Hurricane Irma

The Process of Giving Away Money After a Disaster

Posted on September 17, 2018 by Michael Corley, consultant with The Patterson Foundation
I am not lost on the irony of me writing this blog on the day Hurricane Florence is making landfall along the East Coast and almost 1-year to the day that Hurricane Irma brought my area (Sarasota/Bradenton) to a standstill.

From August 30, 2017 – September 13, 2017, Hurricane Irma tormented the Caribbean and the U.S., wreaking havoc along her path. Afterward, The Patterson Foundation (TPF) donated $250,000 to the Hurricane Irma Recovery Fund at the Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP). The funds were designated for the medium-term and long-term recovery needs in Florida.

In January 2018, a full four months after the event, I was asked to be a member of the CDP Hurricane Irma Recovery Fund committee charged with determining how the funds would be distributed. The first committee meeting was held in April 2018. I note the timing of the formation of the committee and the first meeting to show that CDP waited until after the immediate response activity passed before beginning with the medium-term recovery assessment. This was by design, and even though under pressure to distribute the monies from the fund, CDP stuck to its mission of focusing on medium-term to long-term needs.

This committee was formed to provide grant recommendations to the CDP Board of Directors. Its composition included Lori Bertman, Irene W. and C.B. Pennington Foundation, Bob McFalls, Florida Philanthropic Network, Jacqueline Patterson, NAACP Environment and Climate Justice Program, John Slocum, CIDOB-Barcelona Centre for International Affairs, and Bob Ottenhoff, Center for Disaster Philanthropy. The staff of CDP, including Regine Webster and Natalie Worthan, provided the necessary support by creating request for proposals (RFPs), reviewing the completed RFPs, and creating an informational packet in preparation for each committee meeting. They also researched needs in Florida, connected with nonprofit organizations, and coordinated with FEMA.

As a member of this committee, I wasn’t sure what to expect since I am not familiar with the granting process because TPF does not ask for or issue grants. I was pleasantly surprised that there was a call dedicated to each of the nonprofits requesting funding. We discussed details like how the proposal leverages what the organization is already doing, other organizations that are doing the same thing, opportunities to collaborate, and connections to work being done elsewhere in Florida.

Fortunately, the staff at CDP had gone through a basic vetting process, and yet, we still had additional questions which needed to be answered. Regine and Natalie reached out to the nonprofit organizations for clarity and brought the new information to the next committee meeting. This back-and-forth process, while time-consuming and probably frustrating to the staff at times, helped each committee member get comfortable with the decision at hand. (Distributing $1.4 million to help people comes with tremendous responsibility. It was important that members were satisfied with the due diligence conducted.)

On Monday, August 27, 2018, the committee met for the last time. Over the course of almost five months, we had four video calls and numerous emails. We made recommendations to the CDP Board of Directors to distribute nearly $1.4 million from the CDP Hurricane Irma Recovery Fund. Thanks to the support from the staff and the inquisitive nature of the committee members, our work was thorough. Although $1.4 million is a lot of money, in this situation, it was a drop in the bucket compared to the need.

If you ever wonder if your donations are being conscientiously distributed, I can speak to this fund, and confidently say, “Yes, it was. The process ensured it.”

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