as, “How much restricted funds are too much?” CRS wanted to raise money and provide aid, but it also wanted to make sure a plan was in place for how all those funds would be used — immediately and for the long term.
That’s one of the biggest challenges in disaster relief. Seller said only about 40 percent to 42 percent of the money raised for the tsunami disaster had been used. Melia added that about $165 million was raised for the tsunami and about $30 million was spent in the first six months, while about $145 million has been raised for the Haiti earthquake and about $19 million spent in the first six months.
To make sure donors know where their money will go, CRS has implemented a long-term strategy to help Haiti rebuild.
- It’s critical to integrate with social media to tell donors where the money is going.
- Use photos and updates.
- Quick response is vital.
- There are changing donor expectations — you must meed their needs.
- Donors expect things to flow — acknowledgments, scalability, continued communications about how they are making a difference.
- Exposed new donors.
- Community giving was prevalent, not just individuals.
- Don’t try to be what you’re not.
- Respond to donors, react and plan.
- Learn from every experience.
- We have to be multichannel, consistent, integrated and be true to ourselves.
- We must know what our donors need.
- Manage expectations, but try to play whatever role donors need you to play.
- Wait out for need to really come. Don’t just jump in right away.
- There may be backlash — Why weren’t you there earlier? — but stay true to your organization and mission.
- The change was extraordinary — the communication expectation soared.
- Donors expected to get communications wherever they were.
- It was the tipping point for things like mobile and the demand of communications.
- Donors don’t just want communications; they want dialogue — we got a huge response when we could have a conversation.
- Help build relationships — mobile, social media, digital are really the only place to have intense, personal conversations with everyone all at once.
- You must have conversations.
- People are so informed that we are not necessarily in a position of trusted experts. Don’t think the dynamic is there the same way. Ask questions. You have to earn trust. That does change the relationship.