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Crowdfunding, employer relief funds and employer-supported volunteerism are among ways employers are assisting communities—and their own employees—that are struggling to regain their footing from the destructive force of Hurricane Sandy and a nor’easter that created new storm-related woes.
Sandy hit the coast with a vengeance the last weekend of October 2012, leaving many without electricity, damaging or destroying homes, and closing schools, government agencies and businesses. A fortnight later, sleet, snow and heavy winds from the nor’easter landed another blow that stalled and complicated recovery efforts, including power outages to more than 200,000 people in New York and New Jersey.
Tap into Virtual Help
Some organizations are crowdfunding—raising money online through their employees’ contacts—to help their workers, their own business or the community at large, according to Dave Boyce, CEO of Fundly.com, a web-based fundraising portal.
An employer can turn to the 3-year-old site to launch a fundraising campaign for a given cause, with money collected in real-time from donors. There is no fee, although Fundly.com receives 4.9 percent of every donation; that percentage drops should the employer opt to pay Fundly.com for customized branding or more web integration, Boyce explained.
Ambit Energy in Staten Island used the site to raise money to help Staten Island families. It had raised $14,264—or 95 percent of its $15,000 goal—as of Nov. 12, 2012. Many of the individual fundraisers were Ambit employees who reached out to their personal contacts, Boyce said. The money was used to rent a truck to deliver food, water and other necessities to Sandy victims, according to information on the Fundly.com site.
Acqua, a restaurant in lower Manhattan, turned to Fundly.com to raise money to rebuild its flood-ravaged business. Each contributor was promised a restaurant gift certificate in the value of the donation. As of Nov. 12, 2012, Acqua had raised more than $4,000, or 20 percent of its $20,000 goal.
“We’ve had a lot of conversations with CSR [corporate social responsibility] departments,” some of which are with the biggest corporations in the world, Boyce told SHRM Online.
“It’s one thing to write a check under the cover of night and then go hire Madison Avenue to tell the world what a good citizen you are. It’s another thing to get your employees [involved]. That engagement actually drives loyalty to the company. It makes people proud to be part of the company, of being [a part of something] larger than they are. Even if the sums are small, I think it’s a complementary piece overall of a CSR program.”
He added, “What is more powerful, giving money away or involving your employees in the relief effort? The latter is always true, but you can’t always take time away from your desk … [and] an employer may not want to send everyone out to shovel sludge.”
Establishing employee relief funds within companies is another way employers can help affected employees, according to Doug Stockholm, managing consultant for the Emergency Assistance Foundation Inc. in the West Palm Beach, Fla., area.
“I am getting numerous calls each day from employers who want to help their employees right away because of Sandy,” he wrote in a LinkedIn discussion for Society for Human Resource Management members. “They want to immediately establish an Employee Relief Fund,” he said. “Once the dust settles, they plan to then take the effort to design and initiate an ongoing program [that] includes financial hardship relief as well as disaster relief.”
“Volunteers are the heart of the Red Cross Disaster Response,” and employer-supported volunteer programs are giving new meaning to corporate giving, said Melissa B. Hurst, senior vice president and chief human resources officer at the American Red Cross headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Those who have mobilized to help victims of Sandy staff the organization’s emergency shelters, cook and deliver meals, and distribute bulk cleanup supplies. Volunteers with special expertise provide mental health counseling, Hurst explained in an interview with SHRM Online.
The American Red Cross’s Ready When the Time Comes (RWTC) volunteer program, sponsored by Illinois-based W.W. Grainger Inc., trains employee volunteers to respond to American Red Cross needs. Employees from partnering corporations are mobilized as a community-based volunteer force when disaster strikes, according to information on the RWTC site. More than 400 businesses and organizations in 54 cities participate in the program, according to Hurst.
Employers are assisting in other ways, too. Fast Company, for example, reported that JetBlue airline executives were among business representatives that sponsored food trucks to deliver meals to hurricane victims in New York’s Rockaway Beach area.
Dial Down Stress
Psychologist and workplace expert Michelle McQuaid advised employers to provide employees with a way to connect socially, and possibly lend a helping hand to those in need.
It’s a way to “dial down stress,” she said in an e-mail. Also, ask employees directly affected by the disaster about their personal situation: Do they have power? Do they have family nearby? Have they incurred emergency expenses for which they may need help or an advance on their paycheck?
“Natural disasters leave us with an overwhelming feeling of lack of control,” McQuaid wrote. “You can help your employees rebuild their confidence that they are largely the master of their own fates by helping them tackle one small challenge at a time as they return to work.
“Where possible,” she added, “give them some control over setting their own deadlines, choosing their own tasks and provide appreciative, real-time feedback for their efforts so they can relearn that their actions do have a direct effect on their outcomes.”
Help Employees Help Themselves
Helping employees right themselves when a natural disaster turns their world upside down begins with a culture of preparedness that addresses issues such as time off to focus on family and personal situations, the Red Cross’s Hurst advised.
Employees may need to take care of homes damaged by the storm, while others may need to stay home because the storm caused their children’s school to close.
“Start looking at your leave policies and determine if [employees] can use any of their leave to take time off,” she said.
Consider offering alternate work arrangements, allowing unscheduled leave, leave without pay, and a leave donation program.
Don’t forget about your employee assistance programs, she added, and suggested inviting your EAP provider to the workplace to talk with employees individually about their concerns. “You might find there are services available to you through your [EAP] contract you didn’t even realize [you had].”
Hurst also suggested that HR look at its normal calendar of activities, such as annual benefits enrollment, to see if those deadlines can be extended or adjusted. Notify your vendors that your organization has staff in affected areas, so the vendor call centers are prepared for, and sensitized to, those calls.
“Everybody’s recovery needs are different,” Hurst observed. The best approach: ask employees what the employer can do to help.
While some may need and welcome donated clothing or food, for example, others may not.
“Trying to assess and understand what your employees truly need,” she said, “and designing any support programs is the best way [to help].”
Kathy Gurchiek is Associate Editor, HR News
Hurricane Sandy Resources, SHRM SHRM Safety and Security Discipline
Hurricane Sandy, SHRM Connect, November 2012
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