Unprecedented storms demand an unprecedented philanthropic response

Written by: Ryan Schlegel

Date: September 26, 2017

The historic Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria have weakened or dissipated. But communities are just beginning to come to grips with the devastation caused by these storms measured in lives lost, properties damaged and communities displaced.

As grantmakers respond to this and future natural disasters, funders’ goal must not be to restore the status quo that endangers marginalized communities by stranding them in flood-prone neighborhoods and sub-standard housing. Instead, it must stand ready to provide financial aid for immediate survival and infrastructure needs and for long-term physical, emotional and communal rebuilding. We must be ready not just to rebuild houses and bridges, but to rebuild the power and elevate the voice of marginalized communities who were disproportionately impacted by the storms.

Lesson from Katrina, Sandy and Matthew: Don’t leave underserved communities behind

“Many families [in Houston’s Fifth Ward] are already challenged economically. We are concerned particularly that aid and insurance relief has been a one-size-fits-all approach for communities that is not based on that community’s needs. [Harvey recovery] could be an opportunity to further gentrify the community because many homes in the area are total losses, but the amount of aid is inadequate for them to rebuild.

It is imperative that organizations and funders support grassroots organizations on the ground with direct connections to those families who are impacted and put together programs that will increase their capacity to be able to rebuild. It is my prayer that we will use the lessons of Katrina and Sandy to make sure underserved communities are not left behind.”

– Kathy F. Payton, CEO of the Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation.

Funders need to be ready to do short-term and long-term Southern grantmaking well in response to Harvey and Irma and other future environmental disasters. But what does “doing it well” actually look like?

NCRP has been engaged for the last 18 months in an ongoing partnership with Grantmakers for Southern Progress to highlight the opportunities for investment in long-term structural change work in the South in our As the South Grows series. Despite the historic lack of philanthropic investments in the region and in the face of entrenched, racialized poverty, Southern communities stand ready to build movements for justice that have the potential to change the country.

The third report in the series, coming out this fall, will elevate the stories of Southern activists working at the intersection of economic, racial and climate justice. It will include lessons from marginalized Southern communities on the frontlines of climate change and their cross-issue, cross-constituency strategies to break the hold that extractive and exploitative industry has on our politics – a hold that exacerbates the already catastrophic effects of environmental degradation and climate change each day.

It will include concrete and actionable tips for grantmakers and donors who want to do short-term and long-term environment and climate philanthropy in the South “well.”

We are eager to share that report with you, even as our hearts have grown heavy over the last few weeks as its timeliness became clear. So please stay tuned. Sign up to receive the announcement and other important news from NCRP.

Three opportunities for funders to respond “well” now

Community leaders in Houston have begun collecting philanthropic investments for long-term healing and rebuilding through the Hurricane Harvey Community Relief Fund.

In Florida, communities are coming together and have formed the Hurricane Irma Community Recovery Fund to ensure that the communities most impacted will receive the resources and support they need for long-term rebuilding.

Relief efforts in Puerto Rico have just begun, but already the Hurricane Maria Community Recovery Fund has been set up to begin collecting donations for “immediate relief, recovery, and equitable rebuilding.”

Fear and hope for solutions

When we spoke to climate and environment activists in the South, the trauma of past storms and fear of what is to come was threaded through our interviews.

What dominated those conversations, though, was not sorrow, but the conviction that Southern communities have the solutions to the climate challenges we all face.

It seems sometimes that history is speeding up, our past it catching up to us, and the future holds unprecedented threats. Philanthropy’s response in the South and elsewhere must be unprecedented too.

Ryan Schlegel is senior research and policy associate at NCRP. Follow @ncrp on Twitter.