Like many others in our community, across the country, and around the world, I am astounded by the stunning devastation of Hurricane Katrina. As a professional involved in the nonprofit technology sector, I continue to learn valuable lessons about the role of online communications to enable a rapid response in both fundraising and other relief efforts.
The lessons I have learned from nonprofit organizations start with the best practices of having the infrastructure and foundation in place to rapidly mobilize when crisis hits, and the ability to ensure messaging stays focused and relevant to constituents. The other lessons extend beyond fundraising and demonstrate the role of the Internet in managing additional aspects of relief efforts.
1. Be prepared
Email communications continue to be the fastest way to reach one’s constituency. So many organizations had the necessary systems and processes in place to support rapid response to the hurricane. These include existing email templates and an email list with pre-defined constituent segments. With these items determined in advance of a disaster, an organization can focus its energy on clear messaging and get an email out within hours. This allowed the Humane Society of the United States to be in region starting rescue operations at the end of last week.
2. Endeavor to stay relevant
During a tragedy of such large proportions, the desire to help is overwhelming. Organizations need to be aware of the volume of communications their members may be receiving and be diligent about keeping communications relevant to their members. This past week, I have seen organizations take two approaches. Organizations such as Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the AFL-CIO stayed focused on the critical missions of their organizations. Planned Parenthood is providing critical health care to those in the area. AFL-CIO’s Working Families Network is raising money to assist union members in the devastated region.
TrueMajority has taken an alternate approach. Rather than develop a campaign under their own organization, they leveraged a strong relationship with their members on behalf of other organizations. In this case, by encouraging TrueMajority consituents to participate in MoveOn.org's hurricane housing efforts or to donate to the American Red Cross.
3. Mobilize volunteers
Many organizations are using the Internet not just to raise money but as a way to organize resources and address the many needs the Gulf Coast region will have as it stabilizes and then rebuilds. The California Nurses Association is using a web page to gather information on registered nurses, their skill set and availability to assist. United Animal Nations, an animal rescue organization, is using the Internet to collect information on animal rescue volunteers. For these organizations, the ability to collect this information online means that staff resources are no longer diverted to gather this information by phone or mail.
As the relief efforts around Hurricane Katrina continue, we will see the lessons of planning, relevance and information gathering being reinforced. I am confident there is much more to be learned about the unique attributes of online communications from the hard-working and inspiring organizations that are on the front lines of this tragedy.
Sheeraz Haji is the CEO of GetActive Software and can be reached at Sheeraz@getactive.com.
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