October 2, 2014


Maximizing disaster-response giving

Steve MacLaughlin

Steve MacLaughlin

[Publisher's note: This article was provided by Blackbaud, a maker of fundraising software. Blackbaud is a PJ business partner.]

The recent earthquake in Haiti has once again brought to the forefront the role that new giving channels play in helping those most affected by disasters.

The combination of online giving and mobile giving were the first response channels of choice by donors. Other giving channels like direct mail simply take too long to help with short-term needs.

Online giving in response to major disasters and catastrophic events has grown over the past ten years, and Blackbaud has online giving data going back to 1999 that can provide insight into historical trends.

An analysis was performed on approximately 3,300 nonprofit organizations that had online giving data for the first five days immediately following several major events.

The analysis found that online giving following the Haiti earthquake was 19 percent greater than response to the 2004 Asian Tsunami and 109 percent greater than Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The tsunami data begins on December 26, 2004, following the earthquake off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia.

The Katrina data begins on August 29, 2005, when the hurricane made its second landfall in Louisiana.

Online giving during the first give days following September 11, 2001, was less than 1 percent of what was given towards Haiti relief.

All of these events have a very long tail of online giving, but the purpose here was to look at the first few days when online giving serves a key role in raising money for relief. 

It should also be noted that there is a pareto distribution for the organizations receiving most of the donations - for each event, a vast majority of the donations were made to a small number of organizations.

There are a few important points to make from all of this.

First, nonprofits that had a plan in place to quickly respond online through web content, focused online giving and email communication performed better than organizations that didn't.

You cannot react fast enough to just be a fast follower. Things move too quickly, particularly how rapidly media outlets begin referencing where people can donate online.

If a nonprofit is involved in programs and services often related to disaster relief, then they should have plans and resources in staging mode and ready to go.

Every organization should have some kind of emergency communication plan that involves the use of the web.

Second, the response to these kinds of unfortunate events will only increase in the future.

We are well beyond the tipping point of whether people will give online and that is now true for mobile giving in North America too.

Several organizations reported system outages during their heaviest response times, so now would be a good time for nonprofits to ask about whether their system can handle larger volumes.

This is a situation where poorly-built, multi-tenant systems can knock down anyone using them, including those organizations not directly involved in relief efforts.

Finally, this might be the end of internal obstructionists that question the importance of online communication and giving.

Remind them that ours is a multi-channel world, even if nonprofits serve other parts of the sector. Such a reminder may prompt serious discussions about how prepared organizations are for the future.

Steve MacLaughlin is director of product management at Blackbaud.


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