- Thu, August 12 2010
- Filed under: Marketing essentials
The following post is by Kate Olsen, who handles our disaster giving programs at Network for Good among many other projects.
It’s April 20th and you’ve just learned that due to an explosion on an offshore oil rig, crude oil is leaking freely into the Gulf of Mexico. You don’t yet know that in the coming months over 3 million barrels of will flow into the Gulf causing the largest oil spill in U.S. history, but you do know that a serious environmental disaster is unfolding. The media is holding a major corporation – BP – responsible for cleanup and reparations. But you know that it will take more than just BP’s response to rebuild businesses, reclaim livelihoods, reestablish wildlife and restore the environment. It will take a network of dedicated nonprofits, concerned citizens, government intervention – and BP’s commitment – to restore the Gulf Coast to is former state.
The question is, should your nonprofit respond? And if so, how?
Since the oil spill was a manmade disaster and BP is being held accountable, the role for nonprofits has not been clear. When natural disasters like the Haiti Earthquake or Hurricane Katrina strike, there is a strong call to action to get emergency supplies on the ground and provide assistance to those affected. And nonprofits know whether their expertise, programs and staff are needed. Not so with the oil spill where the immediate priority was for BP to cap the well and then figure out how to compensate those affected.
Framing your organization’s call to action in the wake of a man-made disaster requires understanding your resources, expertise and audience. After observing how several nonprofits are making a difference for oil spill cleanup, we’ve developed a set of questions to help your organization decide if, when and how to respond when these types of catastrophes emerge:
•Does your organization work in communities affected by the disaster?
If the disaster is affecting your constituents, there is a clear mandate to help. If your mission and program focus is not directly related to the disaster at hand, your role may be more indirect, but you can still contribute by telling your supporters how they can help or supporting other organizations who are more directly involved (PR on your blog, loaning staff, in-kind gifts of resources, sending volunteers or other ways). Helping other organizations that may be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the immediate need is not only the neighborly thing to do, but it also strengthens the nonprofit sector and builds good will for when your organization is on the front lines.
To illustrate, EarthShare, an organization that manages workplace giving campaigns for environmental charities, is serving as an information and volunteer opportunity clearinghouse during the oil spill cleanup effort. It offers several volunteer opportunities from member charities, posts easy ways for citizens to speak up for safer, cleaner energy and provides resources for people to stay up-to-date with oil spill developments. This is a great example of a nonprofit highlighting the work of a set of organizations involved in the response.
• Does your organization have staff, programs, tools or expertise relevant to the disaster response?If you can contribute resources that other organizations can’t, be they nonprofit, government or for-profit, then you are particularly well-suited to take a strong role in the response effort. You know your mission and program focus better than anyone, so don’t hesitate to speak up if your expertise needs to be heard.
For example, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, an environmental health and justice nonprofit, in conjunction with students at Tulane University, established an oil spill crisis map that displays the disaster’s impact on the environment, wildlife, health, livelihoods and other factors. The organization’s unique understanding of the environment and technical expertise resulted in a very useful tool to monitor the disaster.
•Is your supporter base looking to your organization for guidance on ways to help?Even if your mission and program focus is not directly related to the current disaster, your community may see you as a resource. If you are overwhelmed by supporters asking for you to help them get involved, you can serve a curatorial role to provide relevant information about the disaster and concrete ways to help. Or you can band together with other like-minded organizations – other nonprofits, media partners or companies – and organize events, volunteer opportunities and other programs that mobilize your supporters and other citizen philanthropists to help.
Sometimes, it takes a collective effort to make a lasting impact. That is the opinion of CitizenGulf— a collaborative initiative among Andy Sternberg, Citizen Effect, el-studio.com, Live Your Talk, Sloane Berrent, Social Media Club, Taylor Davidson and Zoetica— which is calling for a National Day of Action on August 25th. In alignment with the week of the fifth anniversary of Katrina, CitizenGulf’s National Day of Action will benefit Catholic Charities of New Orleans to help fishing families find a new, more sustainable future by providing an educational program for their children. To attend a local CitizenGulf benefit event near you, visit here.