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Group of four volunteers in hard hats put the frame of a building together.

Refine your giving when communities need it most

We’ve gathered strategic giving tips that philanthropists of all levels can use.

“When you have nothing, a $1,500 Visa gift card is like a godsend,” Steve Rosenthal told the Miami Herald. After the collapse of his condo tower in Surfside, Florida, he was among the survivors who received help from Global Empowerment Mission, a Miami-based nonprofit that as of July has raised $330,000 for Surfside relief.

This immediate support, with neighbors helping neighbors, represents one strand in the safety net – but it is a vital one, says Lori Bertman, co-founder of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. As the only full-time resource dedicated to assisting donors in maximizing their impact before, during and after a disaster, the center has a trove of data showing how to help communities recover more quickly – and even build resilience against future disasters. Here we’ve gathered their best tips for strategic giving that philanthropists of all stripes can use.

$24.8 billion: total donations for COVID-19-related efforts, as of June 24 – an amount that dwarfs funding for other recent disasters.

Follow your passion. “If you love to support animal welfare or education, continue to support those causes in a disaster, too,” Bertman told the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation. “Gifts of any size still make a difference.” She offered the example of a youth-focused foundation reluctant to fund Hurricane Sandy relief because it was outside their mission. After researching what the community needed that aligned with their focus, they rebuilt a playground destroyed in the storm.

Think long term. The struggles of an impacted community often endure and evolve long after the attention has faded. “Over a third of private giving is done in less than the first four weeks of a sudden disaster ... and two-thirds within two months,” said William M. Paton, author of “Philanthropic Grantmaking for Disasters.” The reality is that full recovery can take decades and what is needed can change over time – something to keep in mind when planning a donation. A donor advised fund (DAF) is one vehicle that can help you stretch out gifts.

Try an ounce of prevention. “Every dollar you spend upfront in some type of resilience initiative can be helpful to prevent the same recurring events,” said Joe Ruiz, director of the UPS Humanitarian Relief & Resilience Program. For example, for every $1 spent in disaster preparedness, society saves at least $6 in property damage and casualties, according to 2017 research from the National Institute of Building Sciences. Several renowned national organizations (e.g., American Red Cross, FEMA, Team Rubicon) also offer lengthy, in-depth training to help volunteers learn the skills necessary for a long recovery well ahead of an adverse event.

Do some due diligence. Check sites like CharityWatch and Charity Navigator before giving money to avoid scams. Consider pre-vetting organizations if you live in a disaster-prone area and want to provide immediate support to your community. Your DAF program may also be able to recommend vetted partnerships.

Tread lightly with in-kind gifts. Unless specific items are requested, giving physical goods that must be sorted and stored can cause headaches. The U.S. Agency for International Development has even compiled a list of the worst in-kind gifts, including skeleton-shaped Halloween candy sent to hurricane survivors.

Giving responsibly means giving thoughtfully and meaningfully. If you are planning on making a charitable donation, consider the tips above and talk to your advisor about which options are right for you.

Sources: Miami Herald; Center for Disaster Philanthropy; Measuring the State of Disaster Philanthropy report; Greater Kansas City Community Foundation; The Chronicle of Philanthropy; The Pew Charitable Trusts; U.S. Agency for International Development; Candid and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy