The human, economic and environmental toll of natural disasters in the last few months has been nothing short of overwhelming. Even if we sit miles away from danger ourselves, the stories and images of those in need call us to act. But the desire to help those in need after natural disasters can quickly lead to a confusion. There are hundreds of worthy agencies where you could potentially make a gift, but how do you know what charitable investment will deliver the greatest impact?
My suggestion? Consider a community foundation. Community foundations are essentially philanthropic hubs that provide leadership, stewardship and leverage for a broad range of individual charitable contributions. They supply charitable support to nonprofit organizations, but also build charitable endowments to ensure the needs of communities will be met far into the future. To me, they are perfect solutions for disaster giving. Here are ten reasons why:
1. Community knowledge. Community foundations are rooted in the communities they serve, so they know firsthand of the needs following a disaster and the assets that can be deployed to respond.
2. Vetting. Community foundations are in the business of making effective grants to reputable nonprofits. They’ve done their homework so you don’t have to.
3. Partners. Because they are truly community-grown institutions, community foundations are used to working in close partnership with other organizations. These relationships come in especially handy when multiple organizations must work together to recover from a natural disaster.
4. Leadership and Reputation. Community foundations are created by community members, which means they are usually among the most trusted institutions around. They are also considered leaders of the philanthropic community. They can use their leadership and reputations to help influence action among others, especially when disaster strikes.
5. Give any amount. Community foundations offer options for donors who wish to give any amount. Make smaller or one-time gifts to the community foundation’s disaster relief fund, or consider a gift to an unrestricted fund that will allow the community foundation’s board to determine the best use of charitable dollars. For larger or longer-term gifts, consider a donor advised fund from which you can provide direction on how grants are made. Community foundations also offer field of interest funds in which donors can leverage their gifts with others who share the same focus or priorities.
6. Immediate relief. Community foundations can mobilize targeted relief funds in short order, meaning gifts are deployed quickly to agencies that need them. And because of their community knowledge and connections, relief dollars from community foundations can easily adapt to the needs at hand, whether it’s food, medical supplies, shelter or something completely unforeseen.
7. Long term strategic impact. Community foundations are created with a long-term view, which means even a short-term gift in the wake of disaster is helping move a community toward a longer-term vision and goals. Unlike some other charities, community foundations won’t make a short investment and then move on. Instead, they’ll be there to help bring community members together not only for short-term recovery, but to rebuild better than before.
8. Give here or there. Many community foundations across the country have developed disaster relief funds to lend aid to those outside their own service areas. Chances are, you can help those in other parts of the US or around the globe by making a gift to your local community foundation. You can also easily make gifts online to community foundations in affected areas.
9. Impact and accountability. Because community foundations are accountable to a number of donors and partners, they must be able to explain their approaches and demonstrate their impact.
10. Planning for the next time. In many cases, when communities gather to plan ahead for the next disaster, the community foundation is a leader in that effort, if not the convenor. And advance preparation is incredibly important to minimizing negative impacts of violent storms, wildfires, or other natural disasters.
The desire to support those in need after a disaster is both noble and good, but it pays – for you and those you wish to help – if you can ensure your gift has maximum impact. A community foundation may just be your best bet for disaster relief, recovery and rebuilding.
For more specific examples of community foundation relief funds tips on disaster response, see 4 Ways to Respond to Hurricane Harvey (or Any Disaster) and Community Foundations Keep Giving When Disasters Keep Coming. You can also find a community foundation near you or in an area affected by natural disasters by visiting the Community Foundation Atlas.
This article was originally written for and published by Forbes.com.
© 2017 Kris Putnam-Walkerly. All rights reserved. Permission granted to excerpt or reprint with attribution.
Kris Putnam-Walkerly, MSW, has helped to transform the impact of top global philanthropies for over 18 years. A member of the Million Dollar Consultant Hall of Fame and named one of America’s Top 25 Philanthropy Speakers. Author of the award-winning book Confident Giving: Sage Advice for Funders, which was named one of “The 10 Best Corporate Social Responsibility Books.” For more ways to improve your giving, visit Putnam Consulting Group.
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