Nonprofits Worried About 'Disaster Fatigue' Following Series of Natural Disasters

Nonprofits Worried About 'Disaster Fatigue' Following Series of Natural Disasters

A year-long series of natural disasters has faith-based nonprofits concerned that so-called "disaster fatigue" will impact their ability to provide relief services, the Houston Chronicle reports.

Many nonprofit leaders believe the succession of natural disasters, from wildfires to flooding to hurricanes, may have overwhelmed donors at the same time that individuals, faced with a slowing economy, are cutting back on their spending — a problem highlighted by President Bush earlier this week as he called on Americans to contribute to the American Red Cross. The Red Cross recently launched a national campaign to raise $100 million and has asked Congress for an additional $150 million to replenish its depleted disaster relief fund.

According to Kurt Senske, president of Lutheran Social Services, the images of this year's disasters have revealed a lot of physical damage but have not had that "human emotional pull...When Katrina hit, we saw so many people on rooftops and at the convention center. People were just moved...to give." Senske's group received more than $25 million in donations and grants after Katrina and Rita in 2005, but has received less than $250,000 in the aftermath of hurricanes Dolly, Gustav, and Ike.

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief also has experienced both donor and volunteer fatigue in the wake of the recent hurricanes. To date, the group has raised only $29,000 for its efforts along the Gulf Coast, and Mike Ebert, public information officer for the organization's office in Atlanta, said that labor-intensive work such as removing mud from flooded Iowa basements has left some volunteers tapped out for the year.

"Katrina ended up being such a long-term response," Ebert said. "There are people who are going to need that kind of help after Hurricane Ike. The question is, are we and other faith-based groups going to have that kind of financial support to go in and do that work?"

Janet Elliott. "With Donors Worn Out, Funding Dries Up." Houston Chronicle 09/18/2008.