Local businesses open wallets for tornado relief

March 7, 2012

Indianapolis-area corporate and private donors have given more than $1 million to tornado-relief efforts in southern Indiana and local TV stations are taking a big part in the fundraising efforts.

Several of the stations set up phone banks following Friday’s deadly twisters and are forwarding donations to the American Red Cross of Greater Indianapolis and the Salvation Army’s Indiana chapter.

As of Wednesday morning, the Red Cross estimated that it has received at least $750,000 in donations while the Salvation Army put its contributions at $427,000.

“Indiana really does a good job helping people,” said John Lyter, CEO of the local Red Cross. “It has a long tradition of doing that.”

WTHR-TV Channel 13, WISH-TV Channel 8 and WXIN-TV Channel 59 opened their phone lines to viewers and collectively raised more than $900,000, including $436,500 from WTHR. WISH and WXIN raised more than $230,000 each.

WRTV-TV Channel 6, meanwhile, helped raise $45,000 in conjunction with WIBC-FM 93.1 during a donation drive on Monument Circle.

The total figure includes a donation of $75,000 from Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay who donated $50,000 through WISH and $25,000 through WTHR. Pacers Sports & Entertainment gave $100,000 to the Red Cross and staged a fundraiser at the Pacers-Atlanta Hawks game Tuesday night.

Eli Lilly and Co. Foundation also pledged $100,000 to the American Red Cross and said it will match Lilly employee contributions to relief efforts. And the Verizon Foundation said Wednesday that it would donate $50,000 to the Red Cross.

Coincidentally, WTHR had been forming an emergency-response partnership with the Red Cross, dubbed WTHR Cares, when the tornadoes struck, said Angela Cain, the station’s community affairs director.

“We started forming this about a month ago, and then Mother Nature called,” she said. “But we made it come together.”

WISH General Manager Jeff White said his station mobilized employees on Saturday morning, the day after the storms, to organize fundraising efforts.

White and fellow station leaders say their campaigns are not about who raised the most money or who became involved first.

“This is not a competition among stations, because it’s all going to a good cause,” said Lee Rosenthal, WXIN news director.

Televisions stations have an ideal platform to raise money simply by the large populations they reach. In that sense, they walk a fine line between the work they do for a community and the self-promotion that can follow, said Bruce Bryant, founder of Indianapolis-based Promotus Advertising, which often helps clients with charity-based marketing.

“When there’s such wide devastation, the question starts to become, is that opportunistic?'” Bryant said. “And I think the answer is, as long as it’s done in reasonable taste, you haven’t crossed that line. It’s good business.”

Bryant thinks the stations have acted responsibly but thought they should have tried to combine their efforts into one fundraising drive so “no one can be singled out of getting ahead of the competition at the expense of a natural disaster,” he said.

White at WISH said he realizes the potential danger of heavy promotion, but said the amount of destruction that resulted in 39 deaths puts their efforts into perspective.

“When you hear the devastating story of the lady who lost her legs to protect her children, it’s not about who collected the most,” he said. “We’re about recognizing and thanking people for what they have done.”



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