disaster response

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by Rachel Hutchisson, Business Doing Good & Blackbaud, Inc.

Disasters happen, like it or not.  Is your small business ready?

Have you thought about how to protect your people, your products, your customers, your office…and how to help others in the community who might be suffering?  Have you considered your role outside of your local setting when tragedy strikes on a national or global level?

If the answer is no, don’t worry.  Simply check out this helpful guide, posted in the Resources section of Business Doing Good, to learn how to prepare.  The trick is to be ready, to make some plans, and to know how you’ll respond before disaster strikes.  So take a look, involve your people, and get yourself and your small business ready.

If you have questions along the way, let me know.  The more we help each other, the better prepared we’ll all be.

P.S.  Also in the Resources section, check out guides on establishing a giving plan, getting involved in volunteerism and focusing on the environment at your small business.


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by Rachel Hutchisson, Business Doing Good & Blackbaud, Inc.

Teamwork matters, and no one needs a team more than in a disaster.

But teams matter before a disaster, too, in a very important way.  Your team — your people who work alongside each other every day in your small business — are the ones who are standing ready to help you plan for tough times.

It’s funny.  People always talk about businesses as if they are impersonal.  They are organizations, 3rd parties, “entities,” organizations.  I’m guilty of it too, of calling the powerful culture and world around me something so bland.  But the reality is that businesses are simply collections of people.  Sure, there are brands and strategic plans and important goals that are sought collectively.  But, when it comes down to it, these collectives are made up of people. Of individuals.

In my professional life, I work with all the nonprofits that ask us for charitable support.  And it is my pledge that, over time, I will make them see that we are not impersonal brands but, instead, people worth knowing.  People who bring a passion to the work we do.  People who care about doing good.

The same is true for small businesses across the world.  Each one is made up of a group of individuals who care, led by someone willing to take a risk and wanting to feel a need.  So why not rely on these same people to craft the plan the business needs to respond to a disaster?

Admit it, disaster WILL happen.  We don’t want it to, but it will.  So take the following steps to make sure you are prepared:

  • Ask your people if they are interested in helping to plan.
  • Gather the team, and allow them to elect a leader.  Someone will naturally take the helm and appreciate the fact you allowed that to happen.
  • Talk about what you have done in the past when bad things happened.
  • Brainstorm about the types of disasters that could take you by surprise.  Take notes!
  • Set up a series of meetings where you walk through each scenario (what might happen, how you can plan for your own business, what you can do to help).
  • Designate an employee to write everything up in a document you keep in a place everyone can access.
  • Develop a to do list of items that need follow up. 
  • Acknowledge that this will always be a work in progress, but planning WILL help.
  • Develop a phone tree and roles team members can play so you know who’s on first when something happens.
  • Finally, share what you have done with other businesses.  The more small businesses in your community that are ready for disaster, the better, right?

By involving your own team in the planning, you will end up with a stronger team.  A group of people that knows each other better, that understands their role, that is committed to action.  Regardless of whether that disaster strikes, your people will value your business even more.

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by Rachel Hutchisson, Business Doing Good & Blackbaud, Inc.

Disaster has struck.

Your community, your customers or people in other places you simply want to help are in need.  What do you do — as a person and a small business owner or employee — to lend a hand?  We already know that donating used clothing and other items you just don’t want or need anymore isn’t the best direction.  So what can you do?  It’s pretty simple.  You can donate money.  Where to donate, well, that’s not always as straightforward.

Something bad happens — a storm, a shooting, a fire.  You see it on the news.  You want to act, right then, immediately.  The local or national news is posting phone numbers of nonprofits to call that are taking donations for disaster relief.  Should you respond?  Maybe.  Is it ok to wait and get a better sense of both the scope of the disaster and the needs of the victims?  Absolutely.  In fact, it’s what I strongly recommend.

Giving is emotional, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.  But sometimes giving right when you hear about a disaster can be more about making you feel you have done something to help than getting the money to those who know how to best use it.  It’s for this reason that the company where I lead the give back efforts tends to acknowledge what’s happening right away and then takes a step back to see what unfolds over the days to come. 

The first 24 hours after a disaster are, by definition, hectic and confusing.  The focus is on emergency aid, clear information and ensuring that families know the location and status of their loved ones.  Cell lines are jammed.  Stores are emptied of supplies.  Food, shelter, water, safety are the priorities.  News reports are often incomplete.  If you’re not an aid worker and don’t know how to help, it’s best to let the professionals do their jobs.  So after making sure your own business — your people and their families — are ok if it’s a disaster in your community, then taking stock is a good next step.

As a few days pass, the stories in the media become clearer.  The reach and impact of the disaster is better quantified.  You get a much better sense of what happened, who the victims are and what they actually need.  The other thing that happens is that an organization or maybe several in collaboration step up as the clear leader in handling not only the front-line disaster relief (something we always should fund and value in our communities) but also the longer-term recovery efforts.  It’s not unusual for this work to be done by a community foundation, a United Way, a local government task force, the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army or some other group entirely.  It can depend on the location, the scope of the disaster, and who has the best ability to address the problem.  

By giving money (your own, donations from employees who want to help, collections from customers – whatever you feel is appropriate) you are equipping those who know the situation best the flexibility to decide how to respond.  And you are freeing them from dealing with donated goods that may add more of a burden than they are worth.  So next time a disaster strikes, keep it simple.

1) Take care of those in your immediate world, making sure they are safe

2) Commit to making a donation

3) Wait to see who is taking the lead in disaster relief and who will know best how to spend the money you and others will give

4) Donate!

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by Rachel Hutchisson, Business Doing Good & Blackbaud, Inc.

We all like to help.  It’s human nature.

And we particularly like to help when something really bad happens, whether the disaster is man made or caused by Mother Nature.  Helping makes us manage our own emotions, channeling the angst, pain, sorrow or just sheer empathy into something productive.

The natural human reaction to give, to help, to be there for others, is such a positive thing.  But thinking about how you, your employees and your small business actually HELPS can make the difference between truly being a helping hand and adding to the problem. 

Although there’s much valid discussion in the nonprofit and philanthropic world about impact (understanding the results a nonprofit accomplishes when investing a donor’s money or the “good” being done), it’s still very true that people give for emotional reasons.  And that’s ok.  We act, we respond as people who understand that there’s something happening we’d like to help address.  This emotional reaction is especially true when disasters strike largely because we are on what’s become a very active media-driven sideline.  What used to come to us only on the TV news, the radio or the next day’s paper now unfolds — literally as horrific acts are still happening — via text alerts on our smart phones, tweets on Twitter, posts on Facebook, live news coverage and so on.  These days, we only read the newspaper the following day to get a recap that’s admittedly dated.

None of this is bad.  It’s just the way we live today.  And this technology-driven media stream actually helps nonprofits and others get the word out quickly that a) there’s a significant problem, and b) there are ways you can help.  So what’s the issue here?  Why does HOW you help matter? 

It’s as simple as this.  When people respond to disasters emotionally, sometimes the ways they choose to act aren’t all that helpful. Other times, their actions actually cause additional headaches for those who already have more on their hands than they can handle.  One of the best examples of this is “goods drives.”  Two quick examples here.  Hurricane Sandy devastated the New Jersey Shore.  Communities across the nation put drives together to collect water, emergency supplies and other goods.  Businesses donated trucks and drivers to get the goods to those in need.  But what happened?  A lot of junk (clothing that was better suited for Goodwill) made its way to storm victims alongside more useful supplies.  If you remember one thing, remember this.  Disaster-related goods drives are NOT a time to donate things you were planning on getting rid of anyway.  Read this on-point piece from Fashionista about “How Not to be Clueless.”

A second example takes us to Sandy Hook, CT.  In the wake of the shootings, people began sending toys.  On the surface, it’s a lovely idea.  These kids witnessed something no one should have to witness.  They lost friends, classmates and will spend years dealing with the after effects of trauma.  Was it nice that a 10-year-old began a toy drive?  Sure.  But, in the end, more than 63,000 toys donated to the Sandy Hook community were repurposed (given to victims of Hurricane Sandy, to children’s nonprofits and even to kids in India).  Again, this isn’t a bad thing, but it wasn’t what the donors intended.

So what to do instead?  We’ll talk about that next time on Business Doing Good.  I’ll give you a hint.  It’s all about giving…and giving to those who know how to channel the money to those in need.

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by Rachel Hutchisson, Business Doing Good & Blackbaud, Inc.

June 1st here in South Carolina means sun, fun and the end of the school year.  The Spoleto Festival USA is in full swing, the beach roads are busy with traffic, and it’s getting hot outside.  It’s the summer season for sure, even though the calendar doesn’t officially tell us it’s summer until June 21st.  

But June 21st also holds another meaning for those who live along the coast.  It officially marks the beginning of the Atlantic hurricane season, a season residents have learned to respect (and fear). 

We know from experience that a little bit of preparation for ourselves and our businesses makes a big difference.  We’ve learned the hard way – from 1989′s Hurricane Hugo, which landed exactly where we didn’t want it to land – on our sea islands, on downtown, smack on top of Charleston.  It tore down houses, shut businesses that were never able to reopen, created mass destruction.  It’s true to say that it was years before Charleston fully bounced back.  In the process, we learned that preparation is essential.

Whether it’s for your home (or your employees’ homes, as they need to be prepared) or your business, having an emergency kit ready is important.  At a minimum, your kit should include:

  • Water (a gallon a day per person for 3-4 days)
  • Food (a supply of nonperishable items, again for 3-4 days)
  • Battery-powered radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert
  • Gloves
  • Flashlights and extra batteries
  • Any other type of battery you might need
  • First aid kit
  • Plastic sheeting to stop rain from getting into a damaged building after the fact
  • Garbage bags
  • Wipes
  • Tools

This list is just a beginning and largely focuses on you and your people.  You also need to be thinking about how to prepare your actual business site for the coming storm.  Do you need boards to cover the front windows of your shop?  Do you need a generator to kick in when power goes off, keeping critical supplies at the right temperature?  Do you have an emergency message recorded that can be deployed once the phones are up but you may not be back in your space?

This may all seem like a lot of trouble over nothing.  That’s how many feel until a disaster becomes personal, when it hits their businesses and shuts them down for days, weeks, sometimes forever.  So take a vow, as we beg1n this hurricane season, to sit down with the team to talk preparedness.  Begin working on a plan for how you would handle a disaster (and it doesn’t just have to be a hurricane).  Think about the supplies you want and need to have at the ready.  Think about how to prepare your people.  Think ahead.  You won’t regret it.

For more helpful lists on supplies you may want based on the type of disaster, check the Small Business Administration’s helpful site here.

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by Rachel Hutchisson, Business Doing Good & Blackbaud, Inc.

Disasters happen all the time.  Like it or not.

Big ones, little ones…bad things happen that we can’t control, and they take all sorts of forms.  Mother Nature hits us with floods, fire, mudslides, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and more.  And then there are those disasters — maybe it’s better to call them crises — created by people, those man-man events that we hear about way too often in the news.  School shootings, bombings, violent behavior that can instantly overwhelm and affect an entire community..sometimes an entire nation.

So what does this have to do with you?  Everyone, no matter how big a business or how small, needs to be prepared.

We live, work, function in communities.  Even if we like to think that our business “doesn’t have anything to do with” whatever event — natural or otherwise — that’s happening, if it’s going on in our community, we’re involved.  Over the next few posts, we’re going to talk about disaster planning.  That kind of sounds funny, like we’re planning to have a problem.  But, as one of the people who leads proactive disaster response for the company where I work, I can tell you that being prepared really matters.  It’s not just about being able to handle what happens to you — water seeping into your building or an event that keeps you from being about to get to work, effectively shutting your operation down.  Disaster response is also about figuring out — in advance — how you can help other people when bad things happen to them.  It’s about being a good citizen and doing it in a way that helps, not hurts.

How could disaster response hurt?  Believe me, good intentions without strategic thought can cause problems.  Think about the “goods drives” that happen following disasters where people lose their homes.  You know what often happens?  In addition to very helpful things like water and basic supplies, the donated items often include a lot of junk — clothing that’s not needed and not used.  It gets shipped in trucks donated for the drive to places that already have enough on their hands.  That’s just one example of how thinking ahead about how to help is a good idea.

So tune in as we talk about disasters.  Being prepared is the first step in helping out.