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Protecting Your Fundraising Goals Through Disasters

With so many recent hurricanes and natural disasters, you might begin to wonder whether your organization will see a dip in revenue this fall due to people giving to disaster relief campaigns. To put it simply, it’s unlikely.

After Hurricane Katrina, according to the Association of Fundraising Professionals State of Fundraising 2005 Survey, “More than 66 percent of surveyed charities reached their 2005 fundraising goal, and 61.2 percent set 2005 goals that were higher than their 2004 goals. Two-thirds (67.4 percent) of respondents reported no immediate impact on their organizations’ fundraising from the relief efforts …”

While it might seem like people are giving to other nonprofits, in actuality, many people giving to disaster-focused nonprofits are first-time donors versus people who routinely give to nonprofits and made a choice to give to relief groups instead of other types of organizations (source Convio).

Research is therefore reassuring that your organization won’t lose out on revenue from disasters, but you can still take the steps below to help protect your goals.

Reach out to those in need.

You would reach out to your friends and family in the affected areas, right? So why wouldn’t you check in on your donors? Sending an email to donors in the impacted area or using automated voice mail are simple ways you can reach out to just let them know you’re thinking about them. Pay special attention to your major donors, too — they should receive a personal phone call.

People have a short memory.

Is the disaster in the headlines? If no, then chances are people outside of the impacted areas have gone back to their daily lives. We do not recommend suppressing or delaying mail outside of affected areas, especially because the peak of fundraising happens within 3-5 days post disaster (source

Now, that’s not to say you should send appeals to people in the impact areas. People in those areas might not even be able to receive your messages, whether it be through mail, email, or by phone. 

Acknowledge current events.

After a respectful pause, continue your mission-related communications. Start by acknowledging the disaster and the need to fund relief efforts. A “P.S.” is an easy place to say: “Our thoughts are with the communities of Houston and Florida. Once you’ve taken care of your friends and family there please consider giving to X, we still need your help.”

Stay in your lane.

If your organization is involved in relief efforts, tout that. But if you’re not, don’t try to “spin” your organization’s mission to somehow fit within what is being raised for hurricane victims. For those that are, take care to properly word appeals so they are not restricted (unless you want them to be) and be sure to keep records to show impact when you’re done.

Lastly, use the right channel.

More and more people are getting their information from social media outlets rather than traditional news sources. This is a quick and easy way to communicate support for impacted areas, talk about what you’re doing and launch emergency campaigns. There will be heavy competition for search words around relief efforts. We see contextual display ads generating higher click thru rates than normal campaigns. Use a lightbox on your website to highlight current campaigns even if they’re not disaster related.

Natural disasters don’t have to equal a disaster to your fundraising this fall through year-end. With care and attentiveness, you can ensure your donors are catered to in ways that can pay off long after a disaster has passed.

Angela Struebing