Photo: Virtual effective disaster funding Zoom with Patricia McIlreavy, the president and CEO of TPF’s long-time partner, Center for Disaster Philanthropy

Evolving Disaster Giving: An Informed & Innovative Approach

Posted on September 01, 2021 by Roxanne Joffe, MagnifyGood
Editor's Note: Amid several large-scale disasters capturing headlines around the world, The Patterson Foundation (TPF) hosted an opportunity for funders and thought leaders to connect with the head of an organization dedicated to strengthening the philanthropic sector’s capacity to create and sustain recovery efforts in communities worldwide reeling from human and man-made crises. During this virtual breakfast gathering, Patricia McIlreavy, the president and CEO of TPF’s long-time partner, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, shared the multi-dimensional approach she and her organization take to their recovery efforts at all stages in the lifecycle of a disaster while answering big questions on funders’ mind as they plan their own giving strategies following a major disaster.

Roxanne Joffe, founder and president of The Patterson Foundation’s strategic communications partner, MagnifyGood, was in attendance and captured these key takeaways:

Disasters Are Inevitable
No matter where a community lies on the map, it can (and will) face some form of disaster at some point in time. The recent U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report illustrates the threats climate change poses to our world, including increasingly severe heat waves, heavy precipitation, droughts, sea level rise, and tropical cyclones. While these and other disasters endanger everyone in their path, the threat is disproportionately greater among people already living through long-standing systemic inequities. Disaster recovery efforts are most effective when they address the societal issues related to those inequities through funding tailored to the individual needs of a community and its people.

Maximizing Funder Impact
Beyond being open to the needs of individual communities, it’s important for funders to stay flexible in their funding. Apprehension over the possibility of missteps and the optics of slow or low-impact giving is normal, but that fear should not impede the ability to act when and where it’s needed. By focusing on optimizing the funding opportunity in ways that suit the community, rather than monitoring or dictating how the money is used, funders can empower their beneficiaries to take ownership of their recovery and ensure it represents the unique needs of those affected by a disaster. It’s also important to recognize that funders bring more than money to the table — they can serve as a powerful collaborator for their recipients in developing a shared vision for the funding and invest in that vision accordingly, often with an eye toward long-term recovery.

Innovative Funding Opportunities
The “needs” for funding following a disaster are often assessed based on the most readily observable deficiencies — the need for shelter, food and water, medical aid, and other basic necessities. Beyond these immediately perceptible issues are additional opportunities to support needs by breaking down the barriers people encounter when accessing them. Consider resources such as access to the internet and wireless technology to help aid workers coordinate their efforts, or language experts to facilitate communications between them and local populations, or even legal aid to help communities file the paperwork necessary to access funding. Effective disaster funders maintain a holistic approach to giving and the ability to direct their resources to needs as they emerge, rather than siloing their support toward narrow interests for arbitrary sets of time.

Connecting Consistently With Communications
Many are compelled to give to disaster relief by the harrowing images and accounts flooding their channels in the immediate aftermath. While this might be a powerful driver in the early days of a disaster, long-term recovery efforts require sustained support long after the disaster has faded from the headlines. Consistent communications can connect people to the realities of these communities as they rebuild, along with opportunities to strengthen their ongoing recovery efforts through dedicated recovery funds.

Building on Hope
While philanthropy itself cannot cure all that ails a community following a major disaster, the sector continues to be a powerful force for relief and recovery. Strengthening that power in the face of our present and future challenges will take more than the desire to do good — it will take a keen awareness of post-disaster complexities and the resources needed to meet their effects over time. While no single program or agency can accomplish this, a collaborative approach holds great potential for future recovery efforts. Taking the time to connect, listen, and learn — from those enduring post-disaster hardship to the experts, organizations, government agencies, and other funders engaged in recovery efforts on their behalf — can optimize funding resources and their potential to generate long-term, sustainable impact as these communities and their citizens rebuild with resiliency for the next time disaster strikes.

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