by E. Johnson Cooper
We see the heart of the human spirit when disaster strikes. People sign up to volunteer to clean up and rebuild. Folks do makeovers in their closets to give away clothing to those most affected. And we see an overwhelming increase in financial donations; particularly with smaller donations that add up. People seem to give whatever they have in order to help relief efforts. We saw it with the tsunami in Phuket. We witnessed it with Katrina in New Orleans. And we’re seeing it now with post-Sandy. It is a good thing we come together to help in times of need but what about the causes that affect our world every day?
I remember the day in my ‘PR for Non-Profits’ graduate course when we discussed giving in a crisis. My professor, who previously worked for The Red Cross, used The Red Cross’ response to 9/11 as an example of an aid organization whose financial support nearly quadrupled during that time. We discussed how sympathy and tragedy are often triggers to get people to respond. But then adding the elements of a terror attack and patriotism caused people to feel more connected and compelled to give. The Red Cross accepted donations online but they saw the bulk of their donations come in through the text-to-give option. How easy and simple is it to text these days? It’s the one channel of communication people use more than anything else now. Imagine the option to press a few buttons to donate towards a crisis like 9/11?! It was phenomenal.
In a situation like 9/11 there wasn’t time to dwell on if you wanted to help, you just did it. And maybe that’s just it, disasters and crisis situations don’t leave time to over analyze, you just want to respond in the quickest, easiest way. If you saw a child about to run into the street, you wouldn’t just stand there. You would run and grab that kid to try to avoid him or her getting hit. I think that’s the same adrenaline that hits us in times of national and international strife. We move, we move fast and we get recovery done. We respond in the most urgent times of need to rally around organizations and communities but what about when there isn’t calamity? Where does this leave us outside a crisis?
On a normal day we go about our lives (mostly) unfazed by the societal crises that impact us: hunger, poverty, cancer, HIV/AIDS, education reform, and the list goes on. It’s not as if we don’t see the advertisements to support, receive the mailers, and scroll over the awareness tweets on our TL, we just don’t jump to respond. Take the homeless person we see every day at the stop light or in the subway with a sign asking for help. It’s almost as if they become apart of the scenery. I get it, there isn’t the same type of urgency as there is in crisis. However, the need is there well beyond the clean up, rebuilding and donating of a crisis.
If I’m raising these questions, imagine the pickle non-profits are in. Fundraising efforts are great when you have a disaster on your hands because you know people will give in greater quantities. But then think about how difficult it becomes after a crisis when people are tapped out- even more than they were before the crisis when they weren’t able to give. No person or non-profit wants catastrophe to impair the lives of others. However, what I am sure they desire is the same or near the same level of engagement for the causes that last well after the storm. So what can be done to keep people engaged the same way they are in adversity? I wish I had the answer. I’m not sure we can control human nature. We can only control our efforts to raise awareness and advocate.
That said, keep up your energy and enthusiasm for a cause near and dear to you after the Sandy relief efforts are over. While there may not be a hurricane, terror attack or human tragedy every day, there are people who live with adversity as if these things did happen every day. Don’t forget to support the causes that help them too.
If you would like to donate or volunteer to help with #Sandy relief, check out Our Guide to #Sandy Volunteer Efforts.