How does fundraising in support of Hurricane Sandy compare to other disasters? That’s a question that people have been asking a lot this week and I wanted to try to give an answer.
On the surface, disaster fundraising for Hurricane Sandy appears to be lagging other major events like the Haitian Earthquake in 2010 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. That might make for provocative headlines, but there is a lot more going on here than initial appearances.
Mind the Spike
For several years we’ve been tracking the initial spike in online giving following a major disaster. Hurricane Sandy continued to follow the pattern of online giving peaking within the first 3 to 5 days of the disaster. Online giving towards Hurricane Sandy continues to be above normal levels, but the spike has already happened.
Keep in mind that online giving accounts for less than 10% of total fundraising in the United States. That means that only looking at online giving reports can be somewhat deceptive about what is really happening. It will take some time to see the impact of offline giving, corporate giving, and other forms of support.
Follow the Long Tail
All spikes in giving turn into a long tail. We are now in the long tail of giving towards Hurricane Sandy relief. When compared to other major disasters it would appear that giving towards Hurricane Sandy is lagging, but you need to follow the long tail. History has a few examples for us to look at.
The 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami started out slowly but eventually surpassed $3.16 billion in fundraising from individuals, foundations, and companies in the United States. Compare that to the $2.1 billion raised by international aid charities in response to the 2010 Haitian earthquake, which had the largest online giving volume of any disaster in history. Giving to this and other disasters is going to continue for some time. And very soon it will be important for organizations to start showing the impact these donations have had on those hit hardest by the storm.
Multichannel Means Multi-Screen
The other aspect of Hurricane Sandy giving to watch is the use of multi-screen fundraising. I’m not just talking about text giving. Text-to-give became a novelty during the 2010 Haitian earthquake, but really hasn’t lived up to the hype. Mobile friendly donation forms continue to grow in use and there are a lot of additional benefits to the nonprofit for going this route.
Today’s donor lives in a multichannel multi-screen world. When a disaster like Hurricane Sandy happens they see it on television, websites, Twitter, Facebook, mobile phones, tablets, radios, and even ATMs. Giving is going to happen everywhere and anywhere — now and in the future.
Wells Fargo and several other banks added a giving option to ATMs across the country within a few days of the disaster. Google quickly put up a Superstorm Sandy Crisis Map to help relief efforts. Both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal took down their paywalls along with other regional publications. This is going to be the new normal when major disasters happen.
If you thought just doing direct mail and email was multichannel enough, then you haven’t seen anything yet. Nonprofits like the American Red Cross, The Salvation Army, The Humane Society of the United States, Save the Children, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and others really get how to do multichannel. They are perfecting the art of three dimensional multichannel chess while other organizations are still working in circles with silos.
The Road Ahead
The road ahead for those impacted by Hurricane Sandy is likely to be a long one. The Northeastern United States is heading into winter and this will cause additional challenges with relief efforts. There is also likely to be scrutiny on where the giving is going, concerns about the impact on end of year fundraising, and the impact on the large number of nonprofit organizations in the New York City area is still an unknown.
One thing not up for debate is the importance of stewarding, engaging, and retaining the tremendous number of episodic donors. Many nonprofit’s struggle with retaining these donors for more than a year. I highly recommend reading “Stewarding Donors for Lasing Support Following a Disaster” by Blackbaud’s David Lamb for more insights on this topic. The new normal of disaster giving also calls for a renewed focus on episodic donor retention. This would greatly help those in need when future disasters happen.