How to Help Neighbors and Communities in Time of a Natural Disaster by Gioia Perugini

With national attention once again turning to the wrath of a powerful hurricane, we are returning to a topic about which we have written before, the persistent question of how to help neighbors and communities in times of a natural disaster. With such disasters unfortunately becoming more common than any of us would like, and with their destruction often disproportionately impacting vulnerable communities (domestically or internationally), where should donors focus their charitable response? Below are a few points to help guide your considerations of how and where to respond to needs created by natural disasters.

Give now, later, or both?

Research conducted by The Center for Disaster Philanthropy (which was created as a resource and clearinghouse for disaster philanthropy information in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2004) shows that most disaster giving is made within a few days after a disaster, primarily by donors without ongoing disaster experience. The needs are real and the images on television, in print, and across the Internet show just how important giving to disaster response is.

Even while a donor is supporting immediate needs, it’s important to remember that it takes time for impacted communities to assess the full range of needs and to understand how private support can boost public resources for disaster recovery. It will take weeks, months or longer for Texas, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the rest of the Caribbean, and Florida to fully understand the scope of destruction and to develop plans for recovery and rebuilding. Philanthropic support will continue to be a necessary component of mid- and longer-term recovery. In addition, the more vulnerable and isolated communities (the U.S. Virgin Islands, for example, where food supply and volunteer support take longer to deploy) might need relief efforts for longer than other geographies.

Where do I give?

Technology has made immediate charitable response to natural disasters just a click away. Whether it’s text-to-give, online donations or giving at the cash register, mobilizing donors for immediate response has been faster than ever. Our advice to donors is the same as it would be when developing their overall giving priorities. Start with your passions or what moves you. Are you most concerned about the safety and stability of people most impacted by a natural disaster? Are there geographic areas that are more isolated or vulnerable, and are likely to be slower to move toward recovery? Are you moved by the images of animals in need? Are you concerned about the availability of fresh water and food? Look to local resources who know their community’s needs and the necessary delivery mechanisms. Increasingly, municipal officials (mayors or governors) have partnered with local or state-wide community foundations to establish relief funds, to be used for longer term recovery efforts (as seen most recently in Houston and Florida, as well as for recovery after Hurricanes Sandy and Irene).

Donors should also take care when giving immediately following a disaster. Is the organization or people involved legitimate? Sadly, there are instances where fraudulent efforts attempt to take advantage of those in vulnerable situations. In addition, we have learned that, in the case of a disaster, money is most appreciated in the immediate aftermath. The logistics of delivering goods can be overwhelming, especially if transportation routes are compromised. But there are instances where neighbors can help neighbors in very tangible ways. For example, a friend’s sister in Houston offered to collect and distribute gift cards for food and supplies (such as grocery store and drugstore gift cards) to her neighbors who had needs immediately after the flood.

Learn from past experiences

Much has been written about disaster response, recovery and resilience. What can we learn from past natural disasters, including Hurricanes Katrina or Irene or Sandy? With two storms happening in rapid succession, how can areas prepare better in advance? For example, Comcast set up Wi-Fi hot spots across the potential path of Irma in anticipation of the storm’s arrival, not after it passed through like it did with Harvey. The state of Vermont spent several years focused on rebuilding “resilient” communities after Irene, so that future natural disasters would not be so devastating. Typically, local leadership will take the lead on assessing need and in developing public/private partnerships to coordinate the response.

While we wish we never had to write blog posts like this, helping donors be organized in their response to natural disasters will hopefully ease the burden of those impacted by these terrible storms.

Related posts:

Donations in the face of disaster: what can good people do when bad things happen?


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Summer Reading in Philanthropy by Gioia Perugini

The benefit of a late summer vacation is that it’s not too late to post a summer reading list. In the field of philanthropy, there is no shortage of information that comes across our desks. From white papers to blog posts to full-length books, information management is a near constant task. So how do we stay current and what do we find the most useful for advising clients on charitable giving? Throughout the year, we read annual reports, news articles, publications from grantees and other research in issue areas including health and human services, the environment, education and the arts. We’ve also been reading a number of publications this summer which help us better understand the how and why donors give.

Use of Donor Advised Funds

Learning more about how the philanthropic sector is evolving and evaluating the impact of various charitable giving vehicles can help donors better achieve their goals. Both the 2017 Giving Report from Fidelity Charitable and the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s What Donors Want reveal significant insights into how donor advised funds are being used to advance charitable giving. For example, the Chronicle article concludes that while the popularity of donor advised funds has soared, little has changed about why donors give. The article posits that donors are “still driven by the aspirations, hopes, fears and love of others as they’ve always been.” Charitably-minded donors have not changed, and are making greater use of this vehicle to help grow their giving.

The numbers back this up, with $22.3 billion in contributions to donor advised funds in 2015, leading to record grant making of $14.5 billion. Of further note is the fact that independent research demonstrated that funds at the largest supporting organizations collectively distributed 14% of their assets in 2014. Fidelity Charitable’s report also outlines a number of trends on how their donors give, noting that growth of $1 million grants outpaced grants overall in 2016, and that major gifts (greater than $50,000) account for 64% of all gifts. Finally, nine new organizations made the list of most popular charities given to by Fidelity Charitable fund holders, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the International Rescue Committee, showing how a donor advised fund can be used to respond to national and international trends and issues.

Trends in Multi-Generational Giving

We’ve also been spending time this summer reading up on trends in family philanthropy and particularly in multi-generational giving. The National Center for Family Philanthropy’s (NCFP) recent Family Case Study talks about how to evolve a family philanthropy to develop engagement by and involvement of younger generations. It cites a practice we often use for our clients, which is the tandem use of a donor advised fund and a private foundation. Particularly useful in that case study was a sample profile from the foundation highlighted, which outlines a set of “desirable characteristics” for up and coming foundation leadership, not solely relying on age as the only factor to consider when thinking about engaging a next generation in a family’s philanthropy. We read this in tandem with the Center for Effective Philanthropy’s report on Multigenerational Family Foundation Board Engagement (commissioned by the Surdna Foundation), which gathered reflections from seven board chairs and CEOs. This verified much of what NCFP discussed, as well as what we’ve learned in our own advisory practice, that formal governance structures ensure continued family engagement, that advance planning helps make the onboarding process more successful, that trusted professional staff and non-family board members can bring additional expertise and leadership, and that experiences like site visits and grantee presentations can connect those involved in a foundation more directly to their giving.

Spending the summer reading up on best practices in philanthropy allows us to be well-versed in the myriad of ways donors can make an impact through their charitable giving. It also cleared up my vacation bag for a true beach read! See you in September, rested and ready to jump in to the fall giving cycle and prepared to bring all this new knowledge to bear on end-of-year giving!


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The Power of Women in Philanthropy by Gioia Perugini

I recently had the pleasure of presenting at an event focused on the power of women’s philanthropy. My charge was to report on the national and local data which tracks how women give, and then extrapolate themes and how they play out in the day-to-day giving of families with whom we work. Digging into the history and data on this topic, there were a few surprising findings of both past and current trends related to women’s giving. There were dozens of examples from the late 19th and early 20th century of women whose passion for giving and giving back set the tone and pace for others to follow. Clara Barton, for example, found her passion for giving back from directly assisting soldiers on Civil War battlefields. The result was the creation of the American Red Cross. Harriet Hemenway used her social position to save birds from being killed for hat decorations. The result: a ban on trade in wild bird feathers and the founding of Massachusetts Audubon. You can read all about it in one of my favorite children’s books, She’s Wearing a Dead Bird on Her Head.

So like many areas where women’s involvement is often not at the forefront of popular understanding, the history and current trends related to women’s philanthropy is enjoying a bit of a renaissance. The research and trend analysis is led in large part by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Lilly School of Family Philanthropy at Indiana University. Their research shows that women continue to be powerful forces in charitable giving and volunteerism. Single and married women give more than married men. Young single women today give slightly more than their counterparts of 40 years ago, and young married women have greater influence on the decisions about charitable giving, and give more when they influence those decisions, than their counterparts did 40 years ago. Women’s giving is more typically issues-driven, and they are more likely to give to education, the environment and basic needs. The trend linking volunteerism and philanthropy remains strong as well. Nearly 30% of all women volunteer and represent more than half of the 4.3 billion hours of annual service, according to the Corporation for National & Community Service. Women are also statistically more likely to focus on transmitting their values to the next generation through both their giving and their volunteerism.

So what does this mean for the modern, day-to-day practice of philanthropy? Many women talk about an “ah-ha” moment that crystallized their passion for philanthropy. Whether it was volunteering with a local organization, seeing their children get excited about community service, or experiencing a challenging life event themselves, many women can pinpoint a specific moment in time when they made their decision to get involved and give back to an organization and a cause.. Women want to talk with their families, especially their children and grandchildren, about their values and how they express those values in their giving and volunteering. Women are saying “yes” to nonprofit board service and leadership, where their voices in governance, program development and fundraising are critical. Let’s not forget the power and history of women’s giving, and as we prepare to honor the women in our lives for Mother’s Day, we can continue to use the examples of women in philanthropy across all generations to inspire us to innovate and serve those most in need. We Can Do It!

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