In the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, companies are faced with how to respond in the wake of a natural disaster. Is making a large cash contribution the right approach? What should companies do to be responsible corporate citizens?
Cone Inc., a Boston-based brand strategy and communications agency, offers the following five tips for companies to best support relief efforts:
1. Cash first, but think longer-term: Immediate cash donations allow relief organizations to buy items that meet their most urgent needs (The Federal Emergency Management Agency - www.fema.gov - lists organizations with expertise in disaster relief). Companies also may want to reserve some support until long-term reconstruction goals become clear.
2. Align longer-term giving with current social commitments: Many companies already support a specific issue, such as health, education or the environment. These programs and relationships may be leveraged to support reconstruction 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.
3. Don't give products just because you have them: By sending in-kind products that are not immediately needed by relief organizations, companies actually can 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.
4. Involve your employees: Employees want to help. Companies should provide a way for their employees to donate and also should consider offering a matching grant program to inspire them to give. Companies may also deploy employees as volunteers to assist with reconstruction activities if they have the needed skills.
5. Communicate efforts internally and externally: No company wants to appear exploitative or inappropriate during times of humanitarian disaster. At the same time, companies that fail to communicate may be criticized by employees and customers for failing to contribute. To ensure transparency, companies should provide internal communication to employees; issue brief and modest, facts-only news releases to communicate with the media; and communicate with external stakeholders by providing updates on company participation via the company's Web site.
To get started, companies should create a cross-functional team to develop a charitable response strategy. This team should include senior management from corporate giving, human resources, operations, and communications to determine the level, type and timing of support. Companies also must conduct due diligence on immediate and longer-term grant recipients to ensure their money is being used effectively. Finally, the team should agree upon a transparent internal and external communications strategy.