Guest Post: Philanthropy's role in disasters

Posted on August 16, 2012 by Guest Blogger

Editor's Note: Veronica Taylor is a consultant specializing in disaster preparedness, response and recovery. She previously worked with The Patterson Foundation to help deepen its understanding of the disaster space. As a guest blogger, she will cover issues relevant to the disaster sector. 

The Council on Foundations reminds us that philanthropy is different than charity. Traditionally, philanthropy reflects long-term strategic investments in creating authentic change while charity has a more immediate, short-term focus. Unfortunately, when it comes to major disasters, foundations also tend to focus on the short-term crisis.

If, in fact, disasters only magnify the pre-existing problems in a community, then the place for philanthropists is primarily in the preparedness and long-term recovery phases of the disaster continuum.  This does not alleviate the need or desire to demonstrate compassion and commitment during the immediate aftermath of an event, but it does guide philanthropy to a model of strategic funding.

A good practice in disaster funding uses a “no more than one third for relief” rule of thumb.  In other words, for every dollar donated to immediate disaster relief, two dollars should be donated for long-term recovery.

Philanthropists know that throwing dollars at a problem does not create authentic change, though. This kind of change comes through good partnerships. Building connective tissue (partnerships) to create new realities is a core value of The Patterson Foundation. Building connective tissue to recover from a disaster is a necessity for survival.

There are two trains of thought when selecting partnerships in the disaster sector. One is to invest in the well-proven, disaster experienced, super-organization like American Red Cross, Salvation Army, World Vision, and others.

The other camp supports searching for the golden nugget. The IRS approved 500 new tax-deductible organizations focused on disasters in the nine months following hurricane Katrina. In Haiti, the publicity, need, and money that followed the 2010 earthquake is estimated to have created 5,000 new NGOs. According to a new study by Civic Ventures, a think tank in San Francisco, more than 12 million Americans from 44 to 70 years old would like to start nonprofits or businesses that solve social problems. Who’s to say that the next Einstein of disaster brilliance isn’t among them?

If the disaster is local to your community, support your existing partners responding to the needs of your community.  When a disaster hits locally, a Foundation wears two hats: first as a good community citizen, and secondly as a funder. In other words, don’t think just funding. Offer leadership services, facility space, staff support, etc.

In the next several blogs, I will recommend areas to leverage donation resources for the most impact and dollar-for-dollar return on investment. I will also suggest a few non-profits working in that area.  Please feel free to recommend additional non-profits working in disaster.

I welcome your comments, ideas and additional suggestions. Let the brainstorming begin!

I do not endorse, nor do I work for any of these organizations.  There are thousands of non-profits engaged in disaster work, so in no way can these lists be inclusive.  These suggestions focus primarily on national disasters, although additional recommendations can be made for international disasters.

  • Learn about these and other concepts used in TPF's approach to philanthropy.


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