After So Many Disasters, Nonprofit Relief Organizations Struggle Against ‘Donor Fatigue’

Even generous givers find their budgets stretched by hurricanes, earthquakes and fires around the world.

By Michael MarksSeptember 21, 2017 2:27 pm,

In the past month, hurricanes have hit the Gulf Coast and the Caribbean, an earthquake has shocked Mexico and wildfires raged in California. Early in Mother Nature’s most recent season of discontent, donations from everyday folks and Fortune 500 companies poured in to help those affected.  But after so many disasters, how much longer will contributions continue?

Bob Ottenhoff is president and CEO of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, a Washington-based nonprofit group that consults on disaster giving, and raises disaster relief money. He says Americans are incredibly generous.When they hear about disasters. They want to help. He predicts the amount of money donated for the current cluster of natural disasters will be around the average received after other catastrophes.

The media is vital during crises. They help spread the word and raise awareness, he says.

“The more media attention that is given to a disaster, the more dollars are going to flow,” Ottenhoff says. That means as media coverage slowly begins to die down, so do the contributions.

For this reason, Ottenhoff understands why people would want to wait a little while before donating. The recovery period is expected to be a long one, and Ottenhoff says a donor’s contribution may be even more valuable after some time has passed.

Donors are subject to “disaster-fatigue,” meaning people have watched disaster coverage for so long that they’re left wondering when things will go back to normal. Ottenhoff’s organization deals with this problem by placing all the money they’ve raised into a fund that is then distributed over a three-to-twelve month period, after the disaster.

“Disasters are a part of our life, and they’re going to grow in frequency and they’re going to grow in intensity,” Ottenhoff says. “This sense that ‘oh it’s an aberration, it’s going to take a few days and then go back to normal.’ That’s not the new normal. The new normal is that we’re going to have to begin thinking about these issues all the time.”

Written by Dani Matias.