What All Companies Should Ask Themselves About Their Disaster Giving - Good360

What All Companies Should Ask Themselves About Their Disaster Giving

When a major disaster hits, especially close to home, many companies are just as eager to give as Americans sitting at home watching the devastation unfold on their TV sets.

During 2017’s unusually active hurricane season, for instance, corporate donations for Harvey and Irma relief funds topped $225 million, with at least 90 businesses donating $1 million or more each.

With most consumers now expecting companies to play a role in disaster relief, the private sector is increasingly stepping up to provide aid. But more companies responding to natural disasters around the world doesn’t mean more people are getting the help that they truly need.

That’s because coordinating and executing disaster recovery effectively on a large-scale is really hard to do. In their well-intentioned eagerness to help, companies sometimes inadvertently violate one of the tenets of disaster relief: First, do no harm.

José Holguín-Veras, an expert on humanitarian logistics, estimates that approximately 60% of the goods that arrive during disasters isn’t appropriate and interfere with recovery efforts. Unwanted donations clog the supply chain and force relief workers to divert their attention away from more critical tasks.

Aligning corporate giving with what impacted communities actually need throughout the disaster lifestyle requires research, strategic thinking, and coordination with key stakeholders, such as local and national nonprofit agencies. Before responding to the next big disaster, companies should ask themselves the following questions:

Is your giving consistent with your core competencies? Does it leverage your company’s unique strengths?

Impactful and effective giving tends to happen when companies consider how they are uniquely positioned to help and tap their internal resources as a response. For example, it doesn’t make much sense for a hardware company to go out and purchase bottled water to donate when a supply of shovels and chainsaws would actually be much more productive to the recovery effort and more consistent with their brand.

Here are a few recent examples of corporate giving that aligns with business strengths:

  • Airbnb created a way for hosts to open up their homes for free to displaced families and relief workers in the days before Hurricane Irma made landfall. Uber and Lyft offered free rides in hard-hit Florida.
  • Grainger (a Good360 partner) committed $250,000 worth of product donations, including gloves, shovels, dust masks, trash bags, brooms and other cleaning supplies, for relief efforts in the wake of last year’s devastating hurricane season.
  • Western Union waived charges for money transfers from the U.S. mainland to Puerto Rico to help survivors receive money from concerned friends and family.

Are you being proactive rather than reactive with your disaster-giving strategy?

The best time to give isn’t during or after a disaster. The best time to give is before a catastrophe strikes. Why? Because consistent giving year-round allows communities in need to be more resilient and build up their capacity to rebuild in the aftermath of disaster.

Additionally, by establishing relationships with local and national nonprofit organizations long before a disaster occurs, your company is able to learn about their specific needs and contribute meaningfully to their long-term success. And when disasters do happen, you are already plugged into a built-in network that can leverage your company’s help.

Grainger, for example, has had a long-standing relationship with the American Red Cross and has even co-branded Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicles (ERVs) with their logo.

Do you have a good understanding of what’s needed on the ground?

Companies respond best to a disaster when they tackle it like a business problem. First, analyze the problem. Second, determine how they can best leverage company assets to meet the biggest needs. Third, decide how to “get to market” with the right solution.

In the vast majority of cases, you won’t have firsthand knowledge of the impact on the communities that have been hit — nor the changing needs of survivors as they move from the first days of disaster through the slog of long-term recovery. This means you will need to reach out and collaborate with people who have an intimate awareness of what’s needed when and by whom. That’s not always possible, which is why cash grants are often the easiest and most direct way to help in disaster. That approach gives the most flexibility to responding organizations to decide how to deploy funds as needed.

You can also work with the team here at Good360 to take advantage of our vetted network of 60,000+ nonprofits and close relationships with the disaster recovery community across the country and around the world.

Are you considering both the short and long-term needs of the community?

All too often, most of our attention is focused on those first few days and weeks following a major event. In fact, 80% of giving happens in the first two weeks of a disaster. As a result, the long-tail of disaster recovery is left orphaned and under-funded.

As you map out your disaster response strategy, look for ways you can help in the short-term, such as giving cash donations, as well as opportunities to contribute to the long-term recovery of the community, such as in-kind donations that can help families rebuild their homes.

Long-term recovery efforts also tend to have a larger and longer impact in the community, allowing your brand to benefit from the lasting “halo effect” of contributing to these projects months or even years after the initial disaster.

Is your donation helping to improve the community’s resilience?

According to a new study by the National Institutes of Building Sciences, every $1 spent on hazard mitigation saves $6 in future disaster costs. That’s just one example of how forward-thinking disaster planning can help communities build up the resilience that allows them to rebound faster and more sustainably from catastrophes.

As a company, ideally, your donations would help contribute to the long-term health and viability of the people you’re trying to help. For example, a homebuilder might choose to donate roofing supplies and windows that are storm-resistant so homes that are rebuilt with those materials are better able to withstand the next hurricane.

Thoughtful giving in disaster takes a lot of, well, thought. You also want to come into it with a clear vision and a strategy for the impact that you want your donations to make. If you approach your giving like a critical business challenge and leverage your company’s unique capabilities and resources to meet it, you’ll likely see better results.

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Shari Rudolph
Shari Rudolph
shari@good360.org

Shari Rudolph is Chief Marketing Officer of Good360 and is an accomplished retail, digital commerce and media executive with a strong track record of building audience, revenue and brands. Shari’s previous experience includes management consulting as well as various executive and leadership roles at both start-ups and large media and retail e-commerce companies in Southern California, New York and Silicon Valley. She is also an adjunct professor teaching classes in marketing, advertising and entrepreneurial studies and she earned her MBA from The Anderson Graduate School of Management at UCLA.