Will disasters drain donor dollars?
Charities play an important role in disaster recovery, not just in the aid they provide to victims, but also in the service they provide to donors. The urge to help, volunteer, and donate can be compelling to those less affected by the recent hurricanes, wildfires and earthquakes.
“I think we all sometimes take our daily lives for granted. So when something like this happens, we think, ‘Oh, that could have been me,’ ” said Andrew West, a 10-year fundraising professional at the University of Texas’ College of Fine Arts. “The desire to help others is part of our wiring. And after a disaster, we can see that articulated in a very real way.”
But as donors reach for their credit cards with every new disaster, the concern is that they’ll be less willing to give later for other causes.
According to the Houston Chronicle, more than $350 million in donations was raised for Hurricane Harvey-relief efforts in the first three weeks after the storm hit. But it is expected that donations to fund that storm recovery will taper off. Data from the Center for Disaster Philanthropy shows that since 2004, 73 percent of disaster-related donations target immediate response and relief efforts, with less going toward long-term rebuilding or prevention work. In a look at online giving data, said Steve MacLaughlin of Blackbaud, a nonprofit management software company, being able to give online has contributed to the increase in disaster-related donations. Before the prevalence of the internet, mobile phones and social media, donors were less likely to see requests for donations and had more obstacles to give. MacLaughlin wrote, “Surprise — the internet and technology are now playing a larger role than ever in how nonprofits and their supporters interact in times of crisis.”
But in a season particularly rife with natural disasters, there’s also been a rise in giving to social justice causes with organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, which saw a spike in donations the week after a violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., in August. Since November 2016, there have been spikes in donations in response to disasters, social justice issues and legislation that threatens health and human services.
“I think this year is unusual,” said Celeste Flores, executive director of I Live Here, I Give Here, which produces the annual Amplify Austin campaign. “If it were one or two things, I’d say the donations being made would be on top of what people were already giving, but when there seems to be an exceptional event every month, I don’t know how the year will play out.” Flores said more than ever, nonprofits have to communicate to donors year round and help them understand the ongoing work they do.
“We have to do more as the social sector to help people understand that, yes, these are extraordinary times,” she said, “but nonprofits have to execute their mission and don’t always have the time to build relationships with donors or tell stories of impact to donors.”
Volunteers with Mission U-Too prepare meals for flood victims in La Grange on Labor Day. Mueller’s Barbecue and Southside Market and Barbecue cooked hot meals for victims and volunteers in the area.