In the wake of a manmade disaster, such as the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, it's not always clear when a nonprofit should respond. And if so, how?
The role of nonprofits' response to manmade disasters, especially when corporations are being held accountable, is not always clear. When natural disasters like hurricanes or earthquakes occur, there is a strong call to action to get emergency supplies on the ground and provide assistance to those affected. Nonprofits generally know whether their expertise, programs and staff are needed.
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.