Set up for donations immediately
Most giving happens within the first 90 days
Douglas County has become a member of a club no one wants to join — the group of communities faced with unimaginable calamity. As other agencies played their parts in the aftermath of the Umpqua Community College shootings, Greater Douglas United Way in Roseburg was clear about its role.
one fund called 'UCC Strong'
Executive Director Bryan Trenkle’s immediate goal was to establish a system to accept donations to aid victims. He and his office manager, Annette Rummel, knew they also needed to ensure contributions were monitored responsibly.
One of Trenkle’s first actions was to call Umpqua Bank. Cheryl Martin, vice president and store manager of the bank’s Sutherlin branch, opened the account with a personal deposit of $20; the bank itself quickly followed with a $25,000 donation.
Meanwhile, UCC Foundation Executive Director Dennis O’Neill was considering similar action. Within 24 hours, O’Neill and Trenkle met to discuss combining their efforts. Keavy Cook, director of Children, Youth and Families at The Ford Family Foundation, brought technical expertise to the meeting. The result of their collaboration would become one fund called “UCC Strong.”
Both GDUW and the UCC Foundation quickly modified their online donation buttons to allow direct contributions to UCC Strong.
The swift action was justified. Traditionally, 90 percent of donations for disaster relief are made within 90 days of the event, with few donations being made after that, according to Bob Ottenhoff, president of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.
With the mechanics in place to accept donations, Trenkle next made calls to United Way offices in states that had also experienced mass shootings. The most fruitful connection emerged from Blacksburg, Virginia.
Kymn Davidson-Hamley, executive director of the United Way of Montgomery, Radford and Floyd, was on vacation when Trenkle reached her office. Even so, she was on the phone within the hour, expressing her condolences.
“She and her office started to send me resources they basically created from scratch after the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007,” Trenkle said.
It was soon clear to him that a visit from Davidson-Hamley would be invaluable. A grant paid for her and a volunteer to come to Roseburg for five days starting Oct. 12.
Nancy Straw, director of Community Economic Development at The Ford Family Foundation, said Davidson-Hamley brought a rational voice to the table. She shared expertise, forms, thought processes and pitfalls.
“Kymn helped us figure out how to distribute funds in an equitable manner in a short period of time,” Straw said. “We had to put a priority not only on the victims who had died, but also the victims who were injured, and people who were in the classroom when it happened or in adjoining rooms.”
Using the Virginia-based United Way’s system as a blueprint, organizers crafted a process to fit local needs.
Within weeks of the shooting, UCC Strong made an initial distribution of $145,000 to victims, their families and the Salvation Army, which had stepped up to help with immediate financial needs.
Within six months, UCC Strong received nearly $1.3 million with donations coming from around the world and all 50 states. By February 2016, three phases of distributions had been made. About half of the fund had been granted.
Trenkle said it was crucial to give funding decisions to a committee with broad community representation. “We realized that United Way can be an umbrella of the fund, but shouldn’t make decisions for the fund.”
Today’s 11-member UCC Strong committee consists of respected leaders from local business, nonprofit groups, and representatives from UCC staff, UCC students and the UCC Foundation. Other committee members are from county government, mental health, and first-responder and faith-based sectors. The fund also has a diverse panel of non-voting advisers. While a 51% voting majority is required for awarding funds, all the awards to date have been unanimous.
Such strictures are designed to stand up to public scrutiny. Rummel said the Greater Douglas United Way is not charging administrative fees for its role in managing UCC Strong, in part because of scandals that have plagued other nonprofit groups nationally.
Straw said a reason people watch disaster donation funds so closely is because when tragedy strikes, they respond quickly and with emotion. And they are firm about wanting their contributions to go directly to the cause, rather than paying an agency’s bills.
If structure, vigilance and oversight are all watchwords for relief fund managers, so is the need to dig in for the long haul. According to Trenkle, one of his most valuable lessons came from Davidson-Hamley, as she talked about how, once the initial adrenaline fades and immediate needs are met, fund organizers must pull back and think long term. “Kymn told us we had to remember the process is not a sprint. It’s a marathon.”
Fundraising: Lessons Learned
Trusted organizations need to take the lead. Existing relationships enhance a community’s resiliency. Bryan Trenkle, executive director of the Greater Douglas United Way, said it’s essential to know “the heart, the strengths and the weaknesses” of community leaders in all sectors, from law enforcement to churches. “That way, everybody can hit the ground running.”
Prepare to receive donations immediately. People want to give right away, and the timeframe to raise funds is short. Other disasters have shown that 90% of donations are made within 90 days.
Get the word out. Use all communications channels — press briefings, social media, websites, fliers, announcements — to publicize the fund.
Coordinate with other organizations. Consolidate disparate fundraising efforts to simplify the process for donors. The UCC Foundation, the Greater Douglas United Way and Umpqua Bank worked together to streamline the collection of donations.
Coordinate with other funds. Crime victims compensation funds, both federal and state, provided resources immediately for funerals and hospital expenses. GoFundMe campaigns and other social media fundraising efforts also popped up quickly. Victim Services Director Kelly Wright from the Douglas County District Attorney’s office led the effort to match victims to needed and appropriate resources.
Accept help. Community organizations can help in many ways. Pastors from churches throughout the region offered counseling and collected donations from their congregations. A local accounting firm, Wicks Emmett CPAs, provided pro bono accounting services and advice. The Ford Family Foundation paid for temporary office administrative support at the United Way to handle the flood of calls and to help process donations.
Be patient. Donors may need some hand-holding. Annette Rummel, United Way office manager, recalled pulling out her own credit card and going step by step with a handful of callers, mostly older adults, who were unfamiliar with making online donations. “It was the only way I could explain it to them, by doing it myself with them and donating a dollar each time,” she said. “They were so appreciative.”
Beware of the fringe element. Tragedies can activate odd behavior by some. Report threatening phone calls to law enforcement, and inform anyone who could be affected by the threat. United Way’s Trenkle said he received menacing phone messages from a conspiracy theorist; he informed the police.
Form a well-respected decision committee. The UCC Strong committee consists of trusted individuals from a wide spectrum of the community.
Make immediate dispersals. And publicize them. How you start in the first few days affects the recovery. The public needs to know that the funds are going out to the people in need.
Plan for short- and long-term needs. Decide early on about allocations for immediate and years-later needs. “You don’t want to dispense all the donated funds and then have nothing left for future needs,” Trenkle said.
Think really long term. More than 20 years after the Oklahoma bombing incident, the local fundraising committee is still assisting with victims’ long-term needs.
Expect criticism. Despite best efforts by the committee, not everyone in the community, including the victims, will be happy with the decisions made about dispersing funds.
Be transparent. Be completely forthcoming about amounts received, amounts dispersed (and to whom) and how much you plan to hold back for future needs.
Reach out to resources that can help. Immediately contact your local United Way and American Red Cross office, or their parent organizations. Another great resource is the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.