Rapid response for nonprofits

Today I participated in N-TEN‘s first ever “webinar” on Lessons Learned from Tsunami Online Fundraising led by Michael Stein, Michael Ward, and the fabulous Sarah DiJulio. Here are my notes from the session (my own thoughts are in red).

Overview:

Donors response to the tsunami was amazing. Among the three organizations we discussed over $85 million dollars was raised and $38 million of that came online!

• 80% of the online giving happened in the first 2 weeks.
• More than 3/4 of the online gifts were from new donors. More than half of them asked not to be contacted again, but 40% did agree to be added to the org’s lists.
• There’s an increasing number of large (>$1,000) online donations.

Case study

Oxfam America had raised only $3 million online, but then raised over $15 million online immediately after the tsunami. In mid-January they stopped raising money for the tsunami because it was more than they could effectively use (!), and changed to raising money for all the other good stuff Oxfam does.

Because this happened on December 26th (when everyone was on vacation) it was even harder to spring into action. Most of the money raised was before December 31st! The first two days are critical because it has momentum and is in the news. After creating the donation page, they put up a page of info about the issue and made it prominent on their front page along with reports.

Visitors wanted to know more about the organization (financial trustworthiness, what they do) and news about the issue. They want to know where their money will go. Oxfam provided detailed info. CharityWatch.org rates organizations.

An appeal went to the entire e-mail list on December 30, then was followed by updates and additional appeals every couple of weeks. Personally, I’m surprised they didn’t write a lot more often while this was still a big issue. Oxfam launched a candlelight vigil in January, and asked supporters to take a political action in February.

Oxfam did other online outreach. Lots of other orgs wanted to partner with them. Made a “self-serve” webpage for partners with images, sourced links, and other resources. They also handled in-kind donations, earned media (papers were writing about this), and outreach to bloggers.

Existing small problems were magnified by this huge event. They were overloaded by website visitors, phone calls, donations. Most nonprofits would be lucky to have such problems! They missed some opportunities like getting offline support. They are now thinking about how they can be better prepared for emergencies in the future (plans, training, infrastructure, staff).

Sarah’s 5 best practices for rapid response:

1. ACT FAST
• respond within 24 hours
• prepare in advance:
– streamline the decision-making process
– systems (eg: tech infrastructure)
– relationships (existing partners, coalitions)
– materials

2. ASK
• You need to know what you want people to do.
• Just ask for one thing at a time
• Let people see specifically how what they are doing will help

3. REACH OUT
Use a variety of media, e-mail, web, etc.

4. MAKE IT EASY
Direct web traffic right to the page you want them to see. (Example: NARAL’s entire home page is a supreme court petition right now.) Minimize the steps they have to take.

5. SYNCHRONIZE
Online & offline materials and activities should reinforce each other.

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