Haiti vs. Chile: not all quakes are equal

by guest blogger George Crankovic

The January 12 earthquake in Haiti and the February 27 earthquake in Chile give us perfect examples of what happens when need collides with the business of fundraising and media. For those of us who love fundraising because it’s our way of making the world a better place, it’s not a pretty picture.

A full $1.1 billion was raised for the Haiti disaster but just $7 million for the Chile quake.

According to a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll, 45% said they gave to the Haiti disaster, while less than one-third said they gave to the Chile earthquake. That’s almost a 2 to 1 difference.

There’s more. A full 40% didn’t even consider donating to the Chile earthquake. (By contrast, only 28% didn’t consider donating to the Haiti quake.)

Even with the higher death toll in Haiti, that’s a surprising amount of indifference for the Chile quake — a really bad disaster.

At 8.8 on the scale, the Chile quake was even bigger than the 7.0 Haiti disaster and almost as big as the largest earthquake ever recorded (9.5, also in Chile, in 1960). It displaced 1.5 million people, killed 700, damaged or destroyed 500,000 homes, and flattened schools and hospitals. And it was followed by devastating tsunamis. The city of Coliumo, 70 miles from Concepcion, where the quake hit, is simply gone.

Fact is, fundraisers pretty much ignored the Chile quake. According to the USA Today poll, there were 96 charities raising money for Haiti relief. But just 20 organizations raising money for Chile. Lower death toll … right after the Haiti quake — the fundraising potential just wasn’t there.

Then there’s the media coverage. With news outlets turning disasters into reality shows for the public, news people will promote the disaster that has the most blood and gore. The “lesser” disasters won’t get covered much, even though people are just as dead and societies just as upended.

What gets missed in all this, of course, is victims getting the help they need — the ordinary people who are just left to fend for themselves. Sadly, here’s the message to them: If you’re living in a poor country or even a relatively well off country, you better hope your disaster has plenty of death and destruction to merit wall-to-wall reality-show media coverage. Otherwise, we just won’t care that much, we won’t raise that much, and we won’t give that much.

A cynical view, I realize, but that’s the reality.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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