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Beyond Cause Marketing: Altruism in Disaster Relief

There are times when a cause campaign is not about mutual reward for brand and beneficiary, rather responsible citizenship.

Disasters are such times. 

Disaster ReliefUsing online tools, it’s easy to participate in charitable activities, and help situations like Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. When your cause or company’s employees and stakeholders want to act and participate on the front-lines of the relief effort, there are several things you can do. Whether it’s leveraging your online community, offering financial resources or volunteering, almost every person and organization has assets to offer.

Full disclosure: Vocus has an office in Manila. We made a sizable donation to provide relief to Typhoon Haiyan victims. In addition, Vocus encourages and supports employee efforts to give back to the community. We are matching 100% of employee donations to aid the victims of the storm.

Before going too far, it’s important that a company is motivated by a clear desire to resolve or provide relief to a devastating event.

If the brand’s goal is to market or strengthen the social responsibility factor of your brand, a disaster campaign could easily achieve the opposite and tarnish your brand with an opportunistic hue Consider Spirit Airlines oil spill faux paux. Disasters are a time for social responsibility and altruism.

Both Twitter and Facebook decided to use their considerable reach to help causes fundraise for Typhoon Haiyan. And both networks treated the efforts like a public service message, and did not market their brands or advertising offerings in conjunction with the disaster.

When the Deep Horizon oil spill occurred and companies began stepping up their response, Dawn dish soap stood out. Dawn soap products were donated as a means to clean birds, and the effort was well received publicly. The company simply publicized it was donating the products. Further Dawn’s bird cleaning ads can be considered in good taste because they had been deployed prior to the oil spill accident. In fact, because life matched brand promise, the ads were strengthened.

Here are some tips if you are considering participating in disaster relief…

Spur of the Moment

If an event happens like Typhoon Haiyan that’s so compelling it inspires you to act, the best thing to do is to affiliate with an entity that is well prepared. There are dozens, even hundreds of causes and organizations that prepare for such events. Rather than reinventing the wheel, find and support them in the ways that they suggest.

For example, the Red Cross literally exists for crisis situations and its business is preparedness. If you prefer a less organized effort, consider Crisis Commons and the fantastic job they do getting coders and other techies to help out the Philippines.

Many of the more experienced players have grassroots systems for you to participate in and fundraise. Further, independent fundraising platforms like Crowdrise, Razoo and Causes allow you to set up your own social fundraising campaign autonomous of a charity’s oversight. You can offer matches to support

Two years ago at the South by Southwest festival, a #SxSWCares effort used attendees’ grassroots word of mouth power to support Japan. But it did so as an independent fundraiser for the American Red Cross. Similarly, when Google founder Eric Schmidt wanted to donate $100,000 in matching funds to Japan, he sought out nonprofit Citizen Effect. Lady Gaga also decided to support the Schmidt/Citizen Effect effort.

Prepare for Unfortunate Events

One of the best things a communicator can do is create a crisis communications plan for missteps and disasters. Similarly, preparation to help in advance of disaster situations makes sense. This allows the organization to literally pull a book off the shelf and follow directions or adapt them to unique situations.

An organization like UNICEF is prepared (their Philippines effort has raised $50k to date) to launch efforts as soon as any disaster effort happens. UNICEF can activate its network for recovery efforts rapidly to mobilize donations and support. Companies can do the same.

With a pre-determined crisis plan, you can deploy resources in a manner that better plays to your strengths. Further, your nonprofit or company can save funds and allocate other resources for that unfortunate day in advance, ensuring impact.

For example, Google has a crisis preparedness team for disasters. The team has been actively engaged in the Philippines crisis since the typhoon, using tools like Person Finder, maps via Google Earth, recommended nonprofits, and news aggregation. Google’s impact is significant and helpful, using its tools and networks to ease the situation as best as it can.

Ask yourself how can your organization can best assist in a time of need? From there building a plan becomes easier.

Innovating Aid

Many organizations and people feel like they can do more than the current authorities and causes involved. Or they feel inspired to use tools in an unthought of way. Whether it’s an independent fundraiser or a new tool, this is the heart of innovation. If innovation can possibly make a difference it only makes sense to engage.

The MIT Media Lab’s use of hot air balloons to document the oil spill. Further, technological innovation can seed breakthrough applications, including unique Uhsahidi map deployments, Google People Finder, and several tools developed by Crisis Commons. In times of crisis, inspiration can save lives and make a big impact.

This article is an updated version of a disaster relief post Geoff wrote after Japan’s tragic tsunami in 2011.

Image: Trocaire (Creative Commons)

About Geoff Livingston

Geoff is president and founder of Tenacity5 Media, a digital marketing agency that provides content marketing and social media services. A former journalist, Geoff continues to write, and has authored five books. Follow him @geoffliving.

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