Corporate First Responders: Best Practices for Giving During a Disaster

Hurricane Sandy caused more than 90 deaths (to date), leveled seaside towns, ripped apart cherished monuments and caused catastrophic property damage along its 960 mile-wide path of destruction.  As communities begin to emerge in the wake of the storm, the public is turning to relief organizations and corporations for help.  

Here at What Do You Stand For?, recent initiatives from Duracell and the Kellogg Company have caught our attention as corporate first-responders in Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. We’ve teamed up with Cone Communications’ Vice President of New and Social MediaAlex Nicholson, to analyze the effectiveness of these campaigns in bringing awareness to disaster assistance via social media.

  • Duracell rolled out its “Rapid Responder” four-by-four truck and stationary “Power Forward Community Center” to provide much-needed charging stations to lower Manhattan and New Jersey residents. The campaign is receiving kudos from consumers on social media, including celebrities like “Real Housewife” Caroline Manzo. Grateful for the opportunity to restore battery life to mobile devices and connect with loved ones, many consumers include “thanks” and similar sentiments in their Duracell-related tweets.
  • Less than 24 hours after Hurricane Sandy made landfall, The Kellogg Company announced a $250,000 food donation to longtime partner Feeding America and a $250,000 cash donation to the American Red Cross. The lightning-fast relief effort was paired with tweets from the brand’s twitter handle, Kellogg Foundation and its media partner, Anderson Live.


Both Duracell’s and Kellogg’s disaster response initiatives are to be applauded, but it is interesting to note the driving forces of each campaign’s social media. While Duracell’s initiatives are being shared and discussed organically by people who are directly benefitting from the charging stations, Kellogg’s social media communication appears to be almost entirely driven from the corporate level, occurring in its owned and partner channels. “Duracell’s initiative may be more successful in spreading awareness on social media because consumers are personally interacting with those efforts in their communities,” Alex Nicholson says. “Although a $500,000 donation is still so imperative for relief efforts, those affected by Hurricane Sandy may feel less emotionally connected to an initiative they don’t immediately see or feel – and therefore less motivated to share, thank or engage via social channels.”

As more companies continue to offer relief and recovery aid in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Cone Communications offers the following five tips for companies to best support relief efforts:

  1. Leverage what you have: Some of the most effective disaster relief efforts come not in the form of cash donations, but rather support and opportunities to meet basic needs. Restaurants, hotels, offices, gyms and other organizations can offer showers, charging stations, Wi-Fi and other services that help victims cope and plan their next moves in the wake of a disaster. Although cash donations are critical and allow relief organizations to buy items that meet their most urgent needs (the Federal Emergency Management Agency lists organizations with expertise in disaster relief), companies should consider all their available assets during recovery and reconstruction efforts.

    In addition, many companies already support a specific issue, such as health, education or the environment. These programs and relationships may be leveraged to support reconstruction and recovery activities. For example, a company that supports education could provide transitional education programs for displaced students. This maximizes in-house expertise and builds on a company’s reputation for supporting a specific cause.
     
  2. Don’t give products just because you have them: Although leveraging all assets is critical, companies should also think strategically about how those assets can be deployed. By sending in-kind products that are not immediately needed by relief organizations, companies can actually slow down the relief process by creating unnecessary administrative burdens. Companies should instead proactively seek out in-kind requests from government agencies or relief organizations.
     
  3. Evaluate and address diverse stakeholder needs: Given the geographic reach and scale of some natural disasters, many companies have employees, consumers and community residents directly affected. These stakeholder needs will be different from those of people watching from afar with high expectations of corporate citizenship and a compulsion to personally help. Companies must look both at those affected and those stakeholders who want to help to determine the best giving approach.
     
  4. Engage your employees: Employees want to help and they want to know what their employers are doing to help those in disaster situations. Companies should not only provide channels for employees to donate to relief efforts but also make volunteer opportunities available as appropriate. And, as front-line brand ambassadors, companies must provide internal communication to employees to express sympathetic reactions, updates on recovery efforts, opportunities to get involved and longer term plans for relief and assistance.
     
  5. Communicate efforts externally – and wherever appropriate: No company wants to appear exploitative during a disaster. At the same time, companies that fail to communicate may be criticized for failing to contribute. To ensure transparency, companies should issue brief, facts-only news releases to communicate with the media; and communicate with external stakeholders by providing updates on company participation, including how donations are utilized, via the company’s website. In situations where power lines are down, leaving traditional communication channels hard to access, companies must consider ALL channels, such as social media, to convey critical information to victims and employees. Twitter, Facebook and other mobile-accessible platforms can quite literally be lifelines when other platforms are no longer an option.


To expedite disaster relief plans, companies should create a cross-functional team to develop a charitable response strategy. This team should include representatives from senior management, corporate giving, human resources, operations and communications to determine the level, type and timing of support, as well as a transparent communications strategy.

Tell us about the Hurricane Sandy relief efforts you’ve seen by using #WDYSF on Twitter.

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