By Lisa Tomasi
By now we are all familiar with the disturbing and sad reality of the water crisis that is still unfolding in Flint, Michigan. Flint, located 70 miles north of Detroit, is a city of approximately 100,000 people where, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 41.6% of the residents live below the poverty line (Flint Water Crisis Fast Facts, CNN.com). Due to cost cutting measures, Flint changed its water source in April 2014 which ultimately caused the drinking water to become contaminated with lead and other toxins. The contaminated water has been linked to a spike in Legionnaire’s disease in the area which has killed 10 and sickened dozens more. The other major concern is for the long-term health crisis caused by the prolonged lead exposure, especially in children, which can affect children’s growth, behavior and intelligence.
It’s hard to believe that there are American citizens without access to clean drinking water. While filters have been installed in many homes, most are justifiably wary of using the tap water at all. Today the residents of Flint rely mainly on bottled water that is shipped in from a variety of sources, some from the government, some from corporations and some from private citizens. And, unfortunately, there is not a clear end in sight.
What can your company do when a disaster like this happens?
Employee giving and corporate involvement can offer immediate and lasting support in crisis situations. People want to help in response to a crisis and companies that make it easy for employees to be part of that response add value in many ways. According to Americas Charities snapshot 2015 (charities.org/snapshot2015) 70 percent strongly agree that employees expect employers to run a socially responsible company, which includes providing opportunities for employees to connect with cause they care about. Often people who are not involved in other causes are moved to action when it comes to disaster relief. And, under a corporate program employees can make a bigger impact than they can on their own.
A great example of employee giving and corporate involvement in the face of disaster is the Meritain Health/Aetna water drive campaign for the people of Flint that recently ended. In this case one person, Debbie B., an employee at the Okemos, Michigan Meritain office, wanted to start a water drive to help fellow Michiganders in Flint. She quickly realized that the other four Michigan offices wanted to contribute as well. As the idea for the drive grew, the thought of the logistics became cumbersome. Debbie reached out to YouGiveGoods, an online platform to raise goods for charity, and was quickly able to set-up an online water drive for all five Michigan offices. Once word of the drive spread, Meritain and Aetna offices outside of Michigan wanted to help as well and were easily added as part of the online drive and were able to contribute. In just over t! hree weeks, Meritain/Aetna was able to raise over 10,000 gallons of water for distribution through Catholic Charities Center for Hope in Flint. Meritain/Aetna sent volunteers to help with the distribution of the water to residents on March 12, 2016. Aetna also set up an informed health line for the people of Flint (all people, not just Aetna members) with registered nurses available to discuss health related questions. In addition, they are sponsoring the Genesee Public Health Department Forum in May, and the Aetna Foundation is making a $10,000 donation to the Community Foundation of Greater Flint/Flint Child Health Development Fund.
Companies that can spring to action in the face of a disaster are not only a source of valuable aid but create good will among consumers and loyalty among employees.
According to the 2013 Cone Communications Disaster Relief Trend Tracker, consumers stand ready to work alongside companies toward relief efforts and will reward those caring companies with a strong brand halo. More than half (54%) of global citizens say they have already joined corporate disaster relief efforts, while 9 in 10 global citizens have a more favorable impression of a company after learning that it supports disaster recovery.
A small to mid-size company may feel that this is a job for large companies only, but that is not the case. Thankfully, emerging technologies and innovations in volunteering, giving programs, and online drives are making it easier for companies of any size to react quickly to respond to disaster situations. As in the Meritain/Aetna example, a large, multi-layered corporate response was brought about by the actions of one employee.
Flint, Michigan continues to need support. And, we don’t know what disaster could be lurking around the corner. Why not put your company in a position to help? You could be the one employee that brings about a meaningful response to the next crisis. Whether in your local community or around the globe, your company can make a difference and bring aid when disaster hits.
Lisa Tomasi is the President and founder of YouGiveGoods, LLC, an innovative e-commerce company that connects tangible giving to community needs through the YouGiveGoods free, easy-to-use online service. Lisa has been involved with charitable causes throughout her adult life. She first came to understand their important role in society while living in San Francisco during the 1989 devastating earthquake. Aided by the Red Cross, she spent three days living in a park. That ordeal motivated Lisa into dedicating her life to service – from volunteering at battered women shelters, to helping villages in Indonesia after the Tsunami, to building houses in Haiti, to establishing several educational funds for children, to ultimately founding YouGiveGoods.