Giving Well in Sandy’s Wake

When I posted this commentary on the anniversary of Tropical Storm Irene in August, no one knew that we would again need guidance on giving in the wake of a disaster so soon (well, perhaps Al Gore knew, but that’s fodder for a different commentary).  Even as many eastern states are still reeling from Sandy’s impact, many thoughtful philanthropists will begin wondering how to be most effective with their disaster giving.

So, allow me to re-issue the below commentary that describes the new Center for Disaster Philanthropy.  Take a moment to visit their “Hurricane Sandy Hub” where you can learn about the most current philanthropic and non-profit response, and the Center’s own Hurricane Sandy Disaster Fund.  Heck, you can even call them for advice on giving: (206) 972-0187.

Given our recent hurricane experiences, we now know that the recovery from Sandy must a relentless effort in the days and weeks to come.  So too can we anticipate the relentless fundraising pitches from non-profits claiming to be the lead in the recovery effort.  Private philanthropy will be key to the recovery, so please give — just be sure to give well.


When Tropical Storm Irene rampaged through Vermont one year ago today, it left homes flooded, fields covered in debris — and donors overwhelmed.  The charitable impulse was strong, but where to give?  What organization would use the funds most effectively?  Who understood the challenges on the ground, and had the trust of local communities to address them?

These are questions with which every donors struggles in the face of disaster.  From the earthquake in Haiti, to the tsunami in Japan, to Tropical Storm Irene, the question of how to strategically give surfaces with every breaking story of disaster.

In the midst of the chaos, we thankfully welcome the new Center for Disaster Philanthropy: The Center is being incubated by the New Venture Fund, with diverse private foundation funding and in-kind support from Arabella Advisors.  With a highly experienced board and staff, including former Guidestar CEO Robert G. Ottenhoff at the helm, the Center is poised for impact.

Concerned about Hurricane Isaac advancing up the coast?  Click on “Where” and read about the philanthropic collaborations gearing up.  Wondering what has happened in Haiti since the earthquake?  Read the update and review current recommendations for giving. Or, to prepare for the next disaster, peruse the best practices in disaster grantmaking.

For Vermont funders, Irene’s one year anniversary is also a time to recognize the Vermont Community Foundation‘s leadership in raising, managing and directing Irene-related philanthropic resources.  VCF’s Flood Response website makes it simple to track giving recommendations and funds available, plus their effort to make all the dollars in and dollars out as transparent as possible is laudable.

These two resources change the landscape of disaster giving significantly, however, a gap still remains for funders.  The question of how to resolve an unplanned gift for a disaster in the context of one’s other charitable giving still remains.  You might be moved to give in response to Hurricane Isaac, however, your pledge to the local capital campaign must be paid and you still want to be philanthropically active in the arts and environmental sectors.  What to do?  Above all else, stay focused.  Look for opportunities for disaster giving to dovetail with your identified priorities, and apply the knowledge you’ve developed from giving in a particular sector, for instance, the arts, to disaster giving within the same sector.

Despite all our wishes otherwise, we know that hurricanes will ravage the best laid plans, floods will wash good intentions away, and wildfires will burn holes in budgets every year.  However, philanthropists have the opportunity now to plan for the unplannable.

A gift for the next generation of non-profit leadership

Vermont’s non-profit professional development program is accepting registration now for their winter courses. Consider making a grant to your favorite growing non-profit to support the next generation of leadership:

Certificate in Nonprofit Management

Registration is now open for the Winter 2012 session of Marlboro College’s highly-regarded professional development Certificate in Nonprofit Management. Choose to take the series at the Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier, or at the Marlboro College Graduate School in Brattleboro. The program meets for ten Fridays, 8:30 am to 3:30 pm, beginning January 20. Financial aid from Marlboro College is available to applicants with financial need; our students have also been successful securing aid from external sources. To learn more, contact Kate Jellema, Program Director: or (802) 451-7510, or visit us on the web at