8 Dos and Don’ts of Helping with Natural Disaster Relief

Posted on June 05, 2019

Parishes play a vital role in helping with natural disaster relief. But, it can be complicated. On the one hand, communities look to parishes like yours for leadership and ways to get involved. On the other hand, relief agencies have specialized resources and certified staff and volunteers in place to handle these types of situations. With so many people organizing recovery efforts, it becomes a challenge to know the most effective ways to impact your community.

The first step is learning and following best practices. Let’s look at 8 dos and don’ts of helping with natural disaster relief to ensure your parish maximizes its impact.

1. Don’t wait until the last minute to prepare
Natural disasters happen with little to no warning. They do massive damage to the location and impact lives in unpredictable and heartbreaking ways. That’s why all relief efforts must be strategic and well-planned. By preparing ahead of time, you prevent chaos and are more productive.

ParishSOFT Guide for Parishes to Prepare for Natural Disasters is an excellent resource if you want to get started. You’ll learn how to evaluate risks and resources in your area, raise money through focused online giving, and much more.

2. Don’t let people donate items or volunteer without a plan
After a disaster, there’s a sense of urgency to throw clothes, canned goods, blankets, and other items in the car and head to the church. Or, immediately offer to volunteer. The overwhelming amount of support is inspiring but can create disorder if you don’t have a plan.

Speak with experienced relief organizations because they’re equipped to understand the needs of the community. Ask for a list of essential donations in order of importance. Then, let donors know what they can give to make the biggest impact (and you won’t be stuck with a surplus of items people don’t need or volunteers with nowhere to go).

3. Do let people know where cash donations are going
People tend to donate clothes or their time rather than cash to help natural disaster victims. For many, these gestures of kindness simply feel more personal and significant. However, money is often needed the most to help the community recover and rebuild.

Encourage monetary donations by showing how those gifts are used. That way, people get to experience the results of giving, as if they dropped off food or volunteered. Here’s an example of how the Salvation Army breaks down financial donations:

  • $10 feeds a disaster survivor for one day
  • $30 provides one food box containing staple foods for a family of four. Or, one household cleanup kit containing brooms, mops, buckets, and other cleaning supplies
  • $100 provides snacks and drinks for 125 survivors and emergency personnel at the scene of a disaster
  • $250 provides one hot meal to 100 people or keeps a hydration station operational for 24 hours
  • $500 keeps a mobile feeding unit fully operational for one day

4. Don’t neglect your communication and donation tools
Take a good hard look at your communication and giving tools when planning for natural disaster relief. You may discover they need to be updated for smoother workflows, outreach efforts, and accepting donations.

Remember, a lot of people that give during emergencies don’t attend church, but they do want to get involved in a meaningful way. Here are a few essential tools that make it incredibly easy for them to communicate and donate:

  • Text giving lets people give in seconds and is perfect for fast communication
  • Push notifications allow you to send emergency alerts and scheduled messages
  • Facebook giving buttons are ideal for those turning to social media for updates
  • A church website provides an excellent hub of communication for the community
  • Online donation forms embed on your church’s website for quick access to customized natural disaster campaigns
  • Mobile giving makes it easy to give from anywhere, anytime on a smartphone

5. Do focus on long-term recovery projects
People immediately respond to natural disasters. For some, it’s a knee-jerk reaction, and for others, they want to do everything they can when victims are suffering the most. But, once the initial cleanup and recovery efforts are complete, many that traveled to help return home and those that live in the area go back to work and everyday life.

Even though efforts slow down, it doesn’t mean the job is complete. By focusing on long-term recovery projects like building homes, you not only help your community recover—you help revitalize it!

6. Do support local businesses
It can take months (if not years) for local businesses to recover from a hurricane, flood, or fire. Supporting local establishments is one way to continue rebuilding the community long after the natural disaster has passed.

Show support by moving Bible study classes to a nearby coffee shop or buying vegetables at the farmer’s market for a meal the church is hosting. Find out if anyone from your congregation owns a local business and encourage others to visit them. Pay attention to businesses that neighbor the parish and swing by every now and then.

7. Don’t think you have to do it on your own
Natural disasters have a broad impact leaving the community and victims with an array of unique needs. Don’t think your parish has to solve all these problems. Partner with a reputable relief agency and they’ll guide you towards projects that need attention. By doing this, the process is more organized for every organization, church, and individual involved.

8. Do start a yearly training for natural disaster relief
The best way to provide compassionate and practical help is to schedule annual training for natural disaster relief. With yearly training, you can hit the ground running when the unpredictable occurs. Here are a few examples of what to do during training:

  • Update contact lists
  • Partner with or introduce yourself to disaster relief professionals
  • Review local, state, and federal data to better understand the risks in your area
  • Go over procedures and tools for communicating with staff, volunteers, and your community
  • Create a disaster response plan or update and review your current one

If you’re not sure where to begin, search for a class in your area that teaches the processes to respond to and recover from disasters. There are also emergency preparedness manuals and other educational materials available online.

By following these 8 dos and don’ts, your parish will be ready to improve the situation and maximize your impact when helping with natural disaster relief.

Let us help your parish prepare for natural disaster relief with our second generation online giving with ParishSOFT Giving and communication tools from ParishCast. Contact us today at 866-930-4774 x6 or contact us online at parishsoft.com/about/contact-us.

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