22 Aug How Nonprofits Can Better Prepare for Disasters and Build Resilient Communities
With only two named storms so far, the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season is shaping up to be one of the slowest-starting in recent years.
But every season has the potential to wind down with devastating results. You only need to look back at the 2017 season when Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria all struck in September and October.
Still, these months of relative calm are allowing organizations from various sectors more time to shore up their emergency preparedness. The importance of planning during periods of “blue sky” was one of the key takeaways at the Resilient Response Texas Forum, held in Houston this past June and organized by Good360, and All Hands and Hearts.
A major objective of the forum was to gather thought leaders from across the nonprofit sector to consider how social service agencies, charities and other not-for-profit organizations can be better prepared to respond to a large-scale disaster. Participants included representatives from the American Red Cross, the OneStar Foundation, Rebuild Texas Fund, and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, among others from companies such as UPS, Coca-Cola, Dow Chemical and CITGO.
At the two-day summit, attendees specifically looked at how nonprofits should consider embracing the pillars of the Resilient Response pledge. Developed by Good360 and All Hands and Hearts in 2018, the six-point pledge offers a framework for corporations to take a more thoughtful, long-term and resilient-minded approach to disaster giving.
The pledge also provides an excellent starting point for nonprofits as they evaluate their disaster strategy:
- Be Proactive: Have plans in place before disaster strikes so you can respond more effectively.
Prior to the start of hurricane season every June, for example, make sure to update your communications plan with current mobile numbers and emergency contact information for employees, executives and volunteers.
Summit participants also brought up the importance of nurturing relationships that build up your network before a major event so you’re not scrambling to make contacts during an emergency. These connections might include local emergency planners and responders, business associations, the chamber of commerce, your local VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster) group, volunteer groups and private companies.
2. Needs-based: Take the time to understand what a community needs before responding and use that knowledge as the key driver of your support, collaborating and learning from others who are also responding.
For nonprofit organizations, this means having a specific and detailed understanding of your desired impact in a disaster. How many families can you help? What services can you provide? For how long? In what area?
Oftentimes, nonprofit organizations are trying to” boil the ocean” and believe that by trying to do as much as possible, this will drive further support. But they actually end up stretching their efforts too thinly. By focusing on the actual impact that you can feasibly make and being open to any and all collaborations that can help to accomplish your vision, the result will be greater efficiency around disaster recovery.
Also consider when it’s a smart idea to turn down donations so you’re always matching up giving with actual needs.
3. Immediate & Long-term: Address both immediate and long-term needs, and commit to staying in communities well after the cameras leave.
For local nonprofits, “staying in the community” isn’t usually the problem. The bigger challenge is that they may not have the resources to commit to providing aid for the long-term recovery, which can take 3-5 years or even longer. Many nonprofits operate on a “pay-as-you-go” philosophy in which funding is earmarked for immediate needs and little is left over for a rainy day fund.
Nonprofit organizations might consider seeding a fund specifically for long-term disaster needs or developing a strategy to partner with corporate donors beyond the initial impact. Nonprofits can also work with Good360 to get access to product donations that can contribute to long-term recovery efforts.
- Resilience-focused: Leave communities stronger than before disaster struck, helping them to better withstand future disasters.
There’s no question that nonprofits are often on the frontlines of a disaster, providing immediate relief to survivors and their families. But it’s also apparent that more effective disaster recovery strategies are needed from all sectors to reduce waste and build up communities for the long-term.
This is where nonprofits can really make a difference because strengthening a community can happen in many ways — from reducing poverty to providing job training, from ensuring the availability of child care to addressing food insecurity. As you develop your disaster planning, consider ways in which you can contribute to a community’s long-term health and vitality.
- Transparent: Be transparent about our actions and hold ourselves accountable to deliver on promises.
Establishing trust is essential for nonprofits if they want to maintain their base of donors, supporters and volunteers. Being transparent is a key precursor to gaining that trust.
For nonprofits engaged in disaster recovery, it’s critically important to be clear about your capabilities and what kind of impact you can make to build bridges of trust with emergency responders and donors alike. Of course, you’ll also want to be transparent about how your donations, both cash and in-kind, are being used.
- Educational: Educate our associates, colleagues, consumers and the public on how they can better respond to disasters.
Nonprofits are on the leading edge of education. In fact, for many not-for-profit organizations, educating the public about their particular cause is one of their chief objectives.
Now take that educational muscle and work in information about disaster preparation, making it particularly relevant for your local community and leveraging your organization’s expertise. Your area may be prone to flooding, so holding workshops on preparing for and cleaning up after a flood could be highly valuable to your constituents.
It could be as simple as lending out your office for a series of disaster-related info sessions or a meeting of emergency managers and responders.
As promoters of the Resilient Response pledge, we want to invite nonprofits to join their corporate counterparts in ensuring that they and their local communities are better prepared for a major disaster in your area. The pledge is a useful framework for thinking about how to do that.
Also consider working with Good360 to access product donations from our corporate partners as you develop your plans — before disaster strikes.