They Gave to Our Disaster Fund, Now What? | npENGAGE

They Gave to Our Disaster Fund, Now What?

By on Nov 30, 2012


In the wake of a disaster, like the recent Superstorm Sandy, many people who do not regularly donate to nonprofits are moved to help by making one-time gifts. Giving to disaster relief is often an emotional and impulsive decision. Technology has dramatically grown in its ability to facilitate donations for disaster relief such as cell phone text giving, web donations, and multi-media publicity. Spurred by heart-wrenching images from disaster scenes, hundreds of thousands of new donors use these technologies to lend their aid. However, retention of these “disaster donors” usually falls off precipitously in the months following the disaster.

With an effective post-disaster stewardship plan you can help convert these first-time donors into long-time donors.

Personalize Your Stewardship

Acknowledge new donors as soon as possible and as personally as possible. Although an IRS-compliant receipt is a must, respond back as personally as you can to the donors in the same way they initially reached out to your organization. When responding, use the donor’s name and reference the purpose to which the gift was given. If the donor gave through your website, invite them to become an enewsletter subscriber. Your initial contact after the donation should be primarily focused on welcoming the donor to your organization and educating them on your mission.

Mission Focus

Engage new donors as partners in your mission and let your stewardship materials tell the stories of those who were helped. This will expand your message beyond the immediate crisis to a description of your larger mission. Often, impulse donors do not know a great deal about what else the nonprofit they supported does, this is the chance to make the case for ongoing support. The goal is to make disaster donors feel like partners with you in fulfilling your overall mission.

Strategic Stewardship

If you cannot provide the same level of stewardship to all constituents, prioritize prospects based on gift size or criteria you establish through data mining and modeling. Given the large numbers of new and occasional donors who give in the aftermath of a disaster, it may not be possible to give the same level of highly personalized stewardship to every person. While all donors deserve a thank-you note and receipt for their gift, a little extra attention may be warranted with some more than others.


Do not wait until the next disaster strikes to create a stewardship plan. Make key decisions ahead of time so that your donor response is as effective as your relief efforts. Have letter, email, and website templates ready to go so that you can quickly communicate with your new donors without having to compose a copy from scratch. The messages in these templates should focus on your organization’s mission, with blanks where you can insert language specific to the emergency at hand.

These tips originally appeared in Nonprofit Times.


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