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How to Communicate Post-Disaster - Appropriate Strategies for Nonprofits

What is the place of communications in the wake of disaster? For a nonprofit, the answer lies in the way (if any) that organization is involved in the relief effort.
Reading news of, campaigns for and other reactions to the tsunami tragedy has shaped my list of guidelines for appropriate nonprofit communications: For organizations providing services in the tsunami relief effort:Communicate broadly and clearly about how donations are managed, where they are going and what your organization's relief effort is achieving.
Examples: Catholic Relief Services responded immediately with life-saving food, medicine, clean water, emergency shelter, basic hygiene and household supplies.
This was the first phase of CRS' phased response -- rapid-response relief to save lives, rehabilitation of damaged areas, and development efforts to rebuild communities and livelihoods.
[http://www.
catholicrelief.
org/our_work/where_we_work/overseas/asia/tsunami/index.
cfm/] Oxfam America solicits donations on its homepage, assuring prospective donors that "over 90% of emergency funds go directly to saving and rebuilding the lives of those in the affected areas.
" Oxfam goes further than Catholic Relief Services, linking its call for giving to six content areas, including these moving accounts: •A Survivor's Story– From a camp for Sri Lankans, a survivor describes the tsunami and the work that Oxfam is doing to help.
•A Personal Reflection – An Oxfam employee who is Sri Lankan reflects on how the disaster is affecting her family.
•The First Hours– Oxfam staff in Sri Lanka describes the disaster.
http://www.
oxfamamerica.
org/
Make it clear why your organization is well- equipped to help.
Be as specific as possible.
Example: Save The Children, with a field office in the Aceh province of Indonesia, was positioned to provide aid in the region before others could arrive.
The agency has since expanded its focus to include children in Sri Lanka.
•Be thoughtful in your use of graphic photos of the disaster.
The press is working for you by publicizing shocking photos of the disaster (not to mention the home videos floating around the Internet).
And there's quite a bit of controversy among the press regarding this issue.
Some journalists argue that graphic photos (such as dead children) are too much.
Others assert that the seriousness of the disaster necessitate the use of photos to convey the gravity of the situation, especially to the jaded U.
S.
audience.
For organizations collecting donations for aid efforts:
  • Be proactive and specific in conveying the process for distributing donations and where (and when) the money will be spent.
Example:My local Jewish Community Center (JCC) distributed a flyer soliciting donations for tsunami relief.
Working in conjunction with the United Jewish Communities, the JCC explains that "UJC's unique partnership with local and overseas agencies enables us to help build and rebuild communities and ensures that we can provide a wide range of support to people at home and around the world.
" I'd like to know more specifics of how donations will be used for disaster relief and wish that they had included a web address where I could find out more.
When I go to the UJC site on my own, I get a clear explanation of why it's soliciting donations (for its overseas aid agency, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee) which is providing non-sectarian aid in the regions by struck the tsunami.
The UJC site also details JDC's allocation of contributions to date.
http://www.
ujc.
org/content_display.
html?ArticleID=142336
  • Explain why your organization has chosen to get involved as a pass through for donations.
    This role, which is probably an unusual one for your organization, has the potential to confuse your established audiences.
    Help them understand what you are doing, and why.
    Example: The JCC does a good job of explaining why they are getting involved in donations for relief support -- to filter donations to the UJC.
For other nonprofits continuing with their fundraising and communications pitches:
  • Be sensitive to inappropriate pitches.
    You may actually go as far as to acknowledge the magnitude of the tsunami disaster, and the contributions your prospective donors are likely to have made.
    In doing so, you craft the opportunity to talk about your issues and/or service recipients and the fact that their needs persist in the face of this terrible tragedy.
  • Remember that your audiences have been immersed, whether they have wanted to be or not, in tsunami coverage.
    No story of yours can be more
  • Relate your work to relief work when relevant -- but don't overstate.
    Make sure you don't overstate a connection between your organization, services or programs and the tsunami disaster.
    At the same time, acknowledge the tsunami.
    Pretending that it didn't happen is the worst mistake your organization can make.
  • Continue with your regular campaigns and press releases.
    Yep, many journalists are busy with tsunami coverage, even as it relates to nonprofits.
    But there's only so much coverage related to this topic.
    If you have a timely pitch, make it.

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