Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 35 seconds

disasterThe root of the word “disaster” is based on the idea of a “bad star” or the stars misaligning. For foundations though, disasters can be a time to shine and provide aid and comfort while everyone else is flailing.


Living up to that expectation isn’t easy. Since there’s no way to predict a calamity, the best a foundation can do is ensure that it’s prepared in a general way for the worst, especially as grants must be approved quickly to address immediate needs. Whether it’s a hurricane, a terrorist attack, a widespread power outage or any other disruptive event, foundations need to be prepared to support immediate relief and long-term recovery in impacted areas.

That’s especially true since foundations are playing a larger role than in the past in disaster recovery. While it can take months for federal payments to trickle through the system, foundations - especially at the community level - can tap digital channels and solutions to provide immediate relief to victims. Here are three things your foundation should think about to be prepared when disaster strikes:

Know your desired impact

Foundations don’t just have to imagine the unimaginable, they need to visualize the aftermath and how they might have influence. For instance, suppose, a hurricane hit? (This year’s season may be busier than average.) In that event, some questions to ask around strategic planning include:

• What number of people will get their basic needs met after a disaster?

• How many will be temporarily relocated?

• How many are permanently relocated?

Knowing the answers to these questions before disaster hits can immensely help your foundation when it’s trying to quickly assemble recovery efforts.

Build relationships—now!

An effective disaster response requires coordination between foundations and local organizations. Such grassroots groups can supply data and information about current needs and available distribution methods to ensure that your funding is being used efficiently. Even more important, they know people in the community and have established trust.

Community foundations are also an ideal vehicle for donors to make investments that go beyond immediate need following a disaster. But garnering those donations depends on relationship building. Community foundations are usually removed from local politics, have deep local connections and in general are:

• Already equipped to handle the influx of donations (enabled by the right technology)

• Have deep connections with the community (if relationships have been built and fostered over time)

• Are trusted to match donor investments with actual community need (trust is a huge factor here)

But establishing trust with such groups takes time. It’s never too soon to get started building those relationships with local businesses, community groups, nonprofits, and government offices. Laying the groundwork now will make it a lot easier to form a working relationship and collaborate with others in the wake of a disaster.

Have the right technology in place

So much of disaster outreach is digital. We use social media data to track victims and mobile apps to facilitate payments. The best-intentioned program will fall apart if a foundation’s tech infrastructure is ill-equipped to handle a disaster.

One necessary back-end solution is configurable grant management software, which lets organizations alter grant requirements to get funding distributed faster outside of the normal grant cycle. Such solutions also let your organizations see where funding is having the most impact and measure outcomes (short and long-term results), not just outputs (grants awarded).

In a disaster, foundations should also look to utilize disaster-related tech solutions like Google Person Finder and others that comb social media to track down disaster victims. Prediction technologies that look at weather events are also helpful as are statistical models that can predict the after-effects of a major event.

Ready for anything

Having a plan, forming relationships and having the right technology in place are the best ways that foundations can prepare for disasters. Of course, no one can prepare for anything and real-life disaster response is usually a mixture of preplanned coordination and smart improvisation.

In all likelihood, many aspects of even the best thought-out plan will be cast aside. As President Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”




Michael Beville, VP of Marketing & Sales, Blackbaud Corporate & Foundation Solutions
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