Disaster Can Strike Anywhere. Is Your Organization Prepared? | npENGAGE

Disaster Can Strike Anywhere. Is Your Organization Prepared?



Hurricane season kicked off on June 1 and we’ve already got our first tropical depression in the Atlantic. After working at the Red Cross for nearly 4 years, I learned a long time ago that real disasters aren’t always the ones you see coming.

Does your organization need a disaster fundraising plan?

When you think of disaster relief, you probably think about the Red Cross setting up shelters or Doctors Without Borders operating mobile care units. The reality is that disasters can happen anywhere and organizations can be thrown into the relief efforts even when it isn’t part of their mission. A disaster can be as big as a hurricane or as small as a water main break that floods your office and surrounding neighborhood. Either way, the time may come when your organization needs to mobilize and get involved or seek help for its own recovery.

What’s your plan?

There are several components to a disaster fundraising plan. Let’s look at the basics.

  • Develop a communications strategy for constituents, the Board of Directors, staff, and the media. There should be a unique plan for each audience.
  • Have a policy or understanding with your Accounting Department of how disaster donations will be tracked and acknowledged.
  • Discuss and make a plan for how to accept (or turn down) offers of inkind donations. Make sure the front desk knows whom to direct inquiries to.
  • Immediacy is key. Who will handle putting together and sending an online and/or direct mail fundraising appeal to constituents? Ideally, you want to send something within 2-3 days of the disaster striking.
  • Every year, update the plan with a list of the top donors you can approach for disaster gifts. For smaller disasters you may not need to do this, but if the impact is in the high 5 figure or more range, you’ll need to solicit your best donors (individuals, corporations and foundations) for major gifts.
  • During disasters it is very common for businesses, civic groups and individuals to hold events to benefit local organizations. If you don’t have a tool like TeamRaiser that allows people to set up DIY events, then the next best thing is to put a form or survey on your website that people can fill out and submit.
  • Assign duties. Who will be in charge of making updates to social media and the website? Who will handle volunteer inquires? How will television and radio interviews be handled?

My first two years at the Red Cross were working in Fort Lauderdale, FL. It was the year four hurricanes hit the state, so I learned a lot very quickly. Here are a few things I learned to always be prepared for:

  • If the power goes out in your office, what’s the plan to keep working?
  • How will you handle spontaneous volunteers that show up at your front door?
  • Disaster stats will need to be updated daily. Make sure key personnel have them available.
  • Don’t forget the food; there won’t be time for the team to go out to lunch. Consider making arrangements to have food delivered to the office or sending one person out to buy for everyone.

The key is preparedness; the time for questions is not when disaster strikes.

Once you have a plan in place, don’t keep it a secret. Print and disseminate it to your staff and the board, and require that every supervisor keep a copy in their office. Once a year review the plan, make updates and have a quick meeting to go over it again.

Check out my slides on disaster fundraising planning for a detailed outline of what to do.



Danielle Johnson-Vermenton, CFRE, is a Principal Consultant at Blackbaud and is often called to present at events like Digital Leap, AFP Planet Philanthropy and BBCON.  Prior to Blackbaud, Danielle worked in the nonprofit industry in roles such as director of individual giving at Boys & Girls Clubs, leadership giving manager at the Red Cross and director of development at HUGS for Kids. Danielle’s passion is inspiring nonprofits to have a plan for today with a grand vision for tomorrow. You can follow Danielle @DJVermenton and find her blogging on npENGAGE.

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