Disaster Relief Done Differently

October 13, 2016 Benevity, Inc
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Disasters are tragic and seemingly inevitable events.  The private sector has (thankfully) a strong track record of jumping in to help relief efforts through financial support, skills and supplies. Disaster relief efforts are typically an element of a company’s Goodness Programs (sometimes by design, sometimes by necessity, sometimes both).  Disaster relief accounted for 3% of total corporate giving program in 2012 and corporate contributions to support Hurricane Sandy relief efforts totaled approximately $400 million.  Like all social good programs, companies are keen to know about new ideas for disaster relief that can best help those in need and increase social and business impacts.Here are some ideas to up the impact of your organization’s disaster relief efforts:

Here are some ideas to up the impact of your organization’s Disaster Relief efforts:

1. Think Before You Give

Disasters happen suddenly and that creates a sense of urgency for companies to respond quickly.  Do act fast, yet also strategically: take the time to think about the nature of the disaster, the ways that your organization can help, the resources you have to offer and consider how you can make the most impact.  

In the wake of the flooding in Calgary, Alberta many companies, spurred to take some kind of action, made large donations to the Canadian Red Cross.  (Donations from individuals moved to give were also significant).  Likewise, corporate and consumer donations poured in after Haiti and the Japan Earthquakes.  Companies and consumers alike often send goods directly to impacted areas, even before knowing what exactly is needed (and in the case of the 2004 tsunami in southeast Asia, even when explicitly advised not to do so!)  It’s easy to give money to a large, well known disaster relief agency (and absolutely the Red Cross is an expert in disaster relief that does tremendous good worldwide) or to send some of your company’s products to an impacted area, and these may indeed be the right things to do – or some of the things to do.  We’re just saying take a step back and consider the particulars of the situation and how your company can Do Good Better.   Take a look at the main phases of disaster relief:  rescue/first response (the initial rescue efforts, as needed); relief (helping people through providing food, shelter, medical attention, support); rebuild (rebuilding communities and supporting people to get past the disaster and move on with their lives).  Which phases is your company best placed to help in and how?  Instead of giving just to one organization, consider how your company can be the instigator to bring together different causes and community partners that can help in each phase of the disaster relief efforts.

2. Give Local

Think through the opportunities that your company has to give (time, money, skills and products) to and partner with local organizations that are “on the ground” in the disaster location.  Especially if your company has operations and customers in the affected area, get involved at a local level.  You can leverage existing relationships to give you valuable information on what’s needed most so your company can respond appropriately and make the most impact.

As noted in 1 above, right after the flooding in Calgary many companies (and individuals) responded quickly and made donations to the Red Cross (which again should be lauded for the great work they did to help affected people).  This is great yet at the same time there were (and are) many local charities that were both directly impacted (i.e. evacuated their operations due to flooding) and were taxed to deliver services to affected people that were not budgeted for (ie the Calgary Drop In Centre, a homeless shelter; the Calgary Foodbank; the YWCA of Calgary and Rowan House of High River, which operate emergency women’s shelters).  Many people remain homeless due to the flooding, and yet other non-profits will be called upon to help repair and rebuild the damage so people can move forward after this disaster.  All of these local organizations desperately need support – both financially and through volunteering.  

There may be some situations where it is more difficult to give locally  - especially when disaster strikes farther afield, in a global location where your company is not active.  In these cases, it may make more sense to give to a global charitable organization that can best assess and address the local needs.  Yet in many disaster scenarios, companies do have the knowledge 

3. Tap Into Employees’ Desire to Do Something

It’s probably the only good thing about the aftermath of a disaster – when crises occur it brings out the best in people.  Your people want to help, so tap into their desire to do something to optimize your disaster relief efforts.  

One fast and effective way to harness your employees’ giving spirit is to create and communicate disaster relief campaigns.  You can create campaigns for employee donations and employee volunteering.  Reaching out to existing charity partners and causes that are on-the-ground can help to determine the causes and volunteering opportunities that comprise your campaigns.  It’s also useful to consider the different phases of disaster relief and to develop a few campaigns that cut across these stages.  Ensure that matching funds are in place to optimize employee participation.  Quickly creating and communicating your employee giving campaigns is a way to engage your employees in doing good collectively. 

4. Inspire Your Stakeholders – Get Partners, Communities to Take Part

It takes a village – so engage all of your stakeholders to “do the most good” through your disaster relief efforts.  Think about how your community partners, community at large, customers and other stakeholders can be a part of your disaster relief efforts.  It likely differs by company, and by the particulars of the disaster in question, but considering all players and putting into action a plan that engages all players can meaningfully increase the total impact of your disaster relief efforts.  

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