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Cultivating Disaster Donors

A WCAI Research Opportunity sponsored by Russ Reid and American Red Cross, December 2011
View the presentation pdf from the webinar *

When a major disaster hits, the American Red Cross ( ) is there to provide relief to those in need. "Disaster donors," the generous people who give in response to disasters, are kept on file with the American Red Cross after their first donation. Moving forward, the American Red Cross makes ongoing appeals to them, asking them to contribute to a variety of programs, such as those focused on helping Americans prepare for disasters (i.e. community emergency response training). The American Red Cross, as well as non-profit organizations in general, have had difficulty converting disaster donors into long term donors; less than 30% of American Red Cross disaster donors give a second time. Finding effective strategies to cultivate longer relationships with this large group of donors would significantly impact the American Red Cross, and potentially the entire non-profit industry.

The American Red Cross and Russ Reid ( ), the nation's largest marketing and communications firm for non-profits, are sponsoring a WCAI Research Opportunity. The American Red Cross will be providing a data set with complete donation histories going back to 2006, as well as records of direct marketing efforts targeted at over 500,000 donors. Details on the wide variety of creative executions for appeals delivered to these donors will also be provided.

Media coverage:

Grantees of the American Red Cross/Russ Reid data:

  • What Motivates Repeat and Disaster Donors to Give?
    Judd B. Kessler, The Wharton School
    Katherine L. Milkman, The Wharton School
  • Strengthening Empathy and Directed Altruism
    Morris George, Baylor University
    Susan Harford, Marketing Bank LLC
    Ann Mirabito, Baylor University
    Jeff Tanner, Baylor University
  • Disaster Donors and Donor Disasters: Predicting Donor Behavior and Effectiveness of Marketing Communications
    Feryal Erhun, Stanford University
    Wolfgang Jank, University of Maryland and University of South Florida
    Itir Karaesmen, American University
    Cristel Antonia Russell, American University
    Galit Shmueli, Indian School of Business
    Inbal Yahav, Bar-Ilan University
  • Efficient Learning of Donor Retention Strategies for the American Red Cross
    Ilya O. Ryzhov, University of Maryland
    Jelena Bradic, University of California San Diego
  • Optimizing Donation Collection Under Uncertainty: A Dynamic Programming Approach
    Pinar Yildirim, University of Pittsburgh
    Murat Kurt, SUNY Buffalo

* Please note: The Research Opportunity webinars are posted here for a research-focused audience and should not be quoted, paraphrased or otherwise utilized without written permission of WCAI. Any media inquiries or requests for quotes about the projects should be directed to