4 Ways to Respond to Hurricane Harvey (or Any Disaster)


moore-112785_1920There is nothing like reports and photos of devastation after a natural disaster to spark one’s desire to lend aid and support. Hurricane Harvey in Texas and southwest Louisiana most certainly has captured our attention, and now Hurricane Irma has entered the picture as a potential threat to the Leeward Islands and the US coast. But all too often, the outpourings of charitable gifts dry up long before the needs created by that disaster are all met. If you’re considering lending your support to those affected by a natural disaster, I encourage you to do so — and to consider the following four ways you can make a meaningful difference.

1.Respond to Immediate Needs. Right now, many people in Texas and southwest Louisiana are homeless, hungry, scared, looking for missing relatives, displaced and despondent. The financial assistance that you give right now will help people cope in this time of crisis, and I urge you to follow your instincts and make that donation. National organizations like the American Red Cross naturally come to mind, but a local community foundation is also a smart place to share your gifts. For Hurricane Harvey, please visit the Greater Houston Community Foundation, the Communities Foundation of Texas, or the Community Foundation of Southwest Louisiana to make a contribution. For other disasters in other locations around the world, you can use this interactive atlas to find local community foundations.

2. Fund Recovery. In two weeks, Hurricane Harvey will have dropped from the news cycle. You’ll be inundated with other things to think about – possibly even Hurricane Irma. But many people on the Gulf Coast will still be homeless, unable to work, seeking shelter and food, and trying to rebuild their lives. They’ll also be dealing with the cleanup of chemicals from 13 toxic waste sites that were flooded in the storm.

Natural disasters strike in what seems like an instant, but the work of recovery and rebuilding goes on for months or even years. Unfortunately, this is the period when most givers have moved on. It’s also a time when sustained gifts can make a huge and lasting difference — rebuilding homes and schools, replacing weathered infrastructure, repairing environmental damage, and helping communities to emerge better than before. Even when national organizations have moved on, those local community foundations are still at work.

So once again, check out the Greater Houston Community Foundation, the Communities Foundation of Texas, or the Community Foundation of Southwest Louisiana as quick, easy and effective vehicles for supporting recovery in the wake of Harvey. You can also donate to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy’s Hurricane Harvey Recovery Fund, which will focus on medium- and long-term needs such as rebuilding homes, businesses and infrastructure; meeting the needs of young children; supporting mental health needs and boosting damaged agricultural sectors.

Focusing on recovery can also be a great opportunity to ensure that recovery is equitable. Otherwise, resources may go to areas where voices are the loudest, but not necessarily where the need is greatest. The Center for Disaster Philanthropy provides a link to the Disaster Recovery Tracking Tool, created by Texas A&M University, that specifically helps local governments and other stakeholders monitor recovery efforts for inequities.

3. Invest in Mitigation or Reform. There is nothing like a 75+ MPH wind to reveal flaws in a system. After Hurricane Katrina, we all learned about the weaknesses in the levy system in New Orleans. Post-disaster is a great time to revisit infrastructure issues policies and practices that will be needed to bear the brunt of a natural disaster and change them before the next hurricane or wildfire or earthquake strikes. An objective, outside funder can help bring community players together without pointing fingers or assigning blame to tackle these issues and make needed changes together.

4. Get Ready for the Next One. The very best way to weather a natural disaster is to be prepared for it before it strikes. For example, Nashville, Tennessee, now has a disaster plan to respond to floods, co-created by local funders like the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, the city and area nonprofits. Everyone knows what their role is and when to play it, which greatly reduces danger when flooding occurs and helps speed the recovery process. For a funder, supporting this kind of disaster planning process is a way to protect other investments in a community.

Want to learn more? The Center for Disaster Philanthropy is a powerful resource for funders who want to respond to natural disasters around the globe. Here, you’ll find not only ways to respond now, but strategic ways to help support the planning and preparedness that will mitigate the impacts of future disasters. For global disasters the International Committee of the Red Cross is a go-to resource for responding to immediate needs, and the report “ The World Humanitarian Summit: A Pivot Point in Philanthropy’s Contribution to Addressing World Humanitarian Crises” offers 10 recommendations for effective philanthropy directed toward global humanitarian crises. Inside Philanthropy provides a list of disaster and refugee funders. Lastly, please consider these eight tips for supporting long-term recovery.

This article was originally written for and published by Forbes.com on August 28, 2017, and updated on September 5, 2017. 

© 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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