Disaster Relief, When It Isn't What You Do

Hurricane Sandy: Veniero's $1 for any slice of cake
A "Sandy Sale" To Cheer

There are no quick fixes to something like a massive hurricane. Several weeks after Sandy plowed through, thousands remain homeless, some still awaited power as a Nor’easter hit a week later, as winter approaches, and as I write this post, gas rationing has finally ended–in New Jersey. And for many more who were lucky enough not to lose their homes? They face the daunting clean-up and years of insurance paperwork that comes with receding flood waters.

Which is why it’s incredibly heartening to see that so many of us–corporates, non-profits, individuals, marathoners who’re in peak physical shape and without a race to run–did the right thing. We put our differences and bottom lines aside to focus on what’s important: helping people get their lives back on the rails.

However, if you’re trying to raise or contribute to disaster relief funds, if you’re offering help to your community, or even if all you have is a simple donation jar with an American Red Cross note tacked on at the checkout, here are 5 things you need to do ASAP. Particularly if you DON’T usually do disaster relief.

Train Your Frontline

Don’t just think outbound, think inbound. Prepare and train your front line for when your audience calls, when they want to know what you mean by “we’re here to help,” especially if what you usually do isn’t disaster relief. Give your people all the information they need to answer intelligently, clearly, and honestly.

Be Transparent

Be really clear about where the money is going, and how much of it is going to reach the recipients. If you’re facing hurdles because your infrastructure took a hit or because you still can’t get to the people you’re trying to help, say so. Don’t try to put a happy face on it. People will understand. And your public’s goodwill is far more valuable than any amount of money you might raise, no matter how good the cause, no matter how good your intentions.

Keep It Current

You know those sad curled-up faded looking 2004 Tsunami signs that you saw for months and months …. and then Katrina happened and then you saw curled-up faded looking Katrina signs for years and years? Don’t be like that. Not at your store, not online, not anywhere. Callous as this sounds, know when to end asking for hurricane relief. Say that you are raising funds for Sandy’s survivors up until MM/DD/YY on the calendar. Again, people will appreciate that you are trying, and that you can’t do this forever, especially if you’re a small organization. If your relief efforts will remain ongoing, bless you, because it’ll be years before some people have their lives back together! Then be persistent and vocal as attention shifts or wanes. Whatever you do, don’t make your disaster effort look like that dust covered Twinkie on the top of the gas station convenience store shelf–a forgotten afterthought.

Tone Is Everything

Especially if you aren’t a disaster relief organization. And this is not a marketing opportunity as more than one company found out, quite swiftly, in the Twitterverse. If your efforts or good deeds raise your profile, well and good, but don’t count on it. Karma exists, and the result can be quite unpretty.

Give Thanks!

Sandy hit just as the first wave of fundraising and holiday giving hit everyone’s mailboxes, compounded this year by the elections, and an economy that still scares far too many of us. Everyone is stretched. If someone drops cash into the collection jar, thank them profusely. And If you can deposit a check or process a credit card donation, you can send a note of thanks.

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