Hurricane Sandy literally dropped by my front door this week. A large tree across the street came down and landed inches from our house. It was a close call and we were lucky. Unfortunately we are still without electricity. Thankfully we have good neighbors who have power and are letting us use it!
This storm has got me thinking about being prepared. One of the advantages about a hurricane is that you normally have 3-4 days to get things in order and prepare for the impending circumstances.
And if you are smart, like some of my neighbors, you prepared for this day many months, or in some cases years, in advance by buying the right provisions like a massive generator.
Then, of course, there are just some people who stick their heads in the sand and don’t do anything. Those are the ones you see on the news being heroically helicoptered out of a flooded river or stuck on what is now an island on the coastal shore.
You have to admit it, when you see those people you’re saying, “Gosh what a bunch of idiots!” right? Well, if you don’t, at least you know what I’m thinking.
But, in reality, how prepared are you for an emergency of some type at your organization? Richard and I have worked with clients for many years and you would be surprised at how unprepared some folks are when it comes to any type of emergency and how to communicate their response to donors.
I’m not just talking about all the direct-response communication that goes out. I’m talking about how we communicate and reach out to our major donors.
Many non-profits seem to forget their major donors in times of emergency or crisis. For some reason we think that our major donors are there just to fund those large projects or long-term capital expenses…you know, all the non-emotional stuff.
Are you kidding me?
Remember Katrina? Who doesn’t, right? Well, four days before Katrina hit I was talking to my client about how we were going to respond and communicate to our donors IF Katrina hit New Orleans. We worked tirelessly to come up with a quick-action response strategy that included major donors, foundations and corporate partners.
While FEMA was taking its sweet time to get in and help, we were already putting that plan into full action. The result? Millions of dollars were raised not only through emergency type donors (and there were thousands of them), but through massive gifts from current and new major donors, foundations and corporations. Why? Because the emotion attached to the devastation is the same for a $10 donor, a $100,000 or $1,000,000 donor. And we ASKED!
Regardless of what type of emergency your organization might respond to, the key is to be prepared and have a well thought through action plan that can be executed by your entire fundraising team.
Here’s another important point. It might actually be inappropriate for your organization to respond to some emergencies. For example, if your organization responds to the needs of Africa’s endangered animals, it would obviously not make sense to have a plan to deal with a hurricane in New Orleans.
However, you do have to respond in some manner that is appropriate to your donor base. For example, you should acknowledge the disaster and even encourage your donors to support the emergency with another organization that is working directly on that emergency. That also takes planning and thought. And, if done well, you can endear your donors to your organization after the disaster has passed.
Start thinking now about how your organization is prepared for any possible future disasters related to your cause and how you are going to communicate a plan to your donors. They will be looking to you for leadership and calm thinking. Don’t put yourself in a place like those folks who don’t plan and then have to be “rescued” from their rooftop or newly created island.
Be ready, be smart and know how to communicate to your donors.