10 Best Practices for Disaster Relief Giving

Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors offers guide to donors who would respond in a crisis

House destroyed in Hurricane Sandy (Photo: AP) House destroyed in Hurricane Sandy (Photo: AP)

Charitably minded Americans are renowned for stepping up to help victims of natural disasters and other catastrophes. Sometimes, however, their desire to act as quickly as possible can lead to mistakes.

“In the confusion and uncertainty following a disaster, the haste to do ‘something’ can end up creating more harm than good,” Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors writes in the preface to a new resource guide for emerging and established philanthropists who want to respond effectively to a disaster.

“That’s why experienced donors often take pains to respond thoughtfully as well as quickly in crisis situations.”

RPA’s guide offers 10 ideas for prospective donors to consider before giving during a disaster.

1. Preparation is key. Some donors have developed a crisis plan with specific roles for staff or consultants and specialized resources, including timing of intervention, designated decision maker, target areas or populations to support in specified kinds of disaster, whom to collaborate with and the process of giving.

2. The effectiveness of any action will be enhanced by solid research, cogent analysis and willingness to turn down weak proposals.

3. Cash grants are often more useful than goods unless those goods are a response to specific credible requests. Moreover, general operating grants can provide flexibility and stability during a crisis.

4. Information is crucial in a time of disaster. Local partners or NGOs at work in the disaster zone can provide accurate updates about rapidly changing needs and advice about what kinds of philanthropic support might be useful.

5. Although collaboration can be difficult and costly, funders who don’t work well with others risk duplication, waste and poor prioritizing during a crisis. Sharing information with other donors is key. Streamlining the application process and working with other partners can facilitate delivery of resources to affected communities.

6. Acting as a first responder isn’t always the best role philanthropists can play. A more effective approach may be to split funding: initially supporting groups already mobilized and deferring part of a grant to see what important needs remain after the first wave of relief aid.

7. Lessons from one disaster can inform responses to future ones. Strategies employed and their outcomes can be invaluable to responders in the next crisis. At the same time, donors should remember that each crisis is unique, requiring different responses, and manage expectations accordingly.

8. Doing things differently in light of a particular crisis can be effective as the disaster changes over time. This could involve supporting local institutions known and trusted by affected populations that would not ordinarily receive a donor’s funding.

9. Proper due diligence can help many philanthropists crack a tough nut: whether to support a brand-name relief organization during a major disaster or stay within the framework they’ve established of supporting smaller nonprofits. Big aid groups need support, but sometimes they receive more funds than they can spend in response to a specific disaster, while smaller ones a donor supports may already be active in the field.

10. Disaster-related grants can fall within a funder’s existing programmatic or geographic priorities, allowing the donor to keep its focus. For example, a youth-focused program that provides afterschool programs could reach out to children displaced after a disaster.

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Check out Regulators Renew Focus on Business Continuity, Disaster Recovery Plans on ThinkAdvisor.

 

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