Predictable Disaster Giving

April 2013 has been unusually tragic with many disasters. First there was the Boston bombings, shortly after that was the Texas plant explosion, and finally the earthquakes in China and on the Iran/Pakistan border. In the aftermath of these tragic events, many of us feel compelled do something to help, and unless we are first responders or have had disaster relief volunteer training, there is only one reasonable option—make a donation.


In just one week, 50,000 donors gave more than $20 million to The One Fund – Boston. We can thank the media for making this remarkable generosity possible. Images of the Boston tragedy pulled at our heartstrings and moved many to take immediate action to give money.


But what about disasters that don’t get as much media attention? And what about other worthy causes, such as child hunger? Extreme disaster giving impacts the entire nonprofit sector since donors may be less inclined to give to other charitable organizations if they gave significantly in response to a specific disaster.


And how is all the money given to The One Fund going to be programmed out? Many gave on faith that this money would be distributed responsibly. Perhaps, it would be better if cities and states proactively develop victim compensation plans and when tragedy strikes, they can activate these strategies. They could even set limits to the fund based on the number of people affected so that once enough has been raised to cover estimated costs, donations are no longer accepted.


I am reminded of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. I worked at the American Red Cross national office in D.C. shortly after this tragedy. I learned then that the Red Cross received more 9/11 donations than they could possibly use to provide traditional Red Cross disaster relief services. But since donations designated to a particular disaster have to be programmed for that relief effort, these donations could not be spent in other areas where there was significant need. There were multiple hurricanes causing devastation along the Atlantic coast in 2004 and there was not enough money in the Red Cross disaster relief fund to cover those relief operations. Yet, money sitting in the 9/11 fund could not be touched.


Disasters are horrible and, for the most part, unpredictable. But what we can predict is that they will continue to happen. Why not then proactively build a relationship with disaster relief organizations? Get to know The Salvation Army, the Red Cross, Oxfam, Save the Children, and others and give annually so they are prepared to respond to all disasters, not just the ones that garner a lot of media attention.


The reality is, to most efficiently respond, disaster relief groups need money in their relief funds before a disaster strikes so they can pre-position supplies and train relief volunteers. Once the disaster happens, these organizations need to move quickly. They can’t wait for media coverage and disaster response donations.


Here’s how you can help in advance of the next one:

  • Give annually to your disaster relief charity of choice

             — Individuals: Get to know your local disaster relief groups.

             — Companies: Establish local, national, and international relief partnerships, and also give bulk products, space, or services in-kind if that makes sense. Plus, you will get better customer service and recognition for your support if you are building a relationship before disaster strikes. Surges in episodic disaster giving are overwhelming for nonprofit staff, therefore, some donors do not get the attention they deserve.

  • Get trained as a disaster relief volunteer with your favorite local relief organization
  • Get your family prepared for a disaster
  • Donate blood regularly – There is a constant national blood supply shortage. If a disaster happens in your backyard and you or a loved one needs blood, you want there to be enough. Plus, when there’s not a disaster going on, your blood goes to sick people who really need it.


The views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of any previous or current Payton Communications’ clients.