Disaster Relief Drives Spike In Unrestricted Public Support

October 23, 2006       Marla Nobles      

The United States Fund for UNICEF during 2005 raised approximately $54.7 million through Web giving. While the bulk of that was, as expected, tsunami-related, the unrestricted online giving to the Fund’s core programs shot up nearly 500 percent during the period.     

In terms of public support, and subsequently revenue, relief organizations during fiscal 2005 boasted artificial spikes – artificial because without the disasters, the steep spikes likely would not have occurred. That wasn’t the surprising part. What the organizations hadn’t anticipated was the boost in unrestricted giving that coincided.     

This is just one of the many findings in this year’s NPT 100, the analysis of the nation’s largest charities, which runs in the upcoming November 1 issue of The NonProfit Times.     

According to Ed Lloyd, chief financial officer at New York City-headquartered U.S. Fund for UNICEF, one of the most compelling outcomes of FY’05 was the increase in unrestricted online giving to the Fund, up from $1.1 million to more than $6 million. "So the tsunami actually lifted the performance of the overall campaign, as well," said Lloyd. "That’s something we saw across the board, but particularly through the Internet channel."     

The North American private fundraising arm for UNICEF International, the U.S. Fund brought in revenue for FY’05 of more than $462 million, up from $249 million. Support from the public increased by nearly 89 percent, to exceed $450 million.     

The majority of the organization’s 400,000 new donors acquired during 2005 came online, said Lloyd. "Look at the profile of our donors. Our donors are computer literate, and so they prefer giving online," he said.  According to Lloyd, a major overhaul of the charity’s Web site made the Fund’s site a more viable and appealing channel to a computer-friendly American public.     

Added Lloyd, "That kind of carried over into 2006. When the Pakistan (earthquake) emergency hit, when the Katrina emergency hit, we saw a lot of those same donors then give to the relief efforts over the Internet. It’s become very powerful for us."     

According to Lloyd, of the top 20 (of 37) national committees in the UNICEF network worldwide, during FY’05 the U.S. Fund gave the most money to UNICEF International, to the tune of $426 million in cash, grants and indirect support.     

Another "significant stride" made during fiscal 2005, the Fund ramped up its major gifts efforts, bringing in more than $20 million, up from $11 million the year prior. "So what we’ve done is to take a look and see that major donors are really part of our DNA," said Lloyd, who attributed much of the response by major donors to the tsunami. Early results show the increase in major giving has continued into 2006, despite no new disasters.     

Westport, Conn.-based Save the Children Federation  experienced a similar reaction from donors. "Our unrestricted giving went from $13.9 million in 2004 to $21.5 million in 2005," said Rick Trowbridge, associate vice president, financial planning & analysis. Trowbridge attributed the boost to enhanced media exposure and "the recognition we were getting because of our (tsunami) response."     

Fiscal 2005 was a benchmark year for STC, which reached and surpassed an unprecedented $400 million in revenue, up from $249 million the year prior.  "Yeah, it put us even more on the forefront," Trowbridge said of the charity’s tsunami response. Another landmark jump, STC received $239 million in total public support, an increase of 92.4 percent over FY’04.     

According to Gail Arcamone, associate director, direct marketing, nearly $25 million of the funds for the tsunami was from new donors. Broken down, $11 million was from 84,000 new Web donors, $6.3 million from 43,000 new donors via direct mail, and the remaining $7.7 million from "other" new donors.     

The Web proved highly advantageous for STC, raking in $11.2 million for tsunami relief, staggering when compared with the $291,000 the organization raised online the prior year.  Despite it being the most shocking, Web giving was hardly the most profitable channel. "We received $26.5 million from corporate givers for tsunami, and about $17.5 million from major donors," said Trowbridge. In unsolicited "white mail," the charity received $9.2 million.     

"It was by far our largest emergency response and emergency appeal ever," said Trowbridge.     

Because STC’s fiscal year runs October 1 to September 30, the majority of funds received for Hurricane Katrina relief won’t appear in the figures for FY’05. What will appear is the $1.5 million that came in during the first days after the storm hit the Gulf Coast.      

Trowbridge said that it was an exciting year but that "it put a tremendous stress on our internal systems because we’d never received that volume of gifts before. But we were able to get through it. Our systems withstood the challenge." NPT