May 20, 2010

Kudos to: Berkeley East Bay Humane Society, After the Fire

It's the type of situation that could give nightmares to anyone working in a nonprofit : A midnight fire, the building gutted, the recent remodeling job in ruins. And in the case of the Berkeley East Bay Humane Society's fire last night, a dozen cats who died.

Today is usually my day to walk dogs at the Humane Society, and I was looking forward to seeing some of my favorite four-footed friends. Instead, I stopped by this morning to find people in tears and staff trying to figure out what was next, with their offices gone or unusable.

But in terms of disaster response, their handling of the situation can offer lessons for any group facing something similar. First off, everyone there has remained positive, assuring the media and other contacts that they plan to rebuild -- and to keep on finding care for the affected animals and placing them for adoption in the meantime. That's crucial for anyone making a donation, because no one wants to think it will go to a lost cause, or to merely reduce the insurance company's liability.

Second, they've made themselves available to the press, with plenty of coverage explaining to people how they can help, where to donate, and how the donations will be used. 

Technology has been a help to them. Even without an office, they've gotten onto email and started sending out messages to volunteers and other supporters, alerting them to the situation and what can be done.

Here's hoping the response leads to a speedy rebuilding, and a better-than-ever space for the animals! In the meantime, think about your own nonprofit's disaster preparedness -- would you be ready with off-site lists of supporters and means of reaching out to them? What steps can you take now to make the tasks easier?