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How Can Your Organization Properly Respond to an Emergency?

As we enter this year’s hurricane season, it’s impossible to forget what happened last year. The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was one of the costliest seasons on record, with damages totaling at least $282.16 billion. As many as 1,500 people died while millions of others in the affected areas are now forced to rebuild their lives. Even now, much of Puerto Rico is still without power some 6 months later!

As devastating as it was, the outpouring of support from the American public and the extraordinary amount of money raised in its aftermath was remarkable—the Red Cross is estimated to have received $429 million in donations for Hurricane Harvey relief alone!  It demonstrates how, even when so many other issues threaten to divide us, Americans can put aside their differences to help their brothers and sisters in their time of need.

The above is an example of a true emergency, but organizations have a tendency to use that term far too liberally.  There is a difference between an “emergency” and an “urgent need”.  If you treat everything like an emergency, then when an actual emergency (such as a hurricane) does occur, it may fall on deaf ears.  Don't be the boy—or organization—who cried wolf.

First, you need to identify what qualifies as an “emergency” for your organization.  That could be any number of things depending upon your organization’s mission.  For relief organizations that could be a natural disaster.  For political organizations it could be a special election or vote.  And for animal welfare organizations, well, who could forget the shooting of Cecil the Lion?

Regardless of your emergency it needs to be properly aligned with your mission and your response must be genuine.  If it looks like you are just trying to jump on the fundraising bandwagon without proper cause, people will see right through it and your campaign will fall flat.  Worse, it may even spark negative press or the wrong social media buzz.

Donors want their donation to go to a reputable and trusted organization that does what it says it will.  Emergencies tend to bring out the best in people but, regrettably, they often-times bring out the worst in people, as well.  Too many times we’ve seen fake charities bilk people, who are eager to help, of their money.  Donors need to know they are giving to an organization they can trust.

Once you’ve identified an emergency, you need to be clear about what your organization is going to do to help.  Be transparent about your response plan and how the money you raise will help those in need.

Make sure the marketing surrounding your response plan is fully integrated and includes all channels of communication that your organization has available.  And, regardless of which channels you employ, having a consistent message is important. It will lend credence to your effort.

Given the implied urgency, getting your message out as quickly as possible is imperative.  Your digital platform is the logical place to first start deploying your message but make sure you have other channels ready to follow.  You will find that many of your gifts will come through your website.  Set up a landing page and create matching banner ads for your homepage and social media posts.  You could even consider SMS/Text to Give, if equipped to do so.

For the portion of your donor file for whom you do not have email addresses or who are not following you on social media, you may want to consider a direct mail campaign.  The quickest way to get something in the mail is to use an “off-the-shelf” package from a vendor who specializes in packages of that nature.

The Marine Toys for Tots Foundation was able to react swiftly and execute a highly successful emergency campaign to ensure children in the areas hit hardest by the 2017 hurricanes were still able to experience the joy of Christmas.
The Marine Toys for Tots Foundation was able to react swiftly and execute a highly successful emergency campaign to ensure children in the areas hit hardest by the 2017 hurricanes were still able to experience the joy of Christmas.

Those packages utilize a blank, window outer envelope, a window reply envelope and a letter/reply template so all you will need to provide is the copy and your logo.  This allows for a significantly faster turn time and, thus, a timelier in-home date.  This technique is bare bones and it looks it.  But in this instance, that’s a good thing.  You don’t want your mail package to look like it cost a lot to produce or that it took a long time to design.  Remember, this needs to feel like it was unplanned and reactive.

Even with the emergence of quick-turn variable 4-color printing, you’re better off sticking to simple black type.  Let the messaging do the heavy lifting.  You do want to stand out in the mail, however, so techniques such as colored stocks and design elements such as multi-colored chevrons can help accomplish this goal.

Obviously, no one ever wishes for an emergency to occur but, unfortunately, they are a fact of life.  With a little foresight and skillful planning, you can make sure your organization is ready to respond and primed to be a driving force in the recovery efforts.

Pete Cline