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Work It! Making Our Case in a Disaster Relief Environment

In recent weeks, I’ve been writing here about basic elements of fundraising: the annual appeal, follow-up to the appeal, and thanking donors. These are basics for nonprofit organizations building a revenue base. The base on which the donor pyramid is constructed.
Today, I want to write about the world outside your niche: the environment in which we live, work, recreate. Your nonprofit…your public benefit organization…is not an island unto itself. And the people who volunteer for you, donate to you, advocate for you likely have two to five other nonprofits they care ardently about. And, sometimes circumstance draws these supporters’ attention to bigger picture issues: witness the January 19, 2010 5:00 PM 7.0 level earthquake that struck Haiti, causing devastating death and damage to Port au Prince, dislocating and maiming and “orphaning” millions.
There are many fine public benefit organizations that have been in Haiti doing God’s work (will you allow me that reference?): World Vision, Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, Partners in Health, UNICEF. Lots of fine people doing hard work for the people of Haiti. And now hundreds of millions of dollars, including $25 million via texting to Red Cross at Michelle Obama’s recommendation, have piled up as have millions of tons of supplies at the Port au Prince airport.
I read Katya Andersen’s nonprofit marketing blog http://aCalDE and learned that the tidal wave of support is starting to slow down, as the data from Network For Good clearly shows. What we learn, too, in these horrendous natural disasters (like Hurricane Katrina) that Americans get in a giving frame of mind, and don’t limit their support to the current crisis. Actually, natural disasters seem to stimulate the propensity to give to causes beyond the crisis-helpers.
Sometimes board members, seeing all this attention to disasters, come to the conclusion that the nonprofit with a mission unrelated to the disaster should tone down the appeal. Maybe forgo the event or appeal or campaign because of “donor fatigue.” My experience tells me otherwise. And Terry Axelrod, founder of Benevon ( has advised a nonprofit I was associated with back at the time of 9/11 that we should proceed with our fundraising campaigns and special events. I would classify 9/11 as an unnatural disaster. The destruction of the World Trade Center was a different situation, obviously, than Katrina or the Haiti quake. But what we learned was that in trying times, people look for a ray of hope…something to support in the community or in a broader arena that will do good. There is a need, a drive to bond with a group or organization that’s delivering something of value to people.
So, all this is to say: Work It! Keep telling your story, communicate with your supporters including volunteers, donors, stakeholders so they know what you are doing to deliver hope. To do good.
Noah Cooper wrote recently in Connection Cafe ( how advocacy groups used their networks, including social media, to influence the Obama administration to give temporary protected status to Haitians, whose immigration status might be not kosher, a break. Mr. Cooper (Convio) cited that as an example of how public benefit organizations with a humanitarian mission can use social media to make a difference. Some will argue that helping illegals is bad policy. Perhaps they’re right. But right now, sending thousands more people to Haiti who will need vs deliver services would make zero sense.
My message to you is, keep telling your story: ask for support of all kinds: donations, volunteers, advocates for your cause. Engage and channel the energy for public good. Even in their personal malaise, a significant pool of people are looking to do their part to make the world better. Help them connect with you. There is room in people’s hearts and wallets for your mission, if you help them make the connection. Sitting in silence, riding out the current financial storm, won’t get you where you need to go.

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