Philanthropy’s Special Role in Supporting Community Recovery from Disasters

This week marks the two year anniversary of “Super Storm Sandy” hitting the Eastern Seaboard of the US, the Caribbean and Canada. Many of the hardest hit communities were in New York and New Jersey – the storm’s destruction has been well documented. A full recovery for many of those communities is still a work in progress.

When disasters strike, a whole range of different players jump into action – government and nonprofits being on the top of that list. Where is philanthropy on the list? We know individual giving is critical – is institutional philanthropy (foundations and corporate giving) one of the critical players?

I believe the answer is a resounding yes. Yesterday, PNY, along with our partners CNJG, CDP and the FC, released our report on the Philanthropic Response to Hurricane Sandy. The dollars are impressive – nearly 600 players committed over $380 million dollars. As you read through the report details, it is clear that those dollars filled important gaps and served vital needs in hard hit communities.

But, that is not the end of the story for us. After the Gulf Coast storms, PNY (then NYRAG) analyzed the giving, conducted interviews, and developed a set of “best practices” for funders responding to disasters. As the data around Sandy was being gathered and analyzed, we decided to re-examine those best practices in light of this latest philanthropic response. Our examination is in the report – what is important to highlight here is both that those same best practices, in the main, remain solid touch points for funders to consider before they respond to this or any disaster. And, at the same time, it is entirely right and important to discard the “best” practices that don’t make sense for a particular situation. Both things happened with New York funders responding to Sandy. Best practices such as proactively reaching out to grantees, minimizing demands on them, if not eliminating them, before providing emergency grants remained the right and best thing for funders to do. On the other hand, collaborative funding and a central repository for funds and knowledge were less critical and often, simply not necessary in communities with many strong and capable players.

It remains important to be willing to look at how funders worked, both together and individually, and assess what went well and what could be done better the next time. Perhaps the most important message about recovery from Sandy for the moment is that it is not yet over. We hope you will take a moment to look at our report and let us know what you think.

This post is part of an occasional series on the CEP Blog providing perspectives from regional grantmaking associations on philanthropy and foundation effectiveness.

Ronna Brown is President of Philanthropy New York, the regional philanthropic network comprised of 285 grantmaking organizations and individual donors in New York. Philanthropy New York provides programs, services and resources that foundations rely upon. You can follow Ronna Brown on Twitter @RonnaBrown.

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