Last month, Hurricane Michael devastated and left a trail of destruction along Florida and Georgia. Two months ago, Hurricane Florence left the Carolinas under water. Last year, Hurricane Harvey hit the Gulf Coast, Houston, and its surrounding areas, creating a 1-in-1,000 year flood event and causing over $125 billion in damage.

Philanthropy is uniquely positioned to help communities quickly respond in immediate relief and recovery stages of disaster relief. They can bring together and build relationships among funders and cross-sector stakeholders, leverage experience working in different sectors and on a wide variety of social issues, and quickly provide funding with fewer restrictions than a typical grant process, buying time for government support and the development of long-term recovery and preparedness strategies.

There are 7 key lessons from this work that are applicable to the broader field of disaster relief philanthropy—particularly community foundations, who are often the coordinators of local or regional philanthropic responses to disasters—irrespective of region or type of disaster. These lessons include:

  1. Maintain standing structures, such as advisory boards or grants committees, that can quickly activate, empower, and implement increased resources during disaster times.
  2. Use data and engage in feedback with the community to inform grantmaking and better serve impacted communities. 
  3. Conduct an assessment of nonprofits to identify key partners and capacity gaps, and to establish proactive agreements with some local agencies. 
  4. Institute a grant funding category to specifically encourage investments in smaller or under-resourced organizations, with explicit considerations for diversity and equity.
  5. Maintain flexibility and transparency in operations, especially in grantmaking processes.
  6. Support relationship building between nonprofits through ongoing convenings in non-disaster times, and ensure the convenings are accessible. 
  7. Communicate clearly and consistently to the public on progress, needs, and challenges to sustain momentum for ongoing disaster relief work.

Read the full article about coordinated responses to disaster relief by Nikhil Bumb, Renee Wizig-Barrios, and Lamecia Butler at FSG.