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.