What to do about the Japan quake and tsunami

An 8.9 quake is big. Off-the-charts big. And the resulting tsunami that swept parts of coastal Japan yielded shocking, heart-wrenching video.

Everybody is focused on Japan today. All kinds of nonprofits are wondering what they should do.

My opinion: The Japan quake is not a major fundraising event.

Please note that I’m not minimizing the magnitude of the destruction or the suffering and loss of those in the midst of the destruction. They should be in our thoughts and prayers.

But from a fundraising point of view, this is not a Big One.

That’s because it lacks the massive death toll that drives the media coverage that drives an outpouring of giving, like we saw with last year’s Haiti quake. It’s more like last month’s quake in New Zealand, or the huge quake that hit Chile a month after the Haiti quake.

The steepest death estimate I’ve seen for the Japan quake and tsunami about 1,000 dead. That’s a shockingly huge number of lives snuffed out. But it’s not enough to keep the media’s interest. This story is going to fade quickly from the news.

In fact, as I write this mid-afternoon Friday, Pacific Time, part of the coverage is already moving to the unremarkable arrival of the tsunami on the US West Coast. The local angle, while clearly not really tragic or important, is grabbing some of the limelight.

These are the earmarks of an event that’s not going to raise a lot of funds.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t do anything at all.

The rise of digital media makes it possible to respond quickly and give people the chance to give in the first hours, when the story is still dominant.

Assuming your organization has the expertise and connections to be part of the relief effort in Japan, You can quickly mobilize donors and raise funds. Here’s what I’d recommend:


  • Direct mail. Don’t. By the time you get it produced into mailboxes, this story will be long gone from the news. You will not do well.
  • Email. Yes, if you can send it in the next few hours.
  • Search engine marketing. Yes, if you’re set up and can move fast enough.
  • Mobile giving. Yes. (But take heed of this warning: Text Giving: A Tool, Not a Miracle.)
  • Social media. Yes. Push your message out through Facebook, Twitter, and other places, if you already have a presence there.
  • Telemarketing. Maybe, if you can get it going immediately, and you have an appropriate list for making such calls.
  • Print. Probably not. Too slow in most cases.
  • Broadcast media. Maybe, but I doubt it. It’s possible to be on the radio on super-short notice. Anything that requires any production time is not a good bet.
  • Public relations. Yes. Make sure your name is among those mentioned as responders in news stories about the quake.

See also In fundraising, not all disasters are equal.

I’ll check in with updates to this post through the weekend.

Update Saturday, 3/12, 4:30 p.m. Pacific Time: Estimated death toll for the quake now between 1,300 and 1,700, according to the New York Times. Continued disturbing news about the damaged nuclear power plant (story). Quake story still dominates most online news sites. My opinion about the fundraising impact of the event are not changed, though there’s the possibility of a much higher death toll as yet-unreached areas open up, and the nuclear plant could become an even bigger story in the coming days.

Update Sunday, 3/13, 3:30 p.m. Pacific Time: Death estimates from several sources climbing to above 10,000 (BBC story). If correct, this is climbing into the area that could make this an important fundraising event. Story still dominates most news sites. I think we’re seeing the impact of a disaster in a friendly, respected, and very accessible country: More news coverage than in more remote, less friendly places.

Update Tuesday, 3/15, 4:30 a.m. Pacific Time: The story continues to dominate most news outlets, though it has focusssed more on the developing nuclear disaster. I would continue pushing online fundraising efforts.


Comments

8 responses to “What to do about the Japan quake and tsunami”

  1. Hello Jeff,
    Thanks for this article. Any views on using social media for fundraising. Facebook pages like ‘Fcebook causes’ or using Twitter to bring about awareness. News on these forums speads faster than any of the ways you mention.
    Regards,
    Rohan

  2. Hello Jeff,
    Thanks for this article. Any views on using social media for fundraising. Facebook pages like ‘Fcebook causes’ or using Twitter to bring about awareness. News on these forums speads faster than any of the ways you mention.
    Regards,
    Rohan

  3. Helen Williams Avatar
    Helen Williams

    ‘Lives snuffed out’?!?
    I normally enjoy reading your blogs and feel that you have some great insight into the Non Profit sector. This article, however, I found insensitve and left me a little disgusted.
    I understand the point you are trying to make, and believe you meant no offense but as someone working in the sector, surely you understand the impact words can have on a reader. Talking about the lives lost deserves more respect that the phrase ‘lives snuffed out’. To be honest I expected more from you! Particularly as someone who repeatedly says that fundraisers need to be more donor-centric. Imagine if we spoke to our supporters like that – I can guarantee, not many of them would stick around to donate!

  4. Helen Williams Avatar
    Helen Williams

    ‘Lives snuffed out’?!?
    I normally enjoy reading your blogs and feel that you have some great insight into the Non Profit sector. This article, however, I found insensitve and left me a little disgusted.
    I understand the point you are trying to make, and believe you meant no offense but as someone working in the sector, surely you understand the impact words can have on a reader. Talking about the lives lost deserves more respect that the phrase ‘lives snuffed out’. To be honest I expected more from you! Particularly as someone who repeatedly says that fundraisers need to be more donor-centric. Imagine if we spoke to our supporters like that – I can guarantee, not many of them would stick around to donate!

  5. 6,400 now confirmed dead. 25,000+ are expected to have died from this earthquake and tsunami. I think you were a little bit premature with your blog post.

  6. 6,400 now confirmed dead. 25,000+ are expected to have died from this earthquake and tsunami. I think you were a little bit premature with your blog post.

  7. go helen! kath (pap high)

  8. go helen! kath (pap high)

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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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