Disasters, by definition, are sudden and unpredictable —often leaving devastation in their wake. Corporations have an added social responsibility to lend a hand during and after disasters given their unique position to offer both immediate and long-term help.

It’s impossible to be 100 percent prepared for every disaster, but corporations should have a blueprint in place to react swiftly and effectively after a catastrophe of any kind. Quick allocation of funds and outreach to both employees and community groups can make a world of difference for locals trying to get through the disaster and rebuild their lives.

Corporate giving most importantly provides aid to those in need. It also has the ancillary benefit of boosting internal morale and allows a corporation to display its true values. Thus, more and more companies are taking on the role previously occupied only by governments and traditional relief agencies during disaster recovery.

However, in order to respond most effectively, corporations must ready themselves in advance. Here are six things your company should do to prepare for the unexpected.

1. Determine when to respond

Corporations must create guidelines in advance to help them decide if and when to formally respond to a disaster. While doing so requires focus and clarity, it’s also emotional because we, as humans, seek to help others in times of need.

When we see news of certain types of disasters, the decision to act is easy — major earthquakes and hurricanes bring with them images of devastation. Looking at the array of other disasters that happen throughout any year — whether it be a flood, a fire, or the collapse of a bridge — the answer is less clear. Ask questions like these to create a framework to assist in decision-making:

  • Where does your company operate? Are your customers affected by this disaster?
  • Where do your employees live? Are they being affected?
  • How far-reaching is the disaster? Is it local, regional, or national?
  • What does your company do? What does it stand for? Is there a special reason why you are in a better position to respond to certain kinds of disasters?

In the end, these decisions are always very difficult to make. No amount of money will ever make up for the hardship those in the face of disaster experience. But having a framework to help you decide when your corporation is and is not in a position to act creates clarity in decision-making.

2. Have a communication plan in place

In the wake of a disaster, employees will likely be moved to act and will look to the corporation as a means through which to provide help. Some questions your organization should have the answers to include:

  • Which employees wish to participate in giving efforts?
  • How do employees prefer to learn about giving opportunities?
  • What is the anticipated contribution level of employees?

Addressing these questions before a disaster will allow your corporation to provide more targeted assistance and properly budget employee donations. Building such a strategy takes time, but corporations will find that having a plan in place is far more efficient than scrambling to create one after disaster hits.

3. Be aware of the proper technology

Technology is playing an increasingly important role in disaster relief efforts. At a basic level, social media technology such as Facebook Safety Check and Google People Finder allow employees and their peers to mark themselves as safe.

When it comes to corporate aid, it’s crucial to have the proper software in place to manage things like crowdfunding, peer-to-peer fundraising, employee match initiatives, volunteer hours, and other ways for concerned employees to donate time or money to the relief efforts. Proper deployment of technology can increase employee participation and the volume of funds that are funneled to the impacted area, but the process must be tracked in order to truly understand outcomes.

Homes and businesses surrounded by water flowing out of the Cape Fear River in the eastern part of North Carolina on Sept. 17, in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence. A week after the storm, cleanup and recovery efforts continue. (Image courtesy of the North Carolina National Guard via Flickr)

4. Set up funds for disaster relief in advance

The adage “hope for the best, prepare for the worst” remains true in regards to natural disasters. While we all hope for the best, we must be prepared for catastrophe, which for corporations includes having funds at the ready. However, the typical corporate giving budget barely accounts for one-off events such as natural disasters.

Corporations can still contribute by granting funds to programs like American Red Cross’ Annual Disaster Giving Program. This allows the American Red Cross to flexibly use funds at its discretion in times of a disaster. Corporate collaboration with such programs and nonprofits can be key in producing a cohesive recovery effort.

5. Plan for long-term relief

The Center for Disaster Philanthropy consistently finds that disaster-relief contributions dry up within six months after the event. With general contributions trending toward immediate and short-term relief, it is essential for corporations to strategize for longer-term support. When planning employee relief efforts, understand that those funds and resources will need to last over a significant amount of time.

6. Build connections in communities now

The combined efforts of multiple groups can bolster both immediate relief efforts and long-term community recovery. Corporations should seize the opportunity to establish relationships with trusted local organizations, such as nonprofits, community foundations, and neighborhood businesses. Building and maintaining a relationship with such groups will be invaluable in the event of a natural disaster, and it should be done sooner rather than later.

Communicating and collaborating with these local groups post-disaster will not only help illuminate the true needs of victims, but also make the distribution of products and services collected by employees far easier. In most cases, parts of disaster-stricken areas could face days without electricity or phone service — and knowing where exactly to provide help is essential.

Final thoughts

Ultimately, the recovery after a natural disaster takes a great deal of combined effort. The best that corporations can do in advance is to upkeep the proper technology, have a fundraising plan for employees, form relationships with local groups, and set a budget for disasters. While traditional relief organizations remain important and even the best-laid plans can go awry, corporations can and should have a strategy in place to provide swift, effective aid.

Michael Beville

Michael Beville oversees the strategy to communicate Blackbaud’s brand promise to corporations and foundations and drives market leadership through his role as VP of Marketing & Sales for Blackbaud Corporate and Foundation Solutions.

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