21 Nov Disaster Giving Is Broken and Our Pledge Can Help Fix It
As a global community, we are terrible at giving after major disasters. It’s not because we aren’t generous. Hurricane Harvey attracted an incredible $336 million in corporate and foundation support, according to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. That’s not even counting individual contributions, which probably doubled that amount. So far, U.S. corporations have given at least $21 million for Hurricane Florence relief. The problem isn’t a matter of generosity. The problem is that so much of disaster giving simply goes to waste.
Some 60 percent of unsolicited goods donated after a disaster ends up in landfills (or otherwise goes unused), according to data from the National Science Foundation and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. What’s more, 70 percent of giving occurs within the first two months — only 5 percent of giving is ever allocated to long-term reconstruction and recovery.
The sheer amount of waste in disaster giving is even harder to swallow given the growing severity of natural disasters around the globe. Stronger storms are resulting in greater levels of destruction, forcing governments to lean more on private enterprise for humanitarian assistance.
Clearly, corporations have an increasingly outsized role to play in disaster response. It’s no longer enough for them to simply write a check or send a few truckloads of leftover inventory. What the world needs is a more thoughtful approach to corporate philanthropy so what we build stronger communities that are better able to withstand the next disaster.
With this ambitious goal in mind, Good360, Global Citizen, and All Hands and Hearts – Smart Response have launched a collaborative initiative called “Resilient Response.” Together, our aim is to create larger awareness around more purposeful giving in disaster and shift corporate-giving behavior to better support response and long-term recovery. A more resilient, collaborative effort would help prevent a pattern we’ve seen in disaster after disaster. In the weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico last September, thousands of shipping containers packed with food, water, medicine, and other critically needed supplies began pouring into the island’s ports. And there they sat, stranded and undistributed, for days and weeks.
Thousands of pounds of food, medicine and personal care goods eventually went to waste because shipments weren’t coordinated with on-the-ground recipients or simply couldn’t reach their intended destination. Unfortunately, this scenario is so prevalent after natural disasters that humanitarian officials have a name for it. They call it the “second disaster.” That’s when literally tons and tons of donations — often unsolicited and unneeded — overwhelm a disaster zone, clogging ports and diverting precious manpower away from recovery efforts. There’s no shortage of egregious examples. After wildfires ripped through California’s Napa and Sonoma wine regions in 2017, a single shelter housing around 100 evacuees reported receiving 5,000 toothbrushes and 3,000 sticks of deodorant.
While addressing immediate needs is critical, the current approach to giving does not effectively support the full lifecycle of a disaster. With both cash and in-kind donations front-loaded in the days and weeks during which a disaster gets the bulk of its media coverage, the “long tail” of recovery is forgotten and left severely underfunded.
Yet, from experience, we know it can take years, or in the case of New Orleans post-Katrina, even a decade or more for communities to completely recover from a major disaster. One year after Hurricane Harvey ripped through the Texas Gulf Coast, some communities are just now moving into the recovery phase. The long slog of rebuilding has really just begun.
When corporate partners understand the recovery stages and the actual needs of affected communities on the ground, in-kind donations can be a true game-changer. For example, it is estimated that less than one-quarter of the $127.5 billion in Hurricane Harvey destruction has been offset by public dollars.
If every dollar donated results in $10 worth of in-kind donations (as Good360 can assure), corporations could help close the shortfall much more effectively. Informed donors, working with local and national partners, can responsibly distribute excess goods for maximum impact and possibly receive tax benefits for doing so. Affected communities get the tools they need to rebuild. Everyone wins.
To guide corporations toward more purposeful giving during times of disaster, we have developed a six-point pledge for corporations seeking to give:
- Proactive: Have plans in place before disaster strikes to make response more effective
- Needs-based: Learn what the impacted community actually needs and let it drive your donations
- Immediate and long-term: Address immediate and long-term needs, staying in communities well after the cameras leave
- Resilience focused: Leave communities stronger than before disaster struck, helping them to better withstand future disasters
- Transparent: Be transparent about your actions and be accountable to deliver on promises
- Educational: Educate your associates, colleagues, consumers and the public on how they can better respond to disasters
We are asking corporate partners, big and small, to join us in ensuring a more resilient, proactive response to natural disasters by adopting our pledge.
With the severity of natural disasters getting worse around the globe, we can’t afford to waste any more time or resources. We can and must develop a more thoughtful approach to disaster response. Take the Resilient Response pledge at ResilientResponse.org today to build stronger communities that can better withstand future disasters.