August 10, 2015

10 Things We Learned From Our Nepal Response

GlobalGiving was not originally established with disaster relief funding in mind, but with thousands of vetted nonprofit partners operating in more than 160 countries and a network of corporate and individual donors that trust us to get money quickly and efficiently to the ground, we have built a disaster response strategy that has helped us raise millions of dollars for our partners to support relief efforts.

Most recently, we implemented our disaster response plan to support our partners in Nepal following the devastation 7.8 earthquake that hit on April 25. In the first 48 hours after the disaster, we raised more than $500,000 for Nepal relief. In the first week, we had raised more than $2 million dollars. To date, we’ve raised more than $5.3 million dollars from more than 35,000 donors in 112 countries to support our partners.

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Each time we respond to a disaster we learn a little more about how to raise money and get it to where it is most needed in the quickest and most effective way possible. One of GlobalGiving’s core values is Listen, Act, Learn, Repeat. Four months after the earthquake struck and we pressed “go” on our disaster response plan, we’d like to take a few minutes to share what aspects of our response worked well and where we hope to improve.

What worked

  1. Cultivate trust. Even before the earthquake hit on April 25, GlobalGiving had raised more than $1.3 million for more than 100 projects in Nepal. Our partners in Nepal had been through our vetting processes and had been providing quarterly reports on their work. We knew how to send them money. They knew our phone number and the names of our staff members. In most cases, we had visited their work on the ground. A pre-existing strong network of partners gave us the confidence that any funds we were able to raise could quickly get to where they could do the most good.
  2. Be ready to act. Each time GlobalGiving responds to a disaster, we refine our response plan. We were able to get our Nepal Earthquake Relief Fund online to start receiving donations just five hours after the earthquake hit. We were able to quickly communicate with our partner nonprofits, find out what they needed, and get an initial round of funding to first responders just six days after the quake struck.
  3. Get social. The most up-to-date news on the earthquake and the conversation about how best to respond was primarily taking place on social media. Our communications team worked in shifts to monitor social media 24 hours a day and make sure we were engaged in the right conversations.
  4. Fund local – Our partners were working in Nepal before the earthquake hit, and they will be there long after international attention has moved on to the next crisis. They are best placed to provide immediate relief, but also to support the long-term recovery, by supporting Dalit women’s groups, providing long-term psychosocial counseling to survivors, and making sure children are provided the support they need to return to class when schools reopen.
  5. Be transparent – Inevitably, within months after every major disaster, reports on mismanagement of funds, ineffective projects, and a lack of accountability plague recovery efforts. GlobalGiving is committed to transparency on where our funding is going and how it is being used. We share nearly-real-time data on where our funding is going with the International Aid Data Transparency Initiative, as well as with the Foundation Center. We publish where funding is going on our own website, and our partners on the ground provide quarterly reports on their progress, which are shared directly with donors. We also maintained an up-to-date FAQ page on our response as we received questions from donors.

What we can do better next time

  1. Improve Fundraisers (Peer-to-Peer tools) – After a disaster, individuals want not only to donate, but also to mobilize their friends, family, and other networks to give. Companies also come up with ad-hoc ideas about how to generate support. We had hundreds of individuals and companies create peer-to-peer pages on our site to do this, but our Fundraiser Tool, while functional, is kind of clunky and required a lot of customer service support for users. Some potential fundraisers gave up and set up pages on an alternate platform.
  2. Scale automated systems – many of our systems require specialized human intervention to run smoothly. Entering donations received by check, reviewing project reports submitted by our partner nonprofits, and checking for fraud all require human eyes (and keyboard strokes or mouse clicks) to function. We’ll never be able to take the human element out entirely (nor would we wish to), but before the next disaster strikes, we’d like to make our systems smarter so that additional human capacity can be added without requiring staff or volunteers to go through specialized training.
  3. Form a customer service posse – The week after the earthquake, traffic on our site spiked to nearly unprecedented levels. Our customer service team was fielding more phone calls and responding to more emails from donors than ever before. We want to train up a second level of staff that can be “deputized” as additional customer service support for our donors and nonprofit partners when the next disaster strikes.
  4. Expect the Unexpected. Disasters don’t necessarily adhere to business hours. When the earthquake hit, most of our team was just waking up on Saturday morning. We created a virtual “disaster war room” using HipChat, which allowed us to coordinate in real-time, but it did take some precious hours to get everyone caught up, signed up, and logged in. Next time, we’ll make sure we have the right technology in place in advance, and implement a phone tree to make sure the right people are online as quickly as possible.
  5. Plan to follow through. During a disaster, everyone on staff has the energy and drive to pitch in to do the extra work required to respond, on top of what was already planned. But the follow-up—with media, with donors, and with our partners—is a long, ongoing process, and should be built into plans and organizational priorities. We recognize that disaster response is a long-term effort for our partners; we should do more to build in time and systems for our own ongoing follow-up as well.

After a big project, like a disaster response, GlobalGiving uses a simple tool called an After Action Review (AAR) to help us maximize organizational learning. We get everyone involved in the project in the same room for an hour with an assigned facilitator to review what worked, what didn’t, and we will do differently next time.

We are proud of what we have been able to do to support our partners working in Nepal, but we know we can do better. How does your organization codify learning? Share your favorite methodology or tool in the comments, or tweet us at @globalgiving.

Michael Gale
Michael manages GlobalGiving's efforts to grow our network of global do-gooders by helping more world-changing nonprofits join the GlobalGiving community. Before becoming a GlobalGiver, Michael supported grassroots nonprofits in Latin America as a program officer with the Global Fund for Children, and he has also dipped his toes in the fields of immigrant legal services and indigenous South American languages. Michael earned bachelor's degrees in international studies and Spanish studies from American University and his master's degree in Latin American studies from the University of Texas at Austin. Outside the office, you're likely to find Michael on stage or in his garden.