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Nonprofits Serve as Emergency Managers

Case Study of Northeast Alabama

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an

By Donta Council
March 8, 2016

We hear it and see it over and over again. Disasters bring out the best in us. That’s when we come together to help those who are in need. Disasters can take hours to destroy communities and take years to recover.

With the recent water crisis in Flint, Michigan, we have seen many agencies engaged in supporting and assisting the Flint community through raising awareness, importing fresh water and fundraising. In times of crisis, communities desire agencies to be good stewards of contributions, particularly monetary contributions.

councilDuring a natural disaster or crisis, nonprofit agencies play a critical role in both short-term and long-term recovery. An asset of nonprofits that funders and the community must take advantage of is the ability for nonprofit foundations to be fiscal agents to manage and allocate donations and coordinate post disaster responses. Community foundations are widely known for their expertise on community based issues, specific nonprofit agencies and financial management of philanthropic funds.

Take, for example, the case of the tornadoes that swept across Alabama in 2011. The Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama, with a mission to assess needs and channel donor resources to maximize community well-being, was the fiscal agent of disaster funds and received up to $100,000 of matching funds from the Patterson Foundation in Sarasota, Florida to provide disaster relief to those affected. Due to the pouring generosity of the community, within two months of the initial challenge, the Patterson Foundation increased the matching challenge to $250,000. In addition, the Foundation received significant contributions from the Governor’s Emergency Relief Fund, the Lily Endowment Fund and Church World Service, Inc. Trusted organizations are needed to be stewards of donor dollars during a sensitive crisis. Prospective funders and community leaders must count on a reputable agency to be responsible in meeting the challenge of leveraging donor gifts to meet the community needs.

The Foundation served as a collaborative partner, receiving funds from more than 300 individuals, businesses, local, state and federal agencies. Ultimately, the Foundation met the challenge of the Patterson Foundation and raised more than $500,000 for disaster relief.

In order to effectively distribute these disaster funds, the Foundation created a Tornado Advisory Committee. The committee was composed of members from the communities affected including Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), case managers and long-term recovery teams. With these funds, the committee conducted a needs-based assessment. Each county served by the Foundation was assessed on their needs and funds were distributed to pay for household appliances, tree removals, clothing and other items to help rebuild the lives and families in northeast Alabama.

The Foundation’s expertise and garnered reputation provided the community and donors with a high level of financial stewardship and public trust to receive contributions from many donors. An aspect of philanthropy that is often neglected is true donor engagement. The Foundation was equipped with the capacity to honor all donor intentions and to communicate the impact of the donor’s contributions through reporting. A part of this impact included 220 cases/projects approved, 67 homes rebuilt, 12 families relocated, 8 mobile homes repaired, 114 families receiving household appliances, among many other needs met by residents.

Community foundations serve as a vanguard of charitable giving and, in times of crisis, can engage in speed funding. Donating to nonprofits becomes much more attractive versus the formal procurement process of a government agency. Nonprofit agencies can tap into funding sources that typically would not be available to public agencies such as corporate, private donors and private foundations.

Nonprofit agencies are also attractive in a sense that they appeal to allies that have a similar interest in assisting in disaster relief. The Foundation was able to partner with numerous community agencies and vendors. These vendors, business and agencies, such as Lowes, were able to provide the Foundation with discounted pricing on materials, expedited requests and ultimately quickly assist residents of the community in rebuilding their lives.

A unique capability of the Foundation was their tax-exempt status. Making purchases without paying taxes allowed the Foundation to further leverage donor funding to provide more relief for local residents. The natural synergy between those interested in disaster relief and nonprofit capabilities are a desired combination in promoting collaborative philanthropy in emergency management.

Providing community relief in a time of a disaster becomes a community and nationwide responsibility. Local residents, community leaders, government officials and other anchor institutions must engage in collaborative efforts to strategically and effectively meet the needs of those affected. The zeal of the nonprofit sector appeals to the public at large. An asset of the nonprofit sector that communities must tap into is the ability to utilize institutions that are reputable and carry financial expertise and donor engagement. Being that time is critical in a crisis, the ability to speed fund allows for an institution to quickly raise funds and respond to community needs. Nonprofit agencies, particularly community foundations, can play a vital role in being an emergency manager in a time of disaster.

Author: Donta Council, MPA is a program officer at the Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama. Email: [email protected].

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