Thursday, March 22 , 2018, 5:58 am | Rain Fog/Mist 59º


Cynder Sinclair: When Disaster Strikes, Nonprofits Respond to Community Needs

Those familiar with the nonprofit sector often remind us of their critical services — for needs not met by government or business. Nonprofits stand in the gap. We have come to depend on their important work. Every day.

And when disaster strikes, this important work becomes clearer than ever.

Nonprofit response to community needs during and after the Dec. 4 Thomas Fire and then the Jan. 9 flood and mudslides has been nothing short of heroic. And it continues.

Nonprofits from every cause have pitched in, many providing essential services. From the valiant efforts of the American Red Cross and Direct Relief to the welcome response of the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County and SBCC to the uplifting embrace of the faith community and Courage to Lead, we are more aware than ever of the power of nonprofit work in our town.

Donations pour in

Donors from every walk of life have responded with extraordinary generosity — and continue to do so. Whether large gifts from wealthy donors or a single individual creating a GoFundMe page to support a cause or a family, gifts abound in our community. Everyone seems inspired to give or do what they can to aid the victims.

This phenomenon is common during natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods or tornadoes. A positive human response to catastrophe.

Yet, donations are the life blood of every nonprofit. How can nonprofits without a mission focused on disaster relief continue to survive? How should they respond to the crisis in their community as well as to their own need for sustained support?

Remember the basics

Whether a nonprofit is involved in the disaster work or not, this is a time to focus on three key essentials: Your Mission, Your Community and Your Donors. It’s easy to lose heart and worry about donor fatigue especially if your organization isn’t actively involved in relief efforts. But now is the time to energize your group, not to wither in worry.

» Focus on your mission.

Remember that, even during a disaster, your supporters and your community depend on your organization to live out its mission. So, don’t spend time fretting over unfounded fears. When your benefactors see you continuing to focus on your mission in the face of disaster, they will be more impressed and encouraged than ever.

Rather than thinking there is a limited supply of funds in the world, recognize the awareness that the disasters have brought to the nonprofit sector. Remind people that this is the good work you are doing day after day, right here in their community.

» Embrace your community.

Bear in mind that your nonprofit is an integral part of the entire community. During a catastrophe, you have an opportunity to demonstrate your critical contribution to the larger scope. Terry Axelrod of the fundraising company Benevon suggests that nonprofits not directly involved in a disaster effort acknowledge the disaster and link it to their mission in some way.

For example, Axelrod says, “Arts groups, rather than downplaying their missions in light of a recent disaster, should focus on how the arts are critical in times of crisis for bringing people together and expressing the beauty and courage of the human spirit.

"People who work for a food bank or help the homeless can talk about how their group is working every day to help people get back on their feet.

"Domestic violence shelters can talk about how health professionals say the stress and strain caused by displacement will likely create a rise in domestic violence, already a huge problem in this country.”

Alana Walzak, CEO of CALM, demonstrated this excellent practice recently in response to the fires, floods and mudslides. After explaining that many of us are suffering from secondary traumatic stress, she said, “At CALM, we concern ourselves with secondary trauma every day. Our counselors hear horrible stories, and it is incumbent upon us to think about how they care for themselves so they can continue to do their work.

"We practice mindfulness and encourage self-care in order to combat the insidious effects of secondary trauma. We must be whole and healthy before we can help others.”

Another nonprofit leader in town, Steve Jacobsen, executive director of the La Casa de Maria retreat center, assured us that, “The mud may take away our buildings, but it cannot quench our spirit. The earth has shaken, but our resolve to rebuild and go forward remains steadfast. The earth absorbs all our tears, and that moisture germinates seeds of new life. That process has already begun in the land, and in us." These profound words comforted all who heard them.

And at her retirement from serving as executive director of Isla Vista Youth Projects, LuAnn Miller gave everyone who attended a copy of this beautiful quote by L.R. Knost: "Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you."

» Communicate with donors.

Keep in mind that your donors believe in your work more than anyone else. They give their treasure so your work can continue. During a disaster, give them a reason to be glad they have chosen to support your work. Remind them how important it is.

It is said that donors should choose an issue with their heart and choose a nonprofit with their head. Give them a reason to continue to choose your nonprofit with their heart and their head, whether you are a direct part of the relief effort or not.

— Dr. Cynder Sinclair is a consultant to nonprofits and founder and CEO of Nonprofit Kinect. She has been successfully leading nonprofits for 30 years and holds a doctorate in organizational management. To read her blog, click here. To read her previous articles, click here. She can be contacted at 805.689.2137 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). The opinions expressed are her own.

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