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Don’t be surprised by a sudden influx of support

When a Category 5 hurricane struck a coastal community, its most prominent health and human services charity was prepared to act with rescue plans, supplies, emergency shelters and well-trained staffers. What the not-for-profit wasn’t prepared for was a sudden influx of support, including donations.

Too much support may not sound like a problem, but for nonprofits that aren’t prepared for a flood of attention and new funds, it can be difficult to handle. Right now, when you aren’t contending with an emergency, consider what your organization would do if the status quo were upended.

Keep your site online

Disaster-relief charities, such as the Red Cross, have long dealt with periodic spikes in attention and donation inflows. For example, during major natural disasters in recent years, some inundated nonprofit websites have gone offline because so many users were visiting them.

To prevent this from potentially happening to your nonprofit, know your system’s (particularly your donation app’s) ultimate capacity and create an IT contingency plan you can enact should it approach critical mass. While your nonprofit is in a period of relative calm, track website hits, as well as phone, text and email inquiries, to set a baseline. That way, you’ll be able to recognize a surge of interest if it begins and be ready to quickly enact your contingency plan if needed.

Establish a notification process

Having an early warning system for your website is only one part of being prepared. You also need to be able to mobilize your troops in a hurry. Do you know how to reach all of your board members at any time? Make sure you have an up-to-date contact list. You also can benefit from having a process, such as a phone tree or group text distribution list, to communicate with your board quickly and efficiently, should they need to vote on critical decisions.

Also assign a volunteer coordinator to take charge in an emergency. The coordinator should be able to contact and quickly train new volunteers to deploy where they’ll be most needed.

Build long-term support

A surge in donor and volunteer interest could mean a surge in media attention. Although it might be tempting to say, “not now, we’re busy,” don’t pass up the opportunity to publicize your organization’s mission and the work that’s garnering all the attention.

In most cases, the surge of interest eventually wanes. Before that happens, start to build lasting relationships with new donors, volunteers and media contacts. Inform them about the work your organization does under normal circumstances and suggest ways to get them involved long-term.

Use donations wisely

Finally, know how you’ll put new funds to work. Most donors will probably want their contributions to be used for immediate needs, so give them an option to earmark them for the current challenge. However, if supporters don’t specify how their donations should be used, you may want to place them in a fund for capital improvements and other initiatives. Contact us to discuss donation management.

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