Fundraising for Victims of Turkey Earthquake Sees Mixed Response

The American Red Cross saw a lot of activity on its Web site in less than 48 hours after an earthquake hit Turkey and killed thousands of people this week, but other groups, like Adventist Development and Relief Agency and Catholic Relief Services, have seen a slow response.

Close to 400 donations totaling $41,000 came into the American Red Cross' site the morning after the news of the earthquake.

“We are currently in response mode, but we are also in the planning mode with the Turkish Red Crescent over there,” said Darren Irby, spokesman for the American Red Cross. “Once they find out exactly what they are going to need, we will then be doing more to contact our donors about making donations. At this point, we are just trying to use every form of media we have available to us to promote or Web site and 1-800 number.”

For World Relief, Wheaton, IL, this is the first disaster for which they have been able to accept online donations. According to Pamela Barden, vice president of resource development at World Relief, the activity on the site within the first two days following the earthquake was excellent, with more than 100 gifts averaging $115.

“This is sort of a testing ground for us, so I can't compare it to the response we have seen for any other disasters,” Barden said.

She said there is a great interest by Americans in the disaster but that they need to be effectively informed on what exactly is going on.

“I don't think people are tired of giving to disasters, but what happens is that a fatigue sets in on not knowing where to look for the information,” Barden said. “They are not tired of meeting genuine needs, and it is up to us to provide them with specific information that is relevant and informative. We have to keep it in their minds.”

A decision on whether to do a direct mail campaign in September will be made when she gets back from Turkey later this month, said Barden. There will not be a direct e-mail campaign for this particular disaster, because the software that will enable them to run one is being installed this week.

A number of groups, however, have received minimal activity on their Web sites as well as over the phone.

“I think because this situation is falling on the heels of the Kosovo crisis is one of the reasons the response has been so slow,” said Tereza Byrne, bureau chief for marketing and development at the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, Silver Springs, MD. “With Kosovo, people gave till it hurt; and at this point, they may be all given out.”

Byrne, whose organization received about 40 online donations in the first 24-hour period after the earthquake, thinks there is also a human element missing from this situation that would have elicited a better response from donors.

“This is a natural disaster, and unless they are really close to home, people are going to be unlikely to respond,” she said. “With a war there is the guilt factor because it is caused by other people. And Turkey is not seen as a country in need or poverty stricken. Had this been Bangladesh there probably would have been a bigger response.”

Activity can be judged by what takes place in the first 24 hours and then the next 10 days, Byrne said. Since the first day, she said, activity has not increased dramatically and she doesn't believe it will. “I could be wrong, but unless the media continues to keep it on the front page I don't see it rising a lot more.”

ADRA will not be doing any e-mail, direct mail or telephone campaigns to its donors. But it will be sending out news releases to members and posting updates on its site. Callers to its toll-free number, which Byrne said has been slower than Hurricane Mitch and Kosovo, also will be informed that they can make donations to the earthquake victims.

Catholic Relief Services, Baltimore, which just helped raise close to $30 million for the Kosovo refugees, has seen moderate action from donors at its Web site. In the first 24-hour period it received nearly 100 online donations.

“People were coming to our site and making donations before we even put up a notice that we were taking donations for Turkey,” said Margaret Guellich, director of direct marketing at CRS. “I believe most of the action we are going to see with this situation is going to come through the Web site.”

CRS does not have any plans to do any e-mail or direct mail campaigns to raise donations, but it is working with its partners in Turkey and Caritas, the Red Cross version of the Catholic church.

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