Contributions To Japan Lag Response To Haiti

April 1, 2011       Mark Hrywna      

A week after a historic earthquake and tsunami struck Japan, charitable donations reached nearly $90 million, a considerable sum in just a week but magnitudes less than other recent disasters.

Within a week of the earthquake that rocked Haiti in January 2010, $296 million had been raised, according to The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. Similarly, a week after Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, about $547 million had been raised, and $247 million after the December 2004 tsunami.

The $89.7 million total comes from 26 organizations tracked by The Center on Philanthropy, with $64 million raised by the American Red Cross, according to Executive Director Patrick Rooney. The majority of the $3.3 million raised via mobile giving also has come through the Red Cross.The Center on Philanthropy started tracking disaster giving after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Two weeks after those attacks, the first point at which donations were calculated, about $607 million in donations was raised.

Mobile giving set records after the Haiti earthquake and while it’s been active after this most recent disaster, it’s not been nearly as viral. The Red Cross has raised the bulk of donations via text message, with $2.8 million for Japan, compared to the $24 million in the first five days after Haiti. Text/mobile giving comes in increments of $10, added to a donor’s monthly cell phone bill, which tends to lower the average amounts donated, according to Rooney.

Research on other disasters indicates average amounts donated of $125 for a household that gives, and a median amount of $50, according to Rooney. If donors only give that one gift by text another untested hypothesis, he stressed the $5 or $10 contribution would drive the average donation lower. With text donations, the nonprofit also doesn’t get the vital donor data that enables them to cultivate long-term relationship with individuals.

Social media efforts have become a staple of disaster fundraising in recent years. Twitter contacted the Red Cross on Monday night and offered a spot in its trending topic section pro bono to fundraise, according to Wendy Harman, director of social media.

“They are different situations,” Harman said of the response to Japan and Haiti. “The Text Haiti campaign was brand new, that was the first time the public had used this. This time the American public started texting the 90999 numbers before we even started the campaign. It was even trending on Twitter (RED CROSS 90999). It was a little different because people had that expectation. It’s always open, just not designated for Japan,” she said.

“We are seeing a similar outpouring of public support. The American public is really cool in that way,” said Harman.

“The same thing that came to me was that people were using these tools to ask for help. We haven’t seen that as much with Japan. I think it’s because of the language difference. During Haiti, people were expecting that we would pass on information. We’ve done a lot of work since then to help people out when they are communicating to us via social media,” she said.

Rooney said there are a couple of theories as to why giving is not as high as it was after Haiti, but they’re only considered “untested hypotheses.” First, Japan is a well-developed nation with a relatively affluent population and not as needy. In the case of Haiti, it was relatively nearby and perceived as very poor, and quite needy, said Rooney. The country also tends to view itself as self-sufficient and its government as effective. “The perceived need then, both by citizens and by outsiders, probably is less than it would be” elsewhere, he said.

Media coverage plays a big part in the philanthropic response to any disaster. The death toll in Japan initially was reported as quite low compared to Haiti, where in the first 24 to 48 hours, as many as 100,000 people were feared dead, and many more expected. Initial reports out of Japan were relatively quite low, and while still growing, Rooney said, they are not approaching what was seen in Haiti. As many as 10,000 people were missing or feared dead a week after the disaster and more than half million people have been displaced or evacuated, according to the Red Cross.

Early television coverage of the two disasters was disparate. In Japan, the tsunami offered incredible video and pictorial evidence of the devastation of buildings and other property, Rooney said, with less of a focus on individuals. Many citizens who have talked to media have been fairly stoic, which might not elicit the same philanthropic responses, he said. This might also be more of a cultural difference, he said, as the Japanese tend to be more reluctant of interviews and generally believe there’s always someone worse off the themselves.

“They may not complain as much, even if what they’re enduring is pretty tough,” he said. “It’s part of this notion of faith in themselves and their government. This tradition of stoicism actually may be a great way of coping and dealing with adversity, but tends not to stimulate as much philanthropic response,” Rooney said.

Japan is an industrialized nation so most international aid organizations don’t even have operations in there, whereas in Haiti, many of these organizations already were working there, according to Rooney. For instance, MŽdicin Sans Frontires/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is not accepting donations for Japan and plans to send an assessment team, he said, while it was working in Haiti at the time of that earthquake.

Mercy Corps has had a relationship with a Japan-based organization, Peace Winds, since 2003 and was delivering relief supplies, like blankets, food and tents, in the week after the earthquake and tsunami. The Portland, Ore.-based charity generally works in emergency response and long-term development in developing nations but just as with Hurricane Katrina in 2005, it got involved in the relief effort in Japan.

“As the news was coming in, we really thought we could make a difference. We thought we could add value and knew we had donors who would respond,” said Julie Hambuchen, senior director, interactive and direct marketing.

Mercy Corps began fundraising the day after the quake and raised about $1.65 million in about a week, almost 90 percent of it coming through the Internet. The nonprofit only gives out that text code for mobile giving upon request because donors tend to prefer to give via its website, where they can get more information, said Hambuchen, adding that donors can’t get much information by way of a text-to-give option, she said.

Hambuchen doesn’t expect giving in response to the Japan relief effort to rise to the level seen in Haiti last year. Mercy Corps raised $17 million for the Haiti relief effort; the only other recent disaster in which it raised more was for the tsunami in 2004, with $32 million. She expects fundraising for Japan to be closer to the efforts that raised in the neighborhood of $2 million for the cyclone that hit Myanmar in 2008 or the floods in Pakistan last year.

Mercy Corps also has active partnerships with Japanese-Americans and related Japanese organizations, such as the Oregon Japanese Relief Fund. Individuals have created about 200 personal, online fundraising pages that have raised some $150,000, Hambuchen said.

Mercy Corps has yet to determine any fundraising goal for Japan or whether to cease its appeals. “We’ve been talking about that but we have not made that decision. We’ve been able to program all the money that’s come in,” Hambuchen said.

There was a lot of dysfunction in Haiti, where the need was greater because there wasn’t a infrastructure to begin with, said Amy Parodi, a spokeswoman for World Vision, headquartered in Federal Way, Wash. “In Japan, they have the best building codes in the world,” which might have been responsible for less destruction, and in turn possibly fewer donations as a result. “It’s much more stable of a country,” she said.

World Vision, which had raised $3 million within the first week, is preparing relief supplies, such as water, diapers, and other basic needs for people who have lost their homes, Parodi said, and looking at other options as well. “In Japan it remains to be seen where this money is going to need to go,” she said, though there may be huge needs for nonprofits to do a lot more than they were doing in Japan before the disaster.

Bob Ottenhoff, president and CEO of GuideStar, warned donors to be careful of where they make their contributions. “In these times of crisis, you always see scams, people trying to take advantage of the situation. Now more than ever you want to stick to the tried and true organizations that have been doing this,” he said. It also might be a case where waiting a little while to make a donation might be a good idea. “There’s always a difference between immediate disaster relief and rebuilding, and it strikes me that perhaps the Japanese government and aid organizations may have enough to deal with some of the immediate challenges but this will be an ongoing challenge for a considerable amount of time. A donation later — a week or a month from now — may actually do more,” Ottenhoff said.

Save the Children, headquartered in Westport, Conn., has been working in Japan for 25 years. Contributions are less than they were relative to Haiti but more than was expected for this disaster. “Our job is to help children, at least 100,000 are displaced, and people really respond to our issue,” said Dawn Nunn, director of resource development services, adding that corporate interest has been high, with $2.3 million in contributions. “Many are doing workplace giving and having employees individually give to different accounts,” said Nunn.

Of the nearly $7 million raised by Save the Children in the first week, about $1.5 million had come through a partnership with Zynga, a social media game company. Players across eight of Zynga’s, including the popular Facebook game, FarmVille, can purchase Japanese-related items in their games — or donate directly via a donate button in the game Ð with 100 percent of the purchase price of these virtual items donated to the fund.

Caryl Stern was on the phone an hour after the Haiti earthquake struck last year, trying to raise money. In the case of Japan, the president and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF waited for the Japanese government to take the lead and indicate what it needs and how best to serve its citizens. After sending an assessment team in, the organization started fundraising appeals about five days after the disasters struck, raising a little over $700,000 in its first day and reaching $1.2 million by the third day. “The directive I gave my team was let’s be strategic, take a step back, assess needs and strengths, and see how best we can serve,” Stern said. Part of what was learned in Haiti was that, in some ways, there were too many people responding. “We learned some lessons that we’re applying to Japan,” she said.

The organization usually takes about a 5 percent recovery rate for each donation, but Stern said 100 percent of the donations it receives will go to Japan. “We respect that it costs money to raise money and sometimes have to take recovery rates but this is such an extreme disaster,” she said.

Given that Japan is a developed, affluent nation, the other side of the fundraising coin is something to consider for charities. Japan is routinely among the largest donor countries for UNICEF, raising $155 million last year of the $2 billion that UNICEF International operates on annually. “We’re talking about donors that have a very strong structure,” Stern said.

UNICEF International operates on $2 billion a year, from 37 national committees, which is distributed to 157 countries. International raises that $2 billion in tandem with government contributions, Stern said. For instance, the U.S. government last year contributed $132 million and the U.S. Fund raised $470 million, $300 million of which were in-kind pharmaceutical donations that went directly to other countries.

Those national committees likely will have to try to make up the $155 million that UNICEF typically receives from Japan, she said. “Not only will there be less money coming in, but whatever philanthropic dollars are remaining in Japan will be directed to its own country,” said Stern. NPT