Charities adopt new methods in emergency fundraising

The appeal for those affected by the Haiti earthquake is expected to be the biggest since the Asian tsunami appeal of December 2004. Much has changed since then, as Kaye Wiggins reports

Haiti earthquake. Photo by Mark Pearson, ShelterBox
Haiti earthquake. Photo by Mark Pearson, ShelterBox

Some aid agencies use all methods, some now stick to new media. The emergency fundraising appeal for those affected by the Haiti earthquake is expected to be the biggest since the Asian tsunami appeal in December 2004.

A lot has changed in the world of fundraising since then: the recession has made raising money more difficult, but social media has made it easier for charities to communicate.

The approaches to raising funds in disasters vary dramatically. Some charities, such as the British Red Cross, have opted for the scattergun technique. Richard Verden, the charity's head of individual giving, says: "We're going to telephone as many people as possible; we've sent out 130,000 pieces of direct mail and emailed all the supporters we can.

"We've used full-page press adverts, we've done a lot online and we've asked our street and door-to-door fundraisers to talk about the appeal.

"With an emergency appeal, you can make multiple contacts with supporters in a way that might not be acceptable were it used to raise general funds," he says.

Jeremie Bodin, head of emergency fundraising at Save the Children, says it has taken a similar approach. "In this kind of emergency, you contact everyone," he says. "We've even launched press adverts, which don't usually raise much, because they work in an emergency."

Other charities have been more selective. Andrew Cates, chief executive of orphan charity SOS Children's Villages, says: "We won't do advertising, direct mail, telephone or street fundraising because they're not as cost-effective as online methods. We blog, we post videos on YouTube and we use Facebook and Twitter. If you have good online content, it's all you need."

Glyn Duke, head of supporter care at ActionAid, says it expects to raise more money through a 100,000-strong direct mail campaign than online.

The DEC itself appears to be shifting towards newer fundraising techniques. Kath Hindley, its deputy chief executive, says online donations made up £14m of the £25m it raised in the first five days. She says £8m was raised online after an announcement on Twitter before the TV appeal began.

Most charities have mainly received one-off gifts so far, although some will attempt to convert these donors into regular givers. This could be effective, according to Cates, who says most of those who donated in reponse to the quake did so through monthly direct debits. "People are very responsive to our message that long-term help will be needed in Haiti once the emergency appeals are over," he says.


  • The Disasters Emergency Committee was set up in 1963 and launched its first appeal in response to an earthquake in Turkey in 1966. The appeal raised £560,000.
  • Since then, it has run 54 appeals to help people affected by wars and natural disasters.
  • The largest sum raised was for victims of the south-east Asia tsunami that struck on 26 December 2004. The appeal raised £390m.
  • The figure was more than six times higher than the DEC's second-largest appeal, which raised £59m for people affected by the October 2005 earthquake in Kashmir, Pakistan and northern India.
  • Money donated to the DEC is split between its 13 member charities according to their activity levels in the areas affected.

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