Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Communicating Corporate Disaster Response

After last week's tragic earthquake in Haiti, many companies, including my own, have been busy determining how best to respond. I'm not directly responsible for organizing our response, but it was sort of an "all hands on deck" attitude for the days immediately following the disaster.

Even though horrible natural disasters happen more frequently than anyone would like, few companies seem to have clear procedures in place for how to respond. I've spoken with colleagues from other companies to benchmark their levels of response and I continue to hear stories of uncertain commitments and tentative communications.

But it does seem like companies take into account a few basic facts before mobilizing resources. At my current and former companies, we would consider a few questions after any major natural disaster:
  • Do we have major operations in the affected region?
  • Were any of our employees impacted directly?
  • Were any of our key customers and/or suppliers impacted directly?
  • What was the scale of the devastation?
  • Do our employees seem eager to help?
  • Which agencies seem best positioned to help quickly and effectively?
  • Can we offer any unique aid that no other company can?
  • What are other companies doing?
I don't mean to suggest that companies shouldn't ask these questions or that they're inadequate since every situation clearly is unique. What's interesting to me is the last question in the above list.

Over the days following the initial earthquake, we continued to commit more money, more resources, more products to relief. Our employees donated their own money, time and resources, and our Foundation sought to match employee donations.

Interestingly, media reports began discussing how much money American corporations were committing to disaster relief. Companies started issuing press releases and tweeting. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Business Civic Leadership Center started to compile a list of companies and the value of their reported donations.

For the latter part of last week, I was involved in a very heated e-mail exchange regarding whether or not we should communicate our commitment and which methods might be the most appropriate. Several people felt very strongly that our commitment, while generous, paled in comparison to some companies of our size. Others felt that we should communicate our commitment so that our employees wouldn't miss seeing our company's name alongside other major corporations on lists. Some felt that we should communicate through very select channels so as to avoid appearing "boastful."

During this lengthy exchange, I wondered whether we were missing the point. After all, wasn't it most important that we were doing something, no matter how big or how small? Do people really sit around and compare the monetary value of companies' donations? Am I just being naive?

1 comment:

  1. Marcus,

    Thank you for providing some insight on the topic- it is an increasingly relevant one in the space. With the media (and consumers) paying closer attention to companies CSR initiatives and programs, corporate involvement in Haiti relief efforts became heavily discussed topic. On Cause Integration, we referred to this live CSR tracking as a type of "positive peer pressure" for companies to give more. However, to your point, I can see the internal stress this type of pressure is bound to cause.