The unfair truth about disaster fundraising

Civil Society Fundraising Blog reports on a UK study that found something that won’t surprise experienced fundraisers: Victim blaming: why donors care less about wars than earthquakes.

That’s right: When it comes to humanitarian disasters, donors are much more likely to give when the disaster is natural than when it’s manmade.

Earthquakes, typhoons — those open the hearts and wallets of huge numbers of donors (and nondonors). Almost any conflict-driven humanitarian crisis — equally horrific in terms of human suffering … not so much.

Many donors are cynical about helping victims of war and conflict.

The study was with UK donors. I have some experience on both sides of the Atlantic, and I’d say the effect is even more pronounced in the US.

It’s not fair. It’s not right. Donors should know better.

We can complain all we want about it, but it’s the reality. When a humanitarian crisis is manmade, you’re going to struggle to raise funds for it.

So when you need to raise money for a manmade crisis, here’s what you can do:

  • Lower your expectations. You are not going to raise the kind of support you may be used to seeing during natural disasters. You’ll raise something — just not as much.

  • Focus your messaging on the non-combat aspects of the crisis. Tell stories about children. Avoid focusing on scenes of combat. In most of these situations, hunger, disease, and exposure strike a lot more people than bullets and bombs. Zoom in on that and help reawaken donor compassion.

  • Don’t whine in public. You’ll be thinking, Nobody’s listening to us! It’s not fair! Don’t make that your fundraising message. It doesn’t work. Whining makes you look like a whiner. That kills your brand.

(This post first appeared on July 20, 2016.)


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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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