Disaster Relief Solutions for the Long Run

October 12, 2017 Brendan Baines

How workplace giving and grants can mobilize help

The recent series of storms that rocked Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and the southern United States has now passed, and the earthquakes in Mexico appear to have subsided. As residents slowly move back home, we at Benevity have been touched by the response of our clients and their employees. Together, they have raised almost $20 million (and counting) in response to the hurricanes through hundreds of dedicated fundraising campaigns. And they’re coming together again to support people affected by the wildfires that are currently devastating California.

In the past months, many of our clients stepped up their disaster relief efforts to mobilize rapid response from their consumers, vendors, partners, the personal networks of their people and the public at large. They did this by promoting disaster relief campaigns, along with matching in some cases, on their branded Community Impact Portal (a customizable microsite that allows external stakeholders to participate in the company’s giving initiatives). These companies raised half a million dollars through the portals in the first two days alone, bringing much-needed funds to communities in distress.

As usual, more dollars and hands are required, but where and, perhaps more importantly, when?

First priority: Emergency relief

Once disasters strike, they follow a predictable pattern: a period of immediate relief, followed by an extended period of recovery and reconstruction. Immediate relief efforts are generally addressed by federal governments and larger nonprofit organizations, such as the Red Cross/Red Crescent, Doctors Without Borders, the International Rescue Committee, UNICEF and so on. Federal, state and local agencies work with countless nonprofits to evacuate, house and feed residents in affected areas.

This is also when events are featured prominently in the news and social media, and when people are moved to offer immediate support. We are hardwired to support people in need. Witnessing the catastrophes on television or our phones, we desperately want to offer help.

For example, in 2005, the year Hurricane Katrina struck, over $7.37 billion were donated to disaster relief groups, and nearly $15 billion were raised for the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Every dollar counted, but as the people of New Orleans and Port-au-Prince returned to rebuild, it became apparent that the effects of the disasters had only just begun.

The long road back: Recovery and redevelopment

Once the immediate threat of a natural disaster passes and relief efforts conclude, a second, more drawn out, phase begins: a rebuild that can often only be done by those on the ground who understand the local context. Residents of Texas, South Florida and other affected areas may be returning home to find out that they no longer have habitable housing or a job. Business owners may not have employees or supplies. Schools may be unusable and transportation disrupted. Any of these scenarios can be devastating.

As a natural disaster dies down, the news cameras move on and the focus of donors often shifts. For instance, of funds donated to Hurricane Harvey relief through Spark (Benevity’s workplace giving, matching and volunteering software), 56% were donated in the first five days, 70% within the first 10 days and 97% within the first 20 days. The long tail of smaller contributions continues from there. This is good news for the immediate relief efforts, but how do we also provide for the long and difficult rebuild?

Figure 1: Donations to Hurricane Harvey through Spark over time.

How companies can help in the long term

With natural disasters seeming to become more frequent, companies are starting to look at their Goodness programs to see how they can create more impact when disaster strikes, while also supporting the long process of rebuilding. The following are a few ways companies can boost the long-term impact of employee donations that go beyond matching gifts.

  1. Enable recurring employee donations to local organizations: Integrated software like Spark enables employees to make recurring credit card or payroll donations to local organizations that are conducting the long, painstaking job of rebuilding. It’s also the most cost-effective (and intentional) way for your people to give.
  2. Leverage employees’ social networks to raise funds: Companies can create Friendraising campaigns, which allow users to set up their own pages to support rebuilding efforts. Friendraising allows employees to set up their own Giving Opportunities around specific events to raise funds from family and friends outside the company. In many cases, the company may offer to match all funds raised by the employee and their social network.
  3. Create an external-facing portal for the public to contribute: This allows a company to engage its public community including vendors, partners, customers and other stakeholders to make contributions with optional matching. It’s a great way for companies to demonstrate their commitment to their communities and makes giving easy for the public.
  4. Target community investment funding to affected communities:  Companies can target community investment programs to make funding available to organizations that are doing recovery and reconstruction work in affected communities. The role of the company in helping the community get back on its feet following a disaster creates a powerful connection with residents of area, forging a strong connection to the community, while strengthening employer and consumer brands.
  5. Leverage corporate grants budget to boost employee donations: Companies often donate large sums of money to help rebuild after a disaster. Using a Goodness solution like Benevity’s, they can easily re-deploy part of their corporate grants budget to offer special matching opportunities for employees. For example, by reallocating $50,000 of a grants budget toward an employee matching campaign, companies that already match donations at 100% can increase their matching rate and turn that money into $150,000. This is a great way to raise awareness of the company’s community investment initiatives, engage employees more deeply in the company’s CSR strategy and generate greater impact with the company’s grant funding.

Help your people help others

We know from the experience of recent events that companies and their employees have tremendous power to help in emergency relief efforts and long-term reconstruction. While it is impossible to predict when and where disasters will occur, businesses can take steps in advance to support their users in providing a rapid response. This includes ensuring that they have access to local organizations on the ground doing the work and the right tools to easily execute campaigns when disaster strikes. 

Interested in speaking to someone about your disaster relief program? Request a demo with us today!

About the Author

Brendan Baines

Brendan is one of Benevity’s passionate Relationship Managers, helping clients to get the most out of their Goodness Programs. Brendan has extensive international and domestic experience in the social profit, private and public sectors. He is committed to combining the best of these worlds for the advancement of a more equitable and resilient society. Brendan is an avid traveler and has lived in Mexico, Guatemala, Italy, and on the ocean. He spends his free time volunteering with a variety of community-based nonprofits and riding bicycles.

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