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News & Press: AFP-GHC

October Member Spotlight

Wednesday, October 18, 2017  
Posted by: AFP Manager
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In response to the destruction left by Hurricane Harvey, many area nonprofits jumped into action to provide disaster relief services to those hit hardest by the storm. We wanted to spotlight a few of our chapter's members and get their unique perspective as fundraising professionals in the days following Harvey. Below is a quick Q&A with Maria Magee of Interfaith Ministries of Greater Houston, Amy Ragan of the Houston Food Bank and Stacy Halley of the American Red Cross.

1. From the perspective of a fundraising professional, what have you found most surprising
following Hurricane Harvey?


What surprised me the most was how many people from out of state made significant donations after the storm. I know from over 20 years as a fund raiser in this city that Houstonians are very generous, and they certainly stepped up after Harvey, but I was touched and surprised by the number of out of state donors who made first time gifts to IM. Many of these gifts were $1,000 or over. - Maria Magee

The amazing generosity from everywhere! The amount of donations from outside our service area. We received gifts from all 50 states and 40 international countries.  I did not expect to receive the number of cards and notes nor so many significant sized gifts. I was really surprised by the power of social media. That was the difference between Harvey and Ike.  It was social media shares that brought even more awareness to our organization which resulted in an outpouring of support. - Amy Ragan

The most surprising thing following Hurricane Harvey would be the scores of new donors and
volunteers to so many important missions for Houston. Hurricane Harvey helped shine a light on the things our community cares about and supports. So many people immediately stepped up financially and simultaneously they stepped up as volunteers as well. From corporate partners, foundation partners, and individuals, everyone wanted to help and help with more than just money. They wanted to roll up their sleeves and give of their time. Houston stepped up in a tremendous way! – Stacy Halley

2. How do you think that donations to Harvey disaster relief will affect the organization’s
fundraising for the remainder of the fiscal year?

That is hard to tell. The generosity inspired by Harvey has greatly boosted our fundraising revenues in September, and we are still fundraising for disaster-related needs. As we go into the usually busy holiday season and into our events season, I hope the generosity will continue! - Maria Magee

I think we will see a drop in our holiday giving as many people who normally give at the end of the year have instead made gifts to us for the disaster. I think we will see some declines in annual event sponsorships and grants as some funding was redirected to support disaster efforts. Corporate support is likely to be impacted as well.  While one event we have coming up is fully subscribed, another one is seeing the impact of Harvey through fewer event sponsorships.  The plan is to adjust the goal and be happy with that. - Amy Ragan

There was a tremendous outpouring of support for Houstonians and residents throughout the Texas Gulf Coast that I believe donors will be evaluating the charities they support throughout the year. I do feel that donors have a greater sense of purpose towards missions that are important to them. I believe that donors will continue to increase support as we get to the holidays and end of year due to so many people being impacted and now are rebuilding. I do think this is a great time for organizations to update donors as well as capture all new donors who supported during Harvey to fully engage them and steward them towards the full scope of their missions. That may lead to second or third gift, and maybe even planned giving support. – Stacy Halley

3. Describe your post Harvey messaging to donors.

Mail service was suspended immediately following Harvey, so we could not do any direct mail
appeals. We started text 2 give and online appeals within 48 hours of the storm, and also started reaching out to our major donors by email. Our messaging included inquiring after our donors’ safety after the storm and offering help/referrals if needed, explaining what we were doing to help our clients, and presenting our needs. Besides the fund raising methods listed above, we also started an Amazon wish list for supplies since many donors prefer to give in-kind items. Clear communication and transparency are very important, especially in times of crisis. - Maria Magee

Our initial messaging to donors directed them where to go if they needed help, let them know the Food Bank’s role in times of disaster, and included a link to donate for those who were safe and looking for ways to help.  We sent a couple of E-appeals for support, but our last specific request for support was 9/9.  We added a lightbox to our website with a link so donors could donate directly and pulled that on 9/15.  We sent an impact report early on to all donors and emphasized that we are in this for the long haul.  We will continue messaging that speaks to the long haul ahead of us as we want donors to understand that Harvey was even more catastrophic to the low-income families we serve year-round. We have an email impact series letting donors know how their gifts are helping families rebuild and will be sending a mailed impact report as well. It’s important to us to be transparent and let donors know how our disaster-restricted funds are being used. - Amy Ragan

Support to Hurricane Harvey at the time of impact was needed and critically important, but that was only the beginning. Every agency is in the recovery and rebuilding phase for the people or cause their missions serve. Stay connected to the mission they supported and learn more about how they are moving forward and get involved. I would also encourage donors to learn more about the community partnerships that so many charity partners have together. – Stacy Halley

4. From a development standpoint, what is one or more takeaway(s) or lesson(s) learned
about fundraising following a natural disaster?

I have been involved in fund raising after a number of natural disasters, but the scale of Harvey was unlike anything I had experienced. It is important with disaster fund raising to have a plan on how to raise funds, what to use the funds for, and how to communicate back to donors on use of funds. It is tempting for nonprofits, when additional funds are available after disasters, to “chase the dollars” and try to fund raise as much as possible. But, organizations have to stay true to their missions and raise funds for work they can do well. That is part of stewarding donor funds well! - Maria Magee

Notify donors about our efforts and impact much sooner and send weekly updates. Do not designate every planned upcoming fundraiser/opportunity for disaster.  Review first time major donors and set out discovery plans to hopefully cultivate relationships. Organize a disaster related volunteer opportunity for donors. - Amy Ragan

Disasters are hard and don't discriminate. We are vulnerable during times of disasters, but how we come together as a community to assess and move forward shows our strength and stability as humanitarians for every important mission for Houston and the Texas Gulf Coast. – Stacy Halley

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