It’s OK to Pause and Think. In Fact, Please Do.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

It’s OK to Pause and Think. In Fact, Please Do.

A Message from the President of Philanthropy New York, Ronna Brown, published originally in the New York PhilanthroPost Weekly October 4, 2017 edition

Day after day, month after month, crisis upon crisis comes. Just last month, I used this space to talk with you about what has been learned over the years from Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy that could be applied to Harvey.  This month we must face even more devastation from Irma, Maria and the human-created horror of the new most devastating mass shooting in U.S. history.

The philanthropic community’s instinct to act quickly is natural. When disasters strike, there is an urgent humanitarian imperative to get donations out to communities in need. There is an instinct to join with others whose voices and donation announcements demonstrate that a community cares about what happened and wants to help.  Those voices also help demonstrate to government that there is a need and people are paying attention.  

So, make the announcement about your foundation’s commitment to give.  But a timely announcement of a commitment does not need to equal a hasty allocation of funds.  Identifying the right recipient organizations requires taking time to investigate which organizations really understand and authentically serve the communities in need and can best work toward long-term recovery.

One of the important learnings from past disasters and the numerous “best practices in disaster philanthropy” reports and resources is the realization that funders can do a great service by making an announcement about their organization’s decision to direct a high-profile grant to a disaster response, but hold back on naming the recipient organizations.

The Center for Disaster Philanthropy’s “Basic Tips for Disaster Grantmaking” urges organized philanthropy to :

1.Take the Long View

2.Connect with Other Funders

When a funder makes an announcement of its commitment to give, yet holds back the naming of a recipient, it also provides an opportunity to make a second announcement later when it names the recipient organizations. It is a second high-profile opportunity to demonstrate that the funder is listening to, and sticking with, the communities in need.

Philanthropy New York members contact us after each disaster and ask us what we’re hearing from other funders about specific relief funds and organizations collecting donations. We tell them that our learning from work on past disasters like Katrina and Sandy tells us that the need continues long after a disaster, and that’s when philanthropy’s capacity to be thoughtful is most helpful. Sometimes the right thing to do is simply to make the commitment announcement, take a breath and then determine where exactly to direct the funds when the gaps and long-term needs become clear. 

If you’d like to learn more about best practices in disaster philanthropy, I hope you will join us on Wednesday, October 25 at Philanthropy New York for the program “From Hurricane Sandy to Hurricane Maria: Can Disaster Philanthropy Be More Strategic?” presented by leaders from CDP and funders who have learned from their own experiences in disaster grantmaking.

We are also helping get the word out on a webinar that the Council on Foundations is doing this Friday, October 6 at 12:30 p.m. specifically focused on helping the communities affected by Hurricane Maria.

I hope you can join us for these information sharing opportunities.