Fundraising for the Nepal quake and other disasters

Yesterday’s deadly earthquake in Nepal is a fundraising event for some organizations. Following are some comments on this disaster and disasters in general from a fundraising point of view.

Let me warn you that there are capricious and unfair elements to disaster fundraising, just as with the disasters themselves. I don’t like these things any more than you do, but I’ll aim to share the real issues we face.

The main unfortunate thing about disaster fundraising is that the most important driver of donations is the media coverage of the disaster: How deep and prominent the coverage is and how long it stays at the top of the news.

That’s unfortunate, because the things that drive that mainly these four elements:


  1. Body count. A disaster that kills fewer than 2,000 people will likely drop out of the news after 48 hours or so. Larger death tolls, like those in the 2010 Haiti earthquake, which killed more than 100,000 people, really grab the news media’s attention and keep the story alive for weeks. With a death-toll already at 3,700, and likely to rise, the Nepal quake is moving into a media-watched disaster that keeps fundraising viable for a while.
  2. Accessibility. If that media can’t get camera crews to the disaster site, there will be a lot less coverage. Nepal is a long way from us, and many parts are hard to get to. This may hamper media attention.
  3. Drama. This is an important X-factor for media coverage. Dramatic video, like that we saw of a vast tsunami racing across the landscape after the 2011 Japan earthquake, really grab media attention. The death of Western climbers on Mt. Everest is likely to increase coverage of the Nepal quake.
  4. Sympathy factor. This is the painfully unfair part. Disasters in “unsympathetic” regions get less media coverage, and stir fewer donors to action. The 2003 Iran quake killed more than 26,000, but stirred less giving than some smaller disasters — Iran is in many ways an unsympathetic country, especially to people in the US. Man-made disasters have the same problem: It doesn’t matter how many people are killed or endangered, or how completely innocent those people are — human-caused disasters are tough to raise funds for. Remember Darfur? I think the sympathy factor for Nepal will be high.

Things you should know about disaster fundraising


  • The speed and low cost of digital communication makes disasters we wouldn’t have considered in the past potential strong candidates for fundraising. Email, search engine marketing, social media marketing (especially Facebook), and targeted banner advertising and all be strong sources of giving and new donors who are stirred to action.
  • New donors you get through disaster fundraising will have terrible retention rates — tens of percentage points less than you’re used to. That’s because you get a lot of younger and less-committed donors who have no intention of ever giving again. There’s not much you can do about it other than avoid throwing good money after bad.
  • How you spend disaster-motivated revenue is a problem waiting to get you. Be honest, open, and super-clear with donors about how their gifts will be spent.
  • Never, ever use the word temblor, no matter how tempted you are.


Comments

4 responses to “Fundraising for the Nepal quake and other disasters”

  1. Support Needed at local household levels.

  2. Support Needed at local household levels.

  3. Michelle Avatar

    To your last point: I had to look up the definition of the word temblor. And I was an English major.

  4. Michelle Avatar

    To your last point: I had to look up the definition of the word temblor. And I was an English major.

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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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