Disaster Fundraising

A couple of weeks ago I read an interesting blog entry in Chronicle of Philanthropy about fundraising during a disaster (here).

It focuses on the American Red Cross during the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake.  Haiti represented a unique situation in the shift to social media in response and readiness.  A lot of news coming out of Haiti was represented in short descriptions on Twitter, and on the ground first hand accounts in personal blogs.

Working as a major gifts fundraiser for the American Red Cross, I can say that there was a high level of activity on social networks, particularly Twitter and Facebook.  And that’s not even mentioning the nearly $40 million raised solely through $10 text donations, which is an incredible feat.

In the aftermath of the disaster, the Red Cross organized an Emergency Social Data Summit as a way to discuss handling important and timely information that was being disseminated through online channels during a disaster.  Furthermore, the Red Cross commissioned an online survey of 1,058 adults about their use of social media during times of crisis.  Here are some quick findings:

  1. 1 in 5 said they would try use e-mail, web sites, or social media for help (if 911 failed them).
  2. 7 out of 10 said that emergency responders should monitor their Web sites and social-media sites for requests for help.
  3. Nearly 75% said they expected help to arrive within an hour, if using those online channels.

I believe that the Haiti earthquake – and the response efforts following – represent a dramatic shift for emergency services and disaster response.  Moving forward, there is going to be a lot greater activity online and in social media.  Finding a way to accommodate that, and use it to their advantage, will be key for organizations like the American Red Cross.

The power of $10 text donations was evident during Haiti. The challenge will be to continue that momentum in the face of the next major disaster, and also to organize fundraising opportunities in other online channels and social media.  Also, something that made the Haiti disaster unique was the level of media exposure that it received, and the length of time it was in the news cycle. That is owing to the horror and raw visual power of the situation on the ground.

People couldn’t turn away from the TV screen.  There is something about a disaster that makes every day citizens feel week and helpless, and also compelled to help out in any way they are able to.  So it is important to note that social media will still go hand-in-hand with traditional media. Also, video sharing sites like YouTube are more important for first hand accounts, and for citizens to disseminate videos and news that isn’t going to make it on CNN or Fox News.

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