Why The Internet Must Be Embraced For Raising Funds

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As soon as Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast and the catastrophic impact became evident, the National Credit Union Foundation (NCUF) activated its Disaster Relief Fund. While other charities and relief organizations were raising funds immediately using toll-free numbers and Internet fundraising tools, it took a about month before significant credit union dollars arrived at NCUF.

Thankfully, as we continued working with leagues, CUNA, and the trade media to bring attention to the critical needs facing credit union people, significant dollars began arriving. And donations kept coming in at a steady pace over the course of the next four months.

Ultimately, the campaign channeled more than $3.2 million in contributions through the NCUF Disaster Relief Fund. This is more than three times higher than the largest previous disaster relief effort, which was $1 million for credit union employees and members who were victims of the Oklahoma City bombing.

By all measures the credit union system response was extraordinary and evidence that the "People-Helping-People" spirit is indeed part of the movement's DNA.

Where We're Behind The Curve

But as strong a response as this was, it's clear that we are behind the curve on how to raise disaster relief funds quickly and efficiently. By way of example-and this isn't meant as finger pointing-we know of credit union organizations that conducted disaster relief campaigns that ran for many weeks before sending a check.

Why? Because they were conducting special events, gathering checks from employees or collecting change in canisters from members to raise their donations and wanted to have a large final tally to announce.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with these traditional disaster fundraising methods; except they are slow. By the time much of this money was raised and forwarded, the situation in the Gulf region had to move from an "emergency" where folks needed cash grants to provide food, water, shelter, transportation and other critical needs, to a longer-term recovery situation. Of course, in the case of the Gulf Coast hurricanes, "recovery" is relative, as many credit unions and their employees are still struggling mightily.

Here's what we need to do:

Those of you who know me know that I have a passion for how the Internet can transform the way that philanthropy is conducted. And while I am by no means a technologist, I know enough to know that the credit union movement can and should be utilizing on-line fundraising tools-particularly in response to credit unions' needs following a major disaster.

I realize some of you are probably skeptical about fundraising on the Internet. But the truth is this: We have hit a tipping point and are missing an opportunity to raise dramatically more money, do it quicker, more efficiently, and in a way that still gives credit where credit is due.

Here are some facts to whet your appetite:

* The American Red Cross raised over $2 billion in response to Hurricane Katrina. Over $900 million (45%) was given on-line.

* American relief charities raised more than $597 million to aid victims of the deadly earthquake and tsunamis in South Asia, nearly half of that on-line.

* The average on-line gift is $125. The average direct mail contribution is $25.

* The cost of raising a dollar on-line is significantly lower than direct mail or other means of individual giving.

NCUF did activate an on-line giving platform. For those who used it, it provided a prompt acknowledgement and quickly put funds into the hands of credit union people needing assistance. The problem is that we were not able to persuade many credit unions to make that link (http://www.ncufdisasterrelief.coop) available to their employees and members. The fundraising world has evolved and on-line giving tools are now part of the arsenal of efficiency that charitable organizations are embracing because on-line giving

* is cost-effective as opposed to other types of fundraising;

* increases the speed by which donors' dollars get to those who need help;

* provides fast donor acknowledgement and the ability, should donors choose to, "opt-in;"

* provides what is called a "viral marketing" or "tell-a-friend" capacity-whereby a person interested in supporting the NCUF Disaster Relief Fund can do so and encourage others to do so with "push e-mails;"

* has moved beyond the "one-size-fits-all" online donation process-today's systems allow for customized "splash pages" using pre-configured templates that in the case of credit union disaster relief fundraising, would allow for credit union-specific branding;

* provides for customized reporting-which, in the case of credit unions and leagues, would allow for back-end reports on numbers of donors, size of gifts, and other data.

Not A Panacea

Credit unions have embraced technology for so much of what they do in member services. It is time to embrace technology in our fundraising as well-particularly disaster relief fundraising where the benefits of on-line giving result in more donated dollars getting to affected credit unions quicker and more efficiently.

Now on-line fundraising is not a panacea. But in the case of credit unions it does present an opportunity to increase our capacity to help in times of disaster. That's why NCUF is working with the State Credit Union Foundation Network to establish an on-line giving center that can be activated and tied into by all credit unions in response to major disasters.

I'd like to make one last point. And please do not take this the wrong way. Many credit unions ran disaster campaigns encouraging members and employees to donate to organizations like the Red Cross and Salvation Army. These are fine organizations and do excellent work in response to disasters. But if a credit union is going to promote disaster relief giving, I would like to see helping credit unions as one of the choices. We can make that easier by embracing technology to raise awareness and funds in times of disaster.

I invite credit unions and system providers interested in participating in developing an on-line giving system for credit unions to contact me.

Steve Delfin, a former disaster fundraiser for the Red Cross, is executive director of NCUF in Washington and chairs the ePhilanthropy Foundation. He be reached at 202-508-6769 or sdelfin ncuf.coop.

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