Going Beyond Donations and Matching – Engaging Employees in Disaster Relief

21. September 2011 Disaster Relief 4

Guest post by Susan McPherson

Susan McPherson
Susan's tips for engaging employees in disaster relief

In recent years, the horrifying effects of natural disasters have hit much closer to home, not because they are geographically closer but because ubiquitous social media tools like Twitter and Facebook deliver their impact to all corners of the earth. Hurricane Katrina, the earthquakes in Haiti and Japan, the Joplin tornado, and most recently the growing calamity of famine in the Horn of Africa have entered our living rooms through our mobile phones, computers and television sets.

A company, regardless of its size, has a tremendous opportunity to make a difference by offering support to those affected. It can provide in-kind aide, direct financial assistance, employee volunteers (skills-based or general volunteering) or any combination of the three.

Your employees, no doubt, will be familiar with the most recent disaster(s) and may inquire about how best to help. Given that, how do you maximize your communications to encourage and mobilize them to step up to the task?

  • Provide direct and regular updates on disaster’s status to your employees via the most suitable and effective platforms (email, company intranet, posters by the water cooler, signs in the rest rooms, newsletter, etc.)
  • Bring in the “big guns” and recommend that the CEO, CFO or CMO make the “ask” for participation. Challenge your teams to offer up their ideas for solutions/support.
  • Recognize leadership. Showcase those specific employees who have demonstrated an active interest in helping with the relief.
  • Survey your employees to discover who might have expertise in a particular area related to the disaster. Even if the disaster has occurred far from any of your company’s facilities, there is still an opportunity to help. You can inquire who might have relationships with the specific NGOs working in the affected regions. For instance, Save the Children and Oxfam are providing famine relief in Somalia – do you have employees that already volunteer for these organizations? What do those organizations need most from you? Would a local clothing or food drive help those suffering thousands of miles away? How about an employee-generated event to raise community funds?
  • Show them you care. Your employees will respect you for doing so.
  • Make it fun. Consider using gaming strategies to engage your employees. There’s a reason that Foursquare, Angry Birds and Farmville are wildly popular. Gaming doesn’t have to be technical play, but you can use contests, surveys or other playful activities to share and educate employees about the particular disaster and the desired relief.

What are your recommendations?  Tweet me at @susanmcp1 and let me know!

Susan McPherson is a senior vice president at Fenton, the nation’s leading public interest communications firm, where she focuses on corporate responsibility programs for the firm’s clientele and regularly writes and speaks on sustainability communications and the value of public/private partnerships. She has more than 20 years experience in marketing, public relations, CSR communications and business development. She currently serves on the board of Bpeace, and is a member of Echoing Green’s Social Investment Council, Social Media Week’s New York Advisory Council and the New York Leadership team for 85Broads. Additionally, she serves as an adviser to Plant A Fish (a new nonprofit created by Fabien Cousteau) and The OpEd Project.

4 thoughts on “Going Beyond Donations and Matching – Engaging Employees in Disaster Relief”

  • 1
    Janet M Morgan (@jan_morgan) on September 21, 2011

    Susan is right on as usual and I have seen how often bringing in the big guns “CEO, CFO or CMO make the “ask”” simply works! Best, Jan

  • 2
    Juanita Rilling on September 27, 2011

    I enjoy your blog; thank you for encouraging generosity in all its splendid forms.
    To help potential donors, I’d like to clarify the often misunderstood term “in-kind”.

    “Gifts-in-kind” is a term of art, referring to material donations that are given within a relationship between a donor and a relief or development organization. GIK is a need-driven resource, carefully integrated into relief and development programs and monitored for effectiveness. It is not stuff collected from households and sent because “somebody will be able to use it” – an assumption that is most often proven false.

    In stark contrast, monetary contributions to proven relief agencies are the most effective ways to help people affected by disasters. They enable responders to purchase exactly what is needed when it’s needed as the disaster subsides and the response evolves.

    Monetary donations are the kindest gift!
    With best wishes, Juanita

  • 3
    Shari Ilsen on September 28, 2011

    Juanita – thank you for clarifying this important point!

  • 4
    Belinda Grower on January 15, 2012

    I am a member of a non profit organization helping in Gadsden with the April 27th storms. We are in great need of volunteers.
    Thanks in advance for any help

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