Remembering the Haiti earthquake 9 years later.
We've come a long way, but there is still a long road ahead. I want to share our experience working on the Text HAITI relief campaigns, and share what we have learned then and now.
It was a Tuesday afternoon, a little after 5:30pm on January 12, 2010 in Denver. I was heading out of the office when I saw our Operations Manager.
“Hey! What are you still doing here?” I asked.
“I just got a call from Jimmy. I guess there was an earthquake in Haiti. I’m going to spin up a keyword real quick then I’m out of here” he replied.
“Cool, have a good night and see you tomorrow.” I got in my car and went home.
I had no idea that tomorrow, everything would be different.
I woke up and checked my email as usual. There was a flurry of emails but I was too tired to process. Seemed normal. After my shower I went back to my emails and it was more clear - a catastrophic 7.0 magnitude earthquake had hit Haiti causing absolute chaos and devastation in the area.
This was not a normal day. This was a literal life and death situation.
I picked up the pace and got to the office. The phones were ringing nonstop. Individuals were calling so they could learn how to send a text message and donate. Media was calling for interviews and info. Nonprofits were calling to learn more.
We had the opportunity to power not only the American Red Cross Text HAITI campaign, but Haiti relief campaigns also with United Way Worldwide, Convoy of Hope, The United Nations Foundation, World Food Program USA, Best Friends Animal Society, CHF International, and Compassion International to name a few.
After the initial surge of a campaign like this, you must sit back and reflect.
It was truly humbling. We worked for years before this moment. Conversations started in 2005, and the channel was launched in 2008 with a 10 second PSA with United Way Worldwide during the Super Bowl. I started just 6 month after the launch in August 2008.
The First U.S. Text to Give PSA with United Way Worldwide During the Super Bowl 2008
It was hard work to keep up, but we had the opportunity to help people experiencing a major devastation in their lives. We were having a real impact.
“Music is Like a Cure”
There was one news article that personally impacted me: 'Even in the saddest moments Haitian people always sing.'
"For Haitian people, kompa music is like a cure. It helps us to forget stress and the bad times in life," said Original H, a popular Haitian kompa group in Paris, in a statement emailed to CNN.
"Even in the saddest moments Haitian people always sing. Haitian people always laugh. Their hearts hurt, but they really want to continue to live," said Michel Marchand, presenter of "Kompa Boulevard," a program on France-based Radio Espace FM.
One month after the earthquake, we partnered with Entertainment Industry Foundation’s We Are the World program to continue to raise awareness and funds for relief efforts.
We Are The World 25 For Haiti (Official Video)
What Did We Learn?
A lot. For starters:
- Everything can change in a single moment. Always be prepared. Have a before, during, and after plan.
- Every campaign is different. This Haiti Relief campaign was the largest text donation campaign in history to date. But not all nonprofits are focused on disaster relief, and they shouldn’t be. Not all nonprofits have mass media creating urgency and delivering your message for you, that would be nice but it’s not reality. Fast forward to today, and our most successful partners are not focused on disaster relief fundraising. Our most successful partners are focused on building active communities that they engage and cultivate regularly and authentically. See Best Practices for Blastoff.
- Episodic campaigns drive big surges in activity, but they are not sustainable long-term. Invest in building a community of individuals who support your mission at its core. See How to Touch Hearts and Boost Donations.
- SMS and text messages are a great tool, but they are only one small piece of the digital marketing pie. See our 2018 Highlights and a Behind-the-Scenes Look at 2019.
We are proud of our history and ability to drive impact for nonprofit and for-purpose organizations. A huge thank you to all our partners past, present, and future. Thank you for everything you do. Never grow weary of doing good for others.
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Professional and User-Generated Content
The way the entire nation came together was awe-inspiring, from individuals, celebrities, athletes, and even Michelle Obama making videos to call people to action:
The Fray's Isaac Slade