In the wake of disasters, people want to help. However, even the best intentions can create what emergency managers refer to as the “disaster within a disaster.” Donations can quickly overwhelm a community that is dealing with catastrophic loss. It is important that individuals and organizations asking for help and groups that want to assist carefully evaluate the who, what, when, where, and how of those requests. Coordination is commonly referred to as Donations Management.
The following guidance is based upon best practices, lessons learned, and recommendations of emergency management officials:
Communicate: One of the biggest hurdles in Donations Management is identifying the person(s) who are authorized to make donations requests and the mediums they use to communicate that information. People want to help, so once someone mentions needs, unsolicited donations arrive whether or not the items are immediately needed or even appropriate. Therefore, public information and communication is a pivotal part of the process. Be timely and efficient with communication, ensure that you are not overwhelming your audience with requests, and know when to say enough, is enough. Realize that a request on social media may never go away, so even when needs are met, donations may continue to pour in. The key to effective communication is to identify social media and mainstream mediums for “official” information about needs, status, and guidance for delivery.
Be specific: Know what to ask for, including the quantity needed. Place restrictions upon the items (new, used, types, quantities, etc.) you will accept. Don’t be afraid to ask for exact size or type of item. Consider prioritizing requests to meet immediate needs. Additional requests can be made as the recovery process continues. A good way to avoid duplication is to work with organizations already providing items and assistance as part of their disaster responsibilities.
Prioritize needs: If you ask for specific donations, ensure that you have places to store those resources until people are ready to use them. Do not request items that are not part of current needs. Identify the times that donations will be received as well as the end date for receipt of donations. This also helps reduce the likelihood of being overwhelmed by the generosity of the community.
Plan: Ensure that you have enough people, space, infrastructure (security, refrigeration, etc.) to manage the logistical aspects of Donations Management. You should plan for unsolicited goods and outline strategies for dealing with excess donations including storage or redistribution of these items.
Be prepared: It is essential to have a system set up so that as people deliver donations they do not interfere with your ability or the abilities of responders to do their jobs. Ensure staff and volunteers are available to receive and redistribute donated items. Donations Management is difficult, which is why many human service organizations specifically request monetary donations that can be used to address specific community needs. If you accept funds, it is important to have a disaster specific account set up to accept the donations and ensure that all funds are tracked and used appropriately.
During response and recovery operations, volunteers and donations can help or hinder the process. Good planning and concise communication help you manage donations management efficiently and effectively. Additionally, a good plan and clear policies and procedures help alleviate stress. Before accepting any donations, check with your general council or contact TASB Legal Services for more information.
For more information on TASB emergency management support and planning, please contact Melanie Moss or 512.505.2868.