The Sprint and Marathon of Disaster Relief Holiday Giving: How Companies Can Make a Difference

December 12, 2018

Hurricanes, wildfires, tornadoes, flooding, winter storms, volcanoes, and now an earthquake. It’s been a busy 2018. Throughout each of these overwhelming events, first responders, non-profit organizations, companies, and individuals mobilized to help millions of people and communities respond, rebuild and restore livelihoods. As a first responder myself, I’ve seen both the devastation and the heroic efforts of people and communities banding together to bring life back to places that were once so vibrant.

Since 1980, the United States has dealt with an average of six billion-dollar-plus disasters a year. Over the last five years, that average has skyrocketed to a billion-dollar disaster each month. One of the most difficult parts of this new normal is that we all frantically run to save lives and help people when a disaster hits—and before we can catch our breath—we are running to a completely different part of the country to help with another disaster.

This leads me to think that disaster relief is not simply a sprint—it’s now both a sprint and a marathon.

Ketchum’s new Disaster Relief Holiday Giving study seems to reinforce the idea that we’re experiencing fatigue. The data shows that this holiday season, when giving time and money is typically at an all-time high, people seem to be less inclined to do either.

Specifically, the study found that among survey respondents of Americans ages 18 years and older:

  • 40 percent plan to give money in 2018, down from 49 percent in 2017
  • 29 percent plan to volunteer in 2018, down from 32 percent in 2017
  • 38 percent are not giving to natural disasters, compared with 29 percent who said they would not give to natural disasters in 2017

Sadly, I can relate. Within days of returning home to my family this past August after deploying as a Coast Guard Reservist to support lifesaving operations following Hurricane Florence, I was asked to deploy for Hurricane Michael.

Don’t get me wrong—I think people continue to be heartbroken by the images and stories that flow out of the affected areas. They want to help, but they are looking for more sustainable ways to engage and for companies to step up and do more.

Past Ketchum research on the topic has shown us that consumers value the contributions of, and are more likely to buy products from, companies that play an active role in disaster relief. This is good news for anyone who has been affected or will be affected by a natural disaster because company support, when done right, can make an enormous impact. But it takes planning, sensitivity, creativity, and smart communications for companies to stand out in this space. This is where Ketchum can help, with a simple yet powerful set of audit and consulting services that enable companies to develop an approach and communications plan to meaningfully engage in disaster relief and connect it to and through existing sustainability, social impact or purpose initiatives.

The current pace of natural disasters shows no signs of slowing down. That means that governments, businesses, non-profits, and everyday people like you and me should work together in measured and thoughtful ways to optimize the finite resources we have as we stay in shape to run the simultaneous sprint and marathon that natural disaster relief requires.

To learn about Ketchum expertise in disaster response and our Disaster 3D portfolio of services, please contact michael.anderson@ketchum.com or monica.marshall@ketchum.com.

Monica Marshall leads Ketchum’s Purpose Practice, which offers services that include developing and executing sustainability and social impact programs that are fully integrated with marketing and communications campaigns to build brands, strengthen reputation and increase awareness and stakeholder engagement.

Michael Anderson is a managing account supervisor in Ketchum’s corporate reputation practice based in Los Angeles, specializing in issues and crisis communications. On the weekends, he can frequently be found at Disneyland unwinding with his family.