Will dis­as­ters drain donor dol­lars?

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - COMMUNITY NEWS - By Mon­ica Wil­liams

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.”

RALPH BAR­RERA / AMERICAN-STATES­MAN

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.

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