[Executive Edge] How businesses can support Yolanda relief efforts

Ezra Ferraz
We must consciously think about how to most effectively help Yolanda survivors, and how to do so as ethically as possible

In the wake of the Super Typhoon Yolanda, many companies are organizing events and campaigns to support relief efforts. As we do so, we cannot be guided solely by the pureness of our intentions. We must consciously think about how to most effectively help Yolanda survivors, and how to do so as ethically as possible.

In this spirit, I interviewed business leaders from many different industries in the Philippines, ranging from recent startups to established small and medium enterprises. Their exact responses to the disaster differ. Most of their initiatives are social entrepreneurial in nature: They donate a portion of their profits in support of the cause.

A few veer more toward charity: They transform their store locations into a collection point for monetary and in-kind donations. No matter their approach, all these entrepreneurs and executives are united in their desire to share their best practices.

I grouped their advice into ten points, so it might be easier for other businessmen to glean helpful advice.

1. Carefully choose between events and campaigns

It’s important to consider the particular advantages of a one-time event versus a much longer campaign. Of events, Jonathan Choi, head bean of Magnum Opus Fire Coffees, said, “The social value of an event gives donors better purpose and a more personal experience with the organizers, possible beneficiaries, and fellow donors as well. This may spur greater support for the cause. We believe events are better suited for pledges, auctions, or direct cash donations.”

Of campaigns, Rachel Kelly Davis, culture curator at Homegrown, said, “The advantage of a campaign is time. In fact, you can run a campaign for weeks after the disaster, especially if your campaign’s goal is something more long-term, like restoring and restocking destroyed school libraries and providing students with educational tools.” Moreover, a campaign gives patrons more flexibility in choosing when to help out with these long-term goals.

2. Help in terms of your core competencies

In deciding between a one-time event or a much longer campaign, Marlon Randall Umali, the marketing head at FourPoint.Zero, also advised that business leaders reflect on their core competencies. “In our case, we’re a web and mobile design and development company. We have no experience in handling events and to conduct one would be folly on our part. So we decided to give 50% of our sales for a specific product of ours to the Yolanda victims via the Philippine Red Cross.”

Similarly, CashCashPinoy, used their strength in e-commerce to facilitate donations. Melissa Mayangitan, who works in business development there, said, “We set our goals based on our strengths: to create awareness through our digital channels, and to raise money the easiest, fastest, and safest way possible.” To this end, they gave potential donors a variety of digital and in-person options through which they can donate.

3. Don’t shy away from choosing a more specific beneficiary

The larger corporations and non-governmental organizations will likely try to help out all victims and survivors of the Yolanda storm. You don’t have to follow suit. Kristal de Guzman, owner and designer of Risque Designs, said, “I think it will be more effective to target specific beneficiaries for the fundraising, at the same time informing the potential donors why this particular sector should be helped. It would set you apart from all other fundraising events or campaigns.”

You can target children, for instance, by collecting toys, or survivors from a particular region. Chely Esguerra, managing director of ChannelGood, even suggested that you can tap into your immediate network for potential beneficiaries. “Aside from the personal relationship you already have, the connection allows your help to access your beneficiary in a more direct way. The Goody Bag specifically chose this method of reaching out – enlisting victims of Yolanda we personally know or are related to people we know.”

4. Be completely transparent

Vince Golangco, publisher of WhenInManila.com, contextualized the situation best. “It’s a different world now, post-Napoles in the Philippines. Transparency has to be taken to another level because people trust even less now. For our fundraiser, we’re going to have piggy banks go around, guarded by our staff, and we will open them in front of everyone and count the proceeds, after which, we plan on matching the donations from our peers and doubling it.”

Transparency can also be achieved by choosing organizational partners that have a strong track record in disaster relief. Beatrice del Rosario, founder and CEO of Certified Positive, said, “Always go to the trusted NGOs that have proved through many years of disasters that they are capable of disseminating goods and organizing relief efforts.”

5. Use concrete language when it comes to contributions

The actual wording of events and campaigns should be as concrete as possible. Rather than speak of donations in terms of “some proceeds” or “a portion of profits,” several entrepreneurs suggested using hard numbers.

“It’s best you declare an exact percentage that goes to the cause,” Marlon Randall Umali said. “When enterprises are vague, they are marketing more than being charitable. The point is not to profit from the natural disaster. The main point is to help. We must prioritize the needs of these victims and that’s the only bottom line that matters in these times.”

6. Try to quantify the effect of the donations

In addition to being transparent about money, it’s important to convey exactly what change it can produce. For instance, rather than just saying “1,000 pesos” will be donated from the sale of a particular good at your store, you can say, “the 1,000 pesos donated from each purchase will provide a Yolanda survivor with potable drinking water and healthy meals for X amount of days.”

Mervin Wenke, an account manager at Ogilvy and Mather, recommended this approach to appeal to potential patrons and donors. “This has more impact as it highlights the immediate needs of the typhoon victims. What they need now are the prerequisites to survival like food, water, medicine, and clothes, among others. They do not need money but what the money can buy so that they can survive.”

7. Deploy powerful images respectfully

In the aftermath of Yolanda, there are many harrowing images of the devastation, including of the neighborhoods themselves as well as of survivors and casualties. Regarding their use in marketing materials, Aislinn Chuahiock, the vice president of marketing at Satchmi, said, “I think that it is acceptable to use these kind of images because it immediately shows the gravity of the situation, and it would invoke a call to action to the targeted audience.” Chuahiock just cautioned against using such images in a crass way.

Brett Lim expressed similar sentiments. He is the co-founder of Katipunan Craft Ale, and currently organizing a fundraiser in Boston. “Here in the United States, we need to be able to paint a picture of what life is like out there. To begin with, a lot of people here don’t know what life in the Philippines is like. Since our cause is seeking to build homes, we want to show people what homes look like now. As much as we want to respect the communities, the need to build awareness outweighs personal concerns.”

8. Lower the barrier of entry to help

For example, Magnum Opus Fine Coffees hosted an event where coffee was given out in exchange for a mandatory tip of any amount. The tips were then collected and donated. This allowed more people to participate than would have occurred if they had set a minimum donation, which might have been cost-prohibitive to some.

Regarding the coffee-for-tips, Jonathan Choi said, “We are lowering the contribution barrier to show that any pledge is welcome,” so that they can “empower patrons to participate and help.” Helping out need not even be in the way of money – it can simply be through raising awareness, such as through word of mouth or social media.

Aislinn Chuahiock said, “We would like to be an event that inspires our customers to help the Yolanda cause. It doesn’t have to be through our event, but we would like to set an example that anybody can make a small contribution through their own means. We just opened another avenue for people to join us in our campaign.”

9. Set a tone that matches your brand

Though Yolanda was a tragedy, events and campaigns in support of relief efforts need not be exclusively somber affairs. Natasha Bautista, the marketing vice president of GrabTaxi, said two things from a campaign need to mesh well. One is emotion, which can either “touch base on the negative (‘10,000 feared dead’), the positive (‘The Filipino spirit is stronger than any typhoon’), or even both.”

The second is your brand’s image. Bautista said, “Let’s admit it: Running a campaign in support of Yolanda relief is still public relations for your brand. So the tone (both the visual and the copy) should be aligned with your brand image. GrabTaxi, for example, is seen as fun and dynamic, and you can clearly see that in our ‘Grab and Donate’ campaign – the visuals, the process, and even the process of donating!”

Miguel Dy Buncio, president of Crossfit MNL, also expressed the need to match your campaign to your brand, which in their case, is fun. A campaign at one of their branches, for example, had members pledge to donate X number of Migo meals for every exercise repetition they completed.

“Most of our members are the fun-loving type and come to the gym to relieve themselves from day-to-day stress,” he said. “Thus, we do not bombard them with depressing messages. They already get that from work and media outlets. We want to give them a break and make them have fun while supporting a cause. Because of that, there is higher engagement.”

10. Don’t reinvent the wheel

There are already many tried and tested types of events and campaigns that you can run. Events can range in everything from dance-a-thons and telethons to silent auctions and bazaars. To make things easier to organize, they can even be collaborations with several organizations and companies, such as the upcoming bazaar sponsored by Satchmi, Heima Home & Lifetyle, and GRRRL Scout.

For a list of upcoming and ongoing events and campaigns for where you might find inspiration, there is Rappler’s own list as well as other lists like Homegrown’s or WhenInManila’s.

In the end, any little bit counts. Vince Golangco said it best, “Just do something, anything! It doesn’t matter if your campaign raises P100 or P100 million. The important thing is that you do what you can to help. It does not even have to be in monetary values – you can definitely volunteer your time and help by repacking goods, or even going out there to ground zero and helping there. We’re all part of the same planet and we’re more connected to each other than we may realize.”

Rappler business columnist Ezra Ferraz graduated from UC Berkeley and the University of Southern California, where he taught writing for 3 years. He now consults full-time for educational companies in the United States. He brings you Philippine business leaders, their insights, and their secrets via Executive Edge. Follow him on Twitter: @EzraFerraz

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