Can the natural sense of urgency that comes with news of a natural disaster be channeled into corporate programs that have impact? Here’s a program that may enable just that…

Among the myriad of TV commercials, internetpop-ups, telemarketing pitches, and roadside billboards seeking our attention, there are good, legitimate causes seeking our support. This relentless bombardment can get a little dizzying for most of us, to the extent that actually reflecting on the merits of a particular cause becomes increasingly difficult. We are preconditioned to go blank.

Disasters are different. Disasters have a way of clearing the haze. When disaster strikes, our daily lives are halted. We see the wreckage in vivid detail every time we turn on the TV. No need for a fundraising strategy on that day. The pitch has been made, the need is palpable and people everywhere are talking about it. Some of the talkers are ready to do something . . . including employees in your company.

Can Employees Respond to Disaster?

For CSR professionals who believe companies can make a difference, it’s worth paying attention when vast numbers of employees are motivated to act. Can this natural sense of urgency be channeled into corporate programs that have impact…or is it just too cumbersome to pull off at the moment of crisis?

For corporate giving programs, the answer is yes. Yes, the sense of urgency can be channeled into programs with impact. Before and after a disaster hits, relief organizations need funding. Corporate Giving Programs can support these non-profits all year long and then, when mother naturehits, employees have a familiar place to go with their desire to give. In fact, the recent report by theCCEP,Giving in Numbers: 2011 Edition,noted that 40 companies added a specific disaster-relief matching program that had not been offered in 2009. Moreover, many companies now provided above-budget funding for relief and recovery efforts. What was the chief reason cited by corporate contributions professionals for increased giving among these companies? The large amount of international disasters in 2010, in particular the Haitian earthquake.

…Beyond Giving Money?

Harnessing concern provoked by disasters is trickier when attempting to do more than give money. A company can’t simply dial up the Red Cross and tell them they have hundreds of volunteers ready to be deployed. By the time disaster hits, it’s too late. Case in point, a million people offered to volunteer after Hurricane Katrina. Only 250,000 could be placed, leaving 750,000 unplaced.

To actually be helpful in a relief effort, volunteers need thorough training over a span of months. As Jayne Cravens argues, “volunteers who show up, unaffiliated, untrained and not self-sufficient get in the way rather than helping, and take precious resources from those who have been in a disaster situation…Disasters are incredibly complicated situations that require people with a very high degree of qualifications and long-term commitment, not just good will, a sense of urgency and short-term availability.” (read the rest of Jayne’s article here).

Ready When the Time Comes

Fortunately, there is a program with some teeth and history that ameliorates the inevitable snags inherent in the mixing of employee volunteering and disaster relief. The Red Cross’s Ready When the Time Comes(RWTC) program trains employees of participating companies as Red Cross volunteers and mobilizes them as a community-based volunteer force when disaster strikes. Established in 2001, the program in its first 10 years trained more than 13,000 employees from 460 businesses and organizations in 52 cities to be disaster relief volunteers. These volunteers have been deployed as Red Cross volunteers to such disasters as the Mississippi River flooding, Hurricane Irene and deadly tornadoes.

Companies want to be involved in disaster response but historically there has been no way to get a foot in the door during the actual work,” says Bruce Summers, former National Lead for the RWTCDemonstration Project. “The win for the company is they are now provided an entre point to be pre-trained for the Red Cross. We found many companies (and their employee volunteers) were frustrated during Hurricane Katrina response that they could not easily jump in and help and Red Cross chapters usually found they were too busy managing large scale disaster to pause and negotiate partner relationships on the fly.

How Does it Work?

  • Local companies partner with their local Red Cross chapter, recruiting employees as volunteers who the chapter trains for disaster response.
  • Partner companies commit to making these employees available for serve at least one day per year.
  • When a local, large-scale disaster occurs, the Red Cross calls the Partner Companies, which then activate the volunteers as directed.
  • RWTC volunteers work alongside Red Cross employees and trained disaster volunteers.

People all over the world have come to depend on the Red Cross during a disaster, and with RWTC, your employees can be right there on ground as Red Cross volunteers. This is a true win-win. It’s good for your company, it’s good your employees, and it’s good a community in desperate need. Click here to find out more about RWTC and how to become a Red Cross partner.

While working with clients to engage employees in corporate citizenship initiatives, Realized Worth loves to collect information and share what we learn. Any other disaster relief programs out there that we should know about? Share your comments below, email us, or call us: 317.371.4435.

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