Part of my work at the Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) involves monitoring philanthropic giving in response to disasters through our annual Measuring the State of Disaster Philanthropy: Data to Drive Decisions (SODP) report. However, due to lags in reporting, that data is two years behind. When we can look at numbers immediately after a disaster, it gives us a unique perspective. And 2023 set records in disaster relief funding.

The Maui wildfires in August, which affected Lahaina and Kula, stand out for the funds raised.  By late March, Honolulu Civil Beat’s Maui Fires Money Tracker had tallied more than $450 million in private donations and nearly $2 billion when including government assistance.

Much of the non-governmental funding went to the Maui Strong Fund at the Hawai‘i Community Foundation (HCF), which received almost $188 million in donations (including earned interest) as of March 22. As far as we know, this is the highest amount ever raised by a single community foundation for a non-terrorism-related disaster. In addition, the Jeff Bezos and Lauren Sanchez Maui Fund pledged $100 million, GoFundMe raised $60 million, the People’s Fund of Maui (Oprah and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) raised $60 million, and Maui United Way raised about $25 million.

After 10 years of tracking disaster philanthropy through SODP, this is (as far as we know) the highest amount of philanthropic dollars ever raised for a wildfire response and recovery and for a single natural hazard in the United States. (That distinction previously belonged to the Greater Houston Community Foundation, after Hurricane Harvey.)

And that’s only for one disaster last year. There were many more, including February’s earthquake in Turkey and Syria. A year later, Candid had tracked 465 grants worth $289 million and 55 pledges worth nearly $206 million in response to that disaster.

In December 2023, we released our 10th SODP report, which tracked $3 billion in philanthropic giving for disasters in 2021. In looking at Candid’s Foundation 1000 research sets, excluding epidemic-related funding, including for the COVID-19 pandemic, these large U.S. funders contributed $266.2 million. Only 2017 saw a higher total during this 10-year period, with $266.4 million awarded in response to non-epidemic disasters including Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria and the earthquake in Mexico.

Hawaii and Turkey combined or individually exceed the disaster-giving totals for a single year when we exclude epidemics (the COVID-19 pandemic skews the numbers because of the incredible response from individuals and philanthropic partners).

Is the increase in disaster philanthropy due merely to the outsized impact these disasters had and the amount of media attention each received? Or has donor behavior changed as result of the pandemic?

Read the full article about disaster philanthropy funding by Tanya Gulliver-Garcia at Candid.