Private Philanthropy: Key to Disaster Recovery Efforts

Private Philanthropy: Key to Disaster Recovery Efforts

April 1, 2019

April 1, 2019 - Private philanthropy is a powerful force in disaster response and recovery. A force that, when taken as a piece in the varied puzzle that reflects disaster funding, is a crucial technical and financial resource that can drive effective disaster recovery.

The simple definition of philanthropy that I subscribe to is “private goods used for public benefit.” In times of disaster, these private goods take on a critical role – filling needs unmet by governmental dollars in a manner that is arguably (we hope!) more flexible and more nimble. What we do know about the impact of disaster philanthropy is that most of the dollars go to immediate response and relief, not a surprise given the images that fill our screens post-disaster. Considerably fewer philanthropic dollars go to preparedness, resilience and mitigation.

Through our partnership with Candid (formerly Foundation Center), in 2016 we identified $199.9 million in funding by foundations and public charities for disasters and humanitarian crises. Of this total, natural disasters accounted for 44 percent of disaster funding; 16 percent for flooding, particularly in Louisiana. Man-made accidents received 15 percent of the funding, with several large grants addressing the Flint water crisis. We know that the bulk of funds (42 percent of the dollars) were aimed toward response and relief efforts, while only 17 percent were directed toward reconstruction and recovery. Eight percent of dollars went toward resilience measures and five percent was allocated for disaster preparedness.

It is true that public dollars are considerably higher in size, scope and amount of funding, and yet, it is the mosaic or blend of funding streams (from local, state, federal or even bilateral) -- along with philanthropy -- that becomes the “special sauce” of support for recovery. Here are a few examples of where philanthropy has been key to a recovery effort:

  • The Skoll Foundation has devoted $1.25 million to support Build Change in its pursuit of training homeowners, local construction workers, governments and nongovernmental organizations on retrofitting and rebuilding safely in developing countries vulnerable to natural disasters like earthquakes.
  • The CDP Hurricane Harvey Recovery Fund at the Center for Disaster Philanthropy provided a $250,000 grant in April 2018 to the Coastal Bend Disaster Recovery Group (CBDRG). The grant is: supporting work with case managers to identify an estimated 8,000 households and refer them to community resources for further assistance; purchasing materials for and coordinating the repair or rebuild of more than 100 homes; and initiating an initiative to address additional unmet needs in the area.
  • IBM Corporate Giving gave $750,000 after Hurricane Florence for nonprofits to create innovative technology for relief and resiliency.

The Center for Disaster Philanthropy has several resources that can help you think about philanthropy in a different way.

  • Basic Tips for Disaster Giving provides a simple and straightforward approach to inform your disaster grantmaking.
  • The Measuring the State of Disaster Philanthropy report - has a mapping platform that enables you to see where private philanthropic dollars are being allocated. This map is updated monthly to give you as accurate a view as possible of philanthropic giving to disasters. And, you can also orient the map to see where governmental dollars go for disasters.
  • The Resilient Organization, a holistic guide to IT disaster planning and recovery was developed by TechSoup, in partnership with the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. This e-book is intended for organizations that are preparing for a disaster as well as those that need to rebuild and maintain operations after a disaster.
  • The Disaster Philanthropy Playbook is a compilation of philanthropic strategies, promising practices and lessons learned that help communities be better prepared when a disaster strikes. In particular, it is aimed at helping philanthropic organizations and individual donors be more strategic with their investments and recognize the importance of supporting long-term recovery for vulnerable populations.

Private philanthropy is a vital resource when it comes to disaster planning, response and recovery. What I have outlined represents just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what philanthropy has done and can do. If you have any questions about disaster philanthropy, and how it can be relevant to your work, do not hesitate to reach out to me! It would be my pleasure to speak with you about the importance of private dollars being directed toward the public benefit.

 @funds4disaster | #CDP4Recovery

Regine A. Webster

Regine A. Webster, vice president at the Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP), brings a keen sense of adventure, discovery and compassion to the fields of philanthropy and humanitarian assistance, helping build bridges between those offering solutions and those in need. Webster served as the founding executive director of CDP, a trusted resource and philanthropic force. She is one of only a handful of people nationwide who have managed a dedicated disaster portfolio for a foundation, as a program officer, consultant and fellow in the Global Health and Global Development divisions of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. There Webster led the Foundation’s $15 million Emergency Relief portfolio. Webster shares her two decades of disaster philanthropy experience in speaking engagements and through volunteer leadership positions on local and national-level boards and committees. Hear more from Regine about CDP’s work and the role of philanthropy in the full lifecycle of disasters here.  Contact: