Exploring Disaster Philanthropy: Part 3 

November 9, 2017 Kim Lynes

Let’s talk about impact.  

Like other areas of disaster philanthropy we’ve explored, how you measure the outcomes of the contributions your organization has made greatly depends on the timing of such funding or donations. In the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster, organizations should focus on outputs. This could mean number of beds, meals, or other items needed by the local population to satisfy the number of people that need help getting their basic needs met. Let me ask you, do you think these outputs are being considered when the immediate outpouring of support comes in right after the disaster? 

After Katrina the philanthropic sector observed mismanagement of the huge influx of money that poured in during the immediate aftermath. Funds were distributed immediately, without the consideration of specific outputs required to address specific needs. Since then, the need to help more communities build a disaster prevention plan has become more apparent. When an analysis can be done before a natural disaster strikes regarding long-term implications, a community can be more strategic with funding to ensure long-term recovery is accounted for. Of course natural disasters are unpredictable, but a strategic game plan can do wonders to ensure the funds aren’t all spent immediately. 

The American Red Cross acknowledged this need with the creation of their Annual Disaster Giving Program (ADGP). Members of the program donate at various contribution levels to essentially pre-invest in disaster relief. Plans are made for immediate response when disaster hits, and strategies established for long-term needs. Based on each community the ARC can allocate funds for immediate needs targeted to that specific location and level of disaster, possibly identifying local organizations to work with that may focus their recovery strategy on specific areas.  

American Red Cross and corporations are working towards being able to address the unexpected needs that arise with a disaster. Many foundations hold relationships with local agencies, and could follow their example to set up a plan if disaster strikes. Michelle DiSabato, Impact Advisory Consultant at Blackbaud, advises agencies to examine areas that align with their mission, and narrow their focus to accomplishing impact in that area.  A few measures that a local funder investing in the long-term recovery of an affected area post disaster could consider are: 

  1. Number of people who get their basic needs met after a disaster
  2. Number of people that are temporarily resettled after a disaster 
  3. Number of people that are permanently resettled after a disaster 
  4. Number of communities that have a disaster prevention plan 
  5. Number of communities that complete reconstruction after a disaster 

By including these long-term outcomes in your planning, you can drastically increase your chances of getting back to pre-disaster conditions, or better. To set up these strategic plans requires exceptional communication and understanding of different communities and their vulnerabilities. Technology has developed to support these cross-country relationships and collection of information. Our reliance on technology has also put us in a vulnerable position where it is more important than ever to have strategic plans in place, with desired outcomes identified. Maria’s aftermath in Puerto Rico has shown us that when technology is lost, it is extremely difficult to communicate and provide the help needed in affected areas. The only way to potentially combat this kind of situation is having a disaster response plan in place prior to its occurrence. Will there still be funding that needs to go to immediate, unanticipated needs? Absolutely. But with less confusion and more focus, affected communities will still be in a much better position to move forward and thrive. 

This blog post was written with contributions from Michelle DiSabato, Impact Advisory Consultant 

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