United Way of Calgary and Area is the city’s largest non-governmental funder of human services. It focuses on three areas —poverty, kids and communities—and connects vulnerable Calgarians to resources that help them thrive. When a major flood hit Calgary on June 21, 2013, over 100,000 Calgarians were evacuated and thousands of homes were flooded, instantly creating a new wave of vulnerable Calgarians needing assistance. United Way’s two major business areas are fundraising and investing the funds back into the community, and these roles were especially important after the disaster. Human service agencies looked to us for support as they dealt with an influx in service demand; so did corporations and donors looking to help. United Way’s mission, as outlined in its business plan, is to “improve lives and build extraordinary communities by engaging individuals and mobilizing collective action.” The disaster presented United Way with a clear opportunity to fulfill this mission by quickly connecting eager donors with urgent community needs. However, clear, strategic communication was needed to succeed.
A major challenge stood in the way—itself another opportunity. United Way’s building got flooded, knocking the
organization’s computer servers offline at the height of the crisis. This meant all staff (including communications staff) had no access to United Way’s intranet, email or phone lines, even from home, for a week. As a result, we had to work nimbly with alternate tools not just to communicate externally—but also to relay crucial information to our own staff.