Giving Thought: Foundations play key role in disaster response |

Giving Thought: Foundations play key role in disaster response

Tamara Tormohlen
Giving Thought
Tamara Tormohlen
Steve Mundinger

Many of us have been following the impacts of Hurricane Dorian as it scoured the Bahamas and made its way up the East Coast. When a natural disaster like Dorian strikes, charitable organizations are often the first to respond, gathering funds, supplies and volunteers to help the affected communities. These organizations are the ones you see providing medical aid, food and shelter, supplies and cleaning up. Think American Red Cross or Mercy Corps.

While typically not in the business of providing boots-on-the ground relief, foundations often play an essential role in responding to disasters. There’s even a term for it: “disaster philanthropy.”

Foundations can create specific disaster recovery funds to focus on medium- and long-term recovery with the understanding that individuals and communities will need the support of private philanthropy for months or years as they navigate the road to recovery.

In addition to funding, foundations can offer support in other ways by leveraging their relationships and expertise to help organizations and civic leaders respond to all stages of a disaster. Effective disaster philanthropy not only addresses the immediate relief and short-term recovery of impacted communities but also pays attention to long-term needs such as planning, preparedness and mitigation.

Part of the work — often the first step — of effective disaster philanthropy is to educate, to be a source of information for donors wanting to give in response to a disaster. Foundations are well-positioned to use their knowledge and relationships to share which organizations are responding and in what way. These resources are invaluable to donors as they determine what to do with their disaster-giving.

The Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) is the go-to resource for foundations seeking to support communities affected by disasters such as wildfires, hurricanes and earthquakes. CDP was conceived by several funders in response to the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. These funders wanted to make disaster-related contributions more effective and strategic including knowing when and how to respond.

The CDP created the Disaster Philanthropy Playbook, a compilation of philanthropic strategies, promising practices and lessons learned to help communities be better prepared when a disaster strikes. In particular, it is aimed at helping philanthropic organizations and individual donors be more strategic with their investments and recognize the importance of supporting long-term recovery for vulnerable populations.

The Playbook provides a framework for effective disaster philanthropy. This framework includes four key focus areas for funding and support. They are:

Response: Addressing the immediate needs of individuals and families, particularly those who are low-income, whose lives are seriously affected by the disaster.

Recovery: Providing continued health and social services for survivors, helping first responders to replenish depleted supplies and equipment, and supporting environmental restoration efforts.

Mitigation: Supporting efforts to reduce loss of life and property by lessening the impacts of natural disasters.

Preparedness: Creating networks of government, emergency management officials, local first responders and nonprofits to effectively and efficiently respond to future disasters; raising community awareness and communicating vital information about disaster preparedness and planning.

Since Hurricane Katrina through this most recent devastation left by Dorian, Aspen Community Foundation has played a role in educating donors and funneling philanthropic dollars to impacted communities. And, with the Lake Christine Fire, we gained important insights into handling disaster philanthropy in your own backyard, including that planning and preparedness lay the groundwork for effective response.

Donors are quick to respond to disasters and generous in their support of relief efforts. As a foundation, we know that helping communities recover is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time to discern long-term needs. Philanthropy must be patient and flexible, willing to stay invested in communities long after the spotlight has turned away.

Tamara Tormohlen is the executive director of Aspen Community Foundation.


See more