Is Your Organization Ready for Disaster Season?


With the kids back in school, nonprofit programs returning to full swing, and end-of-year giving campaigns still months away, the last weeks of summer may feel like a return to business as usual for nonprofits.

But the sense of normalcy masks the fact that this is a dangerous moment for our communities. Not only does end of summer mark the anniversary of the costliest hurricane in U.S. history, but this week tens of thousands of residents in Southern California are returning to their homes after emergency evacuations from wildfires. Even the safest communities can face unexpected emergencies.

For those who manage volunteers, there are major considerations for disaster planning: Will you be able to continue to work with volunteers to maintain your existing service levels with minimal disruption? Will you be able to stay in touch with  volunteers? If there is a surge of spontaneous volunteers, will you be able to harness them to be of service to the community?

Your VolunteerMatch account can help. Following our experience after 9/11 and the 2005 Gulf Coast storms, we worked closely with the American Red Cross and leading foundations to optimize our site for any eventuality — we also launched the first ever national map of disaster relief opportunities.

So you can rest assured won’t go down — but to use it effectively, you still need to think tactically. Here are some tips.

Before Disaster Strikes

  • Create an inactive disaster response listing – Set up an inactive dummy listing with placeholder content now to save time during disasters.  Hide your listing from our search engine by setting the activation and expiration dates in the past.
  • Include a call to action or a strong message of needs filled – If you need volunteers now, state so clearly and include the type of work that needs to be done. If you already have enough trained volunteers deployed in the field, state that clearly too, for example: “No volunteers are needed at this time. Trained Volunteers are currently deployed.”
  • Include the actions that volunteers can take to help – Include the date, time and location of any orientation or work day you might have. If you need supplies or in-kind donations, be sure to include that too.

During and After Disasters

  • Update the details on the Inactive Disaster Response listing.
  • Edit the Activation and Expiration Dates.
  • Use the Email Referrals tool to communicate new information or changes to volunteers.
  • Include information in your listing so volunteers can take the next step on their own, without needing to call or email you.

Reading this list, it’s pretty easy to see that the key is to let your volunteer prospects know what your organization is doing. Hopefully this will help you think about preparing for that next disaster before it strikes.

(Photo – Bob Carey & American Red Cross via Flickr)

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