Exclusive Interview: Giselle Holloway, International Rescue Committee
When a devastating 7.0 earthquake hit the impoverished island of Haiti last month — causing destruction across the nation — the call for aid went out across the globe. Millions of Haitians were missing, left homeless and in dire need of food, water, shelter and medical attention. Literally millions around the world were quick to respond, and right in the front of the line were the folks at the International Rescue Committee.
Ingrained in the IRC’s mission is providing emergency relief, and true to its credo, the organization deployed its Emergency Response Team to Haiti to deliver help to the city of Port-au-Prince. Experts in emergency health, shelter and children’s welfare are working with local aid groups to provide help to survivors, and the IRC has committed to raise $5 million for reconstruction work in Haiti over the next year.
FS recently caught up with IRC’s director of direct response, Giselle Holloway, to talk about the IRC's work in Haiti and how organizations can be prepared to effectively respond to emergencies that require deploying funds into immediate services.
FundRaising Success: How can organizations be prepared to jump into action when something like this happens?
Giselle Holloway: The best tip for being prepared is to create a comprehensive rapid-response plan for fundraising, marketing and communications before an emergency strikes. In the same way that emergency response experts have plans that enable them to be on the ground at the onset of a crisis, your development and external relations departments need to have clear plans of action for getting the word out to all of your donor audiences about how your organization is responding and what your funding needs are. These action plans should be developed in partnership with all of the key players who will be involved in your campaign including staff, board members, business partners and volunteers.
FS: How do you plan for something of this magnitude?
GH: The best way to plan for fundraising around a major emergency is to do as much prep work beforehand to determine how information will be disseminated, what tasks need to be performed and who will perform them, what systems need to be in place for collecting gifts and storing data, and how results will be measured across all channels. It also helps to have templates in place for things like emergency e-mail alerts, direct-mail urgent-grams and telemarketing scripts so that you can quickly drop in language for a particular crisis and start raising money immediately.
FS: When such an event occurs, where immediate action and support are needed, how do funders typically respond? What’s the best way to ask people to get involved?
GH: When a high-profile disaster occurs, people want to do something immediately to feel like they are helping, whether by sending a check, making a gift online or on the phone, holding a fundraising event, offering to volunteer, or spreading the word through their social networks. The best way to get people involved is to contact them using their preferred mode of communication. A major donor might require a phone call from your president. A long-time direct-mail donor would be more likely to respond to an urgent-gram. Someone who recently signed your online petition might be inspired to make their first donation through a text-to-give campaign. It’s important to be strategic when it comes to communicating with your donors, especially during an emergency when time is of the essence.
You also should let supporters and prospective donors know all of the ways they can help and make it easy for them to do so. For example, on your homepage and in your e-mail alerts and online newsletters, you can include a link to a “How to Help” page that donors can use to find information on how to make a donation, create a personalized fundraising page, spread the word on Facebook and get updates from your field staff through Twitter.
(Click to see the IRC’s “Rescue Lives in Haiti: How to Help” page.)
You also could include this information in your direct-mail newsletters, appeals and acknowledgments.
FS: What challenges do fundraisers face in disaster-relief efforts? How do you overcome them?
GH: One of the challenges is getting regular, timely reporting from the field. Donors want to know exactly what you are doing on the ground, and sometimes getting that information is difficult because of logistic and technological problems. Other challenges include not having a strong enough brand to get enough attention for your cause, and not having a good infrastructure for processing and acknowledging large volumes of gifts quickly. You can overcome these challenges by making smart investments in technology, systems, people, training and marketing so that when an emergency strikes, you’ll be able to raise funds effectively and efficiently.
FS: What do you learn about yourself and the people who support you in a time of crisis such as this?
GH: For our staff, we have seen that, in crisis situations, the silos tend to break down, and we become more focused because we don’t have time to get distracted or overthink things. We rally together toward a common purpose — saving lives — which unleashes an enormous amount of energy, drive, passion and creativity. Consequently, our donors respond in extraordinary ways through their generosity, their caring and their commitment to help make the world better place.
At the IRC, we have seen that even in the worst of crises, the best of humanity rises. (Our Refugee Journeys video demonstrates that.)
FS: Any other thoughts?
GH: Remember that a person doesn’t truly become a donor until they make their second gift. When donors join your organization through an emergency, you need to start cultivating them immediately so you can retain them after the crisis is over. Send them an e-mail or letter that thanks them for their support, welcomes them to your organization and educates them about your broader mission. You also might want to make welcome phone calls to new donors at higher giving levels or try to convert them to monthly giving. And don’t forget to send all your new donors updates on a regular basis that show how their gift is making a difference.