A post to Exponent Philanthropy's blog

Disaster Response: Connect, Collaborate, Consider, Communicate

Photo by Sunyu Kim on Unsplash

Experts and experience have shown that the most effective grantmaking in response to a disaster follow the “Four Cs”:

1. Connect with a good source of information about the disaster

Local organizations are already at the scene, know best what is needed, and understand the complex political, social, and cultural context. You might call on:

  • The local regional association of grantmakers
  • Local charities (or U.S.-based international aid groups)
  • Governmental agencies working in the area

2. Collaborate with others

Do not act in isolation from other donors. Connect with:

  • Peers in your community, including other foundations, like-minded individuals, and giving circles
  • Local or international charitable organizations, such as churches or activist groups
  • Larger grantmaking foundations or regional associations of grantmakers
  • Government agencies

3. Consider the impact of your donations on the big picture, and your vision for full recovery from the disaster

Think about what is needed in the short term and long term, which may include:

  • Food, clothing, housing, and emergency medical treatment
  • Counseling and family communication, and reconnection
  • Rebuilding schools, hospitals, and roads
  • Strengthening the capacity of local charities

4. Communicate and follow through

  • Consider the ongoing needs of the recipient organization and community affected by the disaster
  • Communicate the results of your work to friends, family and community members
  • Self-reflect and evaluating the successes and missteps during the process

Important tips for funding disaster relief

The Council on Foundations and the European Foundation Centre created a joint working group to address how charities and foundations could provide the greatest good in the arena of disaster grantmaking. Their recommendations include:

  • First, do no harm; not all disaster relief is beneficial.
  • Stop, look, and listen before acting.
  • Don’t act in isolation.
  • Think beyond the immediate crisis to the long term.
  • Bear in mind the expertise of local organizations.
  • Understand how prospective grantees operate.
  • Be accountable to those you are trying to help.
  • Communicate your work as a means of education.

Questions for professional advisors of small-staffed foundations

Legally, it is easier to give to traditional U.S.-based charities in times of disaster. If you are making grants to traditional U.S.-based charities (including international intermediaries based in the United States), you should verify their tax-exempt status as you would with any other grant you make. Get sound legal advice before giving directly to individuals or other types of organizations, such as governments, businesses, or internationally based groups.

Questions for professional advisors of individual donors

Legally, it is easier to give to traditional U.S.-based charities in times of disaster. If you are making cash donations to U.S.-based organizations (including international intermediaries based in the United States), you should verify their tax-exempt 501(c)(3) status and evaluate their track record of success in implementing disaster relief. Get sound legal advice from your financial advisor before giving directly to individuals or other types of organizations, such as governments, businesses, or internationally based groups. Explore all available options that would support your philanthropic efforts.

Action items for small-staffed foundations

Take time to craft strategic policies in advance of a disaster; this approach can make it much easier for your foundation to know when and how to respond when a disaster strikes. The process can be as simple as having a conversation with your board or as formal as developing a written disaster relief plan that considers your mission, what you will fund, potential grant recipients, and likely partners. Such planning ensures confidence that you agree about your actions should a disaster arise, and improve the impact and effectiveness of your grantmaking.

Action items for individual donors

It’s natural to feel compelled to quickly donate your resources in the most readily available way. But having a plan to give strategically will have more impact in the long run. Take time to determine what programs you want to support; your values and the priority areas you’d like to fund; as well as the scope of your level of involvement. Whether you give directly through cash, a giving circle, or a donor advised fund, crafting an action plan in advance of a disaster makes it easier to respond when one strikes.

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