News and analysis
January 30, 2015

Ebola Outbreak a New Case Study for Global Disaster Fundraising

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

A health worker speaks with a boy at a center for suspected Ebola patients in Monrovia, Liberia.

The Ebola outbreak that began in Guinea in March 2014 and spread through West Africa and beyond has stretched government agencies and international health organizations in unprecedented ways.

The world has turned a corner on the epidemic: The World Health Organization said Thursday there have been fewer than 100 new cases in a week in the three most affected countries. But the fight isn’t over. And among the 8,810 people killed by the disease were nearly 500 health-care workers.

Many organizations working on the front lines included special messages about their response efforts in their year-end appeals.

"This has been a tough emergency to fundraise for because it has been seen as a slow burning crisis rather than a sudden-onset emergency like a hurricane or earthquake," Lauren Hartnett, spokesperson for Oxfam America, said in an email.

The U.S. arm of the charity has raised $870,000 for its Ebola response, while Oxfam International has brought in about $34-million, she said.

Mercy Corps conducted a restricted campaign for its emergency-response team, which helped organize the nonprofit’s Ebola response, bringing in $1-million from July 1 to December 31, said spokesperson Christine Bragale.

"It is hard to say exactly how much of this support was inspired by the Ebola crisis, but we think it could be as much as $500,000," she said.

Mercy Corps also won a $12-million grant from USAID to run a public health-education campaign in Liberia intended to raise awareness and change behaviors to combat the spread of Ebola, she said.

An Ebola fund established by Capital for Good, a nonprofit grant-making organization, and Geneva Global, an international philanthropic consulting firm, raised nearly $1-million in 2014 and has set a $4-million goal for 2015.

Despite the initial restrained response from donors over all, several wealthy people made major commitments. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation committed $50-million to United Nations agencies and international aid groups, while Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan donated $25-million to the CDC Foundation. In October, Paul Allen said he and his foundation would give a total of $100-million to the response.

"It is a dangerous epidemic, and getting to zero cases is the only way to contain it," Dune Ives, senior director of philanthropic initiatives at the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, said at an event in Washington, D.C., earlier this month.

Below are examples of appeals that nonprofits responding to the Ebola outbreak included in their year-end letters to donors.

Send an e-mail to Megan O’Neil.