Jill Friedman Fixler and Beth Steinhorn on the Tragedy in Haiti -- How Can We Help?

Much has been written about the urgent need for cash in the immediate response to the tragedy unfolding in Haiti. However, many have also expressed interest in how to best engage volunteers who want to help both in the immediate timeframe and in the longer recovery stage. I'm pleased to offer the following guest post by Jill Friedman Fixler, owner of JFFixler & Associates, author of Boomer Volunteer Engagement: Collaborate Today, Thrive Tomorrow, and a nationally known leader recognized for her innovative approaches to strengthening nonprofit organizations through volunteer engagement and management, and Beth Steinhorn, Senior Volunteer Engagement Strategist with JFFixler & Associates.

The stories are devastating; the images heart wrenching; and the future even worse. The earthquake in Haiti has shaken the world and the emotional aftershocks reverberate every time we turn to the news. As individuals, we all want to help – but it’s difficult to find a way to help when we live hundreds or thousands of miles away. As professionals in the nonprofit and service sectors, we are driven to help – even if disaster relief is not part of our organizations’ core mission. But how? Organizations who work as first responders, search and rescue, and direct relief have built-in infrastructures to respond and support. For the rest of us, though, there are ways to leverage our existing structures and rally our constituents and volunteers to respond. We can make a difference.

Many of our blog postings and newsletters of late have focused, not surprisingly, on how to leverage the unprecedented convergence of a troubled economy, a nation-wide focus on volunteerism, and a generational shift in how people volunteer. We talk about the abundant resource of skills and passions of our volunteers. The tragic earthquake in Haiti is yet another opportunity to harness the energy and compassion of our volunteers and their communities – and direct them towards supporting the relief effort. No matter how helpless we may feel (and no matter how limited our own organizations’ resources may appear to be), there are ways for each of our organizations to help and there is no reason why we can’t get started today.

You don’t have to do this alone. Convene a task force of volunteers to work with you and have them meet next week. Their first task? Review and track the needs of the relief effort as they come to light. As of writing this posting, the most important need is financial donations, but soon, other needs will likely emerge, such as supplies – ranging from computers to diapers – skills, program expertise, and more. Your organization has many of these resources within its world and a task force can research and review those resources, including staff, volunteers, donors, clients, office supplies, technology, programs, and more. Next, the task force should develop a plan of action. There are many possibilities and many levels of participation. Even a small effort can make a big difference. For example, the task force can develop a campaign to raise funds from your own constituents and advise them on how to give to the Haitian relief effort through reputable sources. Rarely do we, in the nonprofit world, share our volunteers or fundraise on another’s behalf, but, in this case, your constituents will appreciate that you are providing them with information and helping them to make a difference. The task force can develop this fundraising message and then share it through email, broadcast it through online social networking, use it in giving circles, and talk it up at upcoming events. Your volunteers, clients, and donors will appreciate that you – an organization whom they trust – is stepping up as a leader of the community’s efforts. 

On another level, the task force can look at your organization’s mission and existing partnerships. Organizational relationships with individuals, nonprofits, and businesses are a resource that could be leveraged for the good of this cause. Identifying ways to cultivate these partnerships for the short-term purpose of aid to Haiti not only will make a difference but also is a good way to test out the partnership and see if it is a good fit for future endeavors as well.

We are all moved by this tragedy and, despite our geographic distance, we are not removed from it. We have an opportunity to utilize our profound circles of influence to rally people together and help direct their desire to act – and to position our organizations as one of the leaders in that effort. Most in our communities are feeling, “I wish I could do something.” We believe that not only should we do something, but that we really can do something to help in Haiti. Your volunteers can direct that and they will be grateful to you for giving them an outlet to do so.

 

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