Natural Disasters Prompt Difficult Questions for Funders

I am sitting here in my office in Nashville, Tennessee, surrounded by a steady rain that represents the remnants of Irma. No likelihood of flooding here, but definitely a reminder of the power of water – either via floods or hurricanes – and the devastation that it can bring.

SECF’s footprint covers the 11 states that are arguably hardest hit by hurricanes domestically. Last year, Florida and the Carolinas faced Hurricane Matthew, Louisiana saw vast parts of the state devastated by flooding, and Georgia has been hit by rare winter weather. Until just this past week, it had been years since Florida took a direct hurricane hit. That changed radically this past weekend.

While reports of destruction following Hurricane Irma are still coming in, we know a hurricane and subsequent flooding can cause protracted power outages, water quality concerns, infrastructure losses – roads, hospitals, public health systems – and massive damage to homes, roofs, and community structures.

We also know that the sheer number of global disasters (refugee crisis, famine in North Africa, wildfires in the western United States, Mexico earthquake, South Asia flooding, and Hurricane Harvey) is making it difficult for the philanthropic community to know where to allocate their resources most effectively.

With regard to Hurricane Irma, I will offer three short pieces of advice:

  • Pay close attention to the hurricane-related needs that arise in the Caribbean. My international relief and development colleagues are deeply worried that the Caribbean will be grossly underserved.

  • If you are already a grantmaker in Florida or the Caribbean, please make sure to reach out to your existing grantee partners. Find out about their needs, their challenges, and the strengths that they can bring to the recovery effort.

  • Lastly, remember to pause and assess. Between FEMA, the UN, and other local/state/federal governmental bodies as well as the nonprofit responder community, we will all have much more information upon which to base funding decisions in the coming weeks.

It is my sincerest hope that the SECF community will demonstrate a strong show of support for Florida and the Caribbean following Hurricane Irma.

Regine Webster is vice president of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.

SECF has partnered with the Center for Disaster Philanthropy and the Council on Foundations to present a special webinar for funders on the response to Hurricane Irma. Join us at 3:00pm (ET) on Thursday, September 14 – visit CDP's website now to register!


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