From May 2 – May 7, the Tactical Philanthropy Blog Team will be covering the Council on Foundations conference from Atlanta. The individual blog team members represent a range of opinions and have been given no editorial directions. The opinions expressed in these posts do not necessarily represent the opinions of Sean Stannard-Stockton.
By Eric Kessler, Arabella Philanthropic Investment Advisors
One year ago the Council met and the hallways were filled with talk of the Cyclone that had just struck Myanmar, followed 10 days later by the earthquake in China. People were dying and communities were destroyed. And the philanthropy community was the deer in the disaster headlight. Today the Council meets as the H1N1 Flu Virus fills participants morning newspapers and, some suggest, the planes that brought us to Atlanta and the buses that take us to site visits. Judging by discussions I’ve had with participants here in Atlanta, the philanthropy community appears to be maintaining its position as a deer in the disaster headlight.
At today’s session on Disaster Philanthropy (featuring Ronna Brown of Philanthropy NY, Akhtar Badshah of Microsoft, and Regine Webster, a consultant to the Hilton Foundation and Arabella Advisors.) few audience members believed that the H1N1 virus had reached disaster proportions. A quick non-scientific survey suggested that 10 deaths in one’s community might lead to engaged philanthropy. 1000 deaths would be a real motivating factor.
What motivates us to get engaged during or after a disaster is second to the bigger question of what it take for philanthropy to think proactively about disaster philanthropy. How many hurricanes, wildfires or terrorist attacks will it take for family, institutional and corporate philanthropists to examine their average annual donations following disasters and think ahead about how those dollars could have a greater impact when the next one hits? Disaster-related giving surely is the one are of grantmaking that has the highest volume of dollars yet the smallest amount of strategic planning.
If every foundation present at the Council conference supported their grantees in building preparedness plans, maintained relationships with disaster recovery organizations with the capacity to act quickly, and considered their own grantmaking continuity should a disaster impact their own operations, the long-term impact of everything from Katrina to the H1N1 flu would be significantly reduced – saving millions of philanthropic dollars.
The Council is going to host a donor teleconference on the flu virus on Thursday (details forthcoming on their website.) Hopefully that will have some impact on the philanthropic response to this crisis. And hopefully this disaster will be the tipping point that finally engages donors so we get ahead of the next disasters headlights.