#111 Sybil Speaks: The Giving Strategies to Deploy When Disaster Strikes

Jan 09, 2023

You never know when disaster may strike in a community you care about, and when it does, you want to be prepared to show up in the best way possible. This month Sybil will focus on the theme of disaster philanthropy. This episode sets the stage and launches the conversation with Sybil’s advice on how to give well in this situation.  COVID-19 was a real wake-up call, and we are seeing major disasters of all stripes hit communities across the globe. That’s why this entire month of January Sybil is focusing on this topic. In addition to her episode today, she is also interviewing experts this entire month who have direct experience in funding well during a disaster. 


Episode Highlights:

  • Why do people fund disasters?
  • Top Seven Takeaways


  1. It takes time, be patient - A disaster may only take days or weeks to wreak havoc on a community, but full recovery can take many years to accomplish. 
  2. Be nimble and open to change - in an emergency new and unanticipated needs will surface quickly. 
  3. Seek out the under-resourced - Communities may need resources, even if they are not profiled in the news. 
  4. Listen and learn - Even though it may feel urgent to you, take the time first to learn about the situation from experts before you give a donation of any size.
  5. Local funders know best - Seek out local funders who know the landscape in the community you want to support.
  6. National organizations can help - Check in with national organizations that have a good read on strategy in times of disaster 
  7. Hard truths about racism - Proactively look for solutions that support equity, diversity, and inclusion in response and recovery efforts.


Sybil Ackerman-Munson Bio:

With over 20 years of experience as a nonprofit professional and foundation advisor, I work with philanthropic institutions and foundations interested in successful, high-impact grant making, so you can make a true and lasting positive contribution to the world on your terms.




Center for Disaster Philanthropy

Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED)

Indiana University Lilly School of Philanthropy Blog


If you enjoyed this episode, listen to these as well:

#93 How Private Donations Can Successfully Leverage Public Funds, with Peter Stangel, Chief Operating Officer of the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities

#36 Sybil Speaks: Three Things You Can Do Now to Create a Legacy That Lasts

#11 Pearls of Wisdom from a Thirty Year Philanthropist with Ann Krumboltz, Executive Director, Brainerd Foundation


Crack the Code: Sybil’s Successful Guide to Philanthropy

Become even better at what you do as Sybil teaches you the strategies as well as the tools, you’ll need to avoid mistakes and make a career out of philanthropy through my new course, Crack the Code!

In this new course, you’ll gain access to beautifully animated and filmed engaging videos, and many more! 



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Send in your inquiries through her website www.doyourgood.com, or you can email her directly at [email protected]!


Full Transcript

Hello everybody, I'm looking forward to talking to you today about a very important issue: how to fund effectively when disaster strikes in a community that you care about. You want to be prepared. You want to show up in the best way possible. I know you because that's why you're listening to my podcast. You want to be a good person who gives money away effectively. 

So, this month I'm going to focus on the theme of disaster philanthropy because an issue that's on the top of my mind, COVID-19, was a real wake-up call and we're seeing major disasters of all stripes in communities across the globe. It's hard not to think about giving strategies to support communities hit by disaster. 

Disasters are hitting us more and more frequently, according to a report by the Center for Disaster Philanthropy and Candid, they talk about how the hurricane season in 2020 broke the record for the highest number of named storms with 30 events. They talk about how bushfires in Australia, referred to as "Black Summer," led to over 60 million acres of burned area. And North Africa continued to face droughts. Wildfires across the West Coast of the US caused $10 billion in annual economic losses for three of the last four years. And the list goes on. 

This is a situation where donors want to lean in. And they are funding the work; but I keep hearing stories about how, in the funding community, we want to show up, but we don't necessarily always show up in the best way possible. 

Let me highlight for you a particularly troubling statistic. This is from a New York Times article, and I have the link to it in my show notes. A growing body of research shows that FEMA, the government agency responsible for helping Americans recover from disasters, often helps white disaster victims more than people of color, even when the amount of damage is the same. Not only do individual white Americans often receive more aid from FEMA, but so do the communities in which they live, according to several recent studies based on federal data. 

We in the philanthropic sector, in private, can buck this trend with our private donations. Because of the challenges, we've seen with FEMA, and because we're nimble and able to make a difference, we can buck the trend that FEMA is on. The difference is evidenced by my research and discussions with others.

My first thought is, why do people like you and me? Why do we decide we want to fund disasters? And the information I got from my interview with the folks at the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, says there are three main reasons why this was done. There was a study that they also did with the Indiana University School of Philanthropy to really tease this out. 

If it is a major disaster, people will fund it for three reasons. If it is a big disaster people notice. That's the first one. Second, if they are connected to the disaster area, and third, media attention to the disaster makes a significant difference in how much money is put into the area to support a community after a disaster strikes. So those are the three elements to think about in terms of the motivations behind why people give. 

And then what I did was OK…. So, a lot of people are saying disasters are on the rise. We need to make sure that we do it well. In my research, I really thought a lot about what are the key takeaways that we should be considering. In order to help when disaster strikes, I pulled out seven key takeaways, and again, all of this is in my show notes. In case you're multitasking, you don't have to worry about writing it down. Just check out my show notes. Here are my top seven takeaways: 

#1: It takes time. Be patient; a disaster may only take days or weeks to reach habit in a community, but full recovery can take many years to accomplish, so it takes time. 

#2: Be nimble and open to change in your giving. In an emergency, new and unanticipated needs will surface quickly, so oftentimes I hear about folks who give a donation or grant right at the beginning of a disaster, and they think the money's going to go to one place or one area. But what ends up happening is that it's really needed for something different. And so as long as you're nimble and open to change, when the nonprofit comes back to you and says, "Hmm, we actually need the money for something different," you can say yes quickly. That's #2. #2: Be nimble and open to change. 

#3: Seek out the under-resourced. I pulled out that quote from the New York Times article because it is all too easy to look at the media stories and start putting money into the communities you see there. However, communities that may require resources, even if they are not highlighted in the news, particularly if they are smaller and in more rural areas, should be considered. And also, in areas where media outlets just don't go. So, make sure you seek out the under-resourced. That is #3 

#4: listen and learn. This is sort of obvious, but when there's a disaster, sometimes you want to go really quick and move really quickly. But there's more. That's when it's even more important to listen and learn, even though it may feel urgent to you. Take your time first. Learn about the situation from experts before you make any donations of any size. That is #4. Listen and learn. 

#5: Local funders are the most familiar with their community, having worked there for many years. So, seek out those local funders who know the landscape and the community. Want to support? Call them up and send them an email. Ask them which non-profits they are supporting right now. What are the gaps? What's needed for community foundations can be really helpful in this area too. Definitely seek those folks out. That is #5, local funders know best.

#6: national organizations can also help. Check in with national organizations that have a good handle on disaster strategies, such as the Red Cross and others. They, but definitely also do #5, which is to talk to the local funders and nonprofit community members who are funded by those groups. OK, that's #6. National organizations can help. 

#7: Last but not least, remember the hard truths about racism in times of disaster. So, seek out funding opportunities for solutions that support equity, diversity, and inclusion in response recovery efforts. 

Those are my top 7 takeaways for effective funding and disaster philanthropy, and I am going to investigate some of these questions. These are the top seven quest takeaways from my fantastic podcast guests. I am interviewing leaders from the Center for Disaster Philanthropy this month, and I'm also interviewing Michael Chapman, who is the executive director of the Cape Coral Community Foundation, and he was in the eye of the storm when Hurricane Ian made landfall in Florida, he had a lot to say. And about how a local funder, the Community Foundation in Cape Coral, FL, was able to really get in on the ground floor and help so many people. So, I'm really looking forward to this month, and of course, Fred and I will also discuss even more research and studies. We're going to have a discussion. Mayor in one of our special podcast episodes. As well, so again, let me just summarize for you those seven takeaways. 

#1: For starters, it takes time, so be patient. Even though a disaster may only take days or weeks to wreak havoc on a community, full recovery can take many years.

#2: Be nimble and open to change in an emergency. This is how things are.

#3: seek out the under-resourced 

#4: Listen and learn, even though it might feel urgent. Still, take the time to listen and learn. 

#5: Local funders know best how to seek out those local funders and talk to them about which non-profits in their community really need that support. 

#6: National organizations can also help, so check in with those national organizations that have a good read on strategy and times of disaster. 

#7: Remember the hard truths about racism when it comes to disaster philanthropy and proactively look for solutions that support equity, diversity, inclusion, and inclusion in response to recovery efforts. 

In my show notes, I'm going to have resources for you. I discovered a really great series of reports and disaster philanthropy on candid. The Center for Disaster Philanthropy's website has issue briefs and so much great information, as does the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED), whose acronym is CRED also really great and interesting to look through. And then Indiana University's Lilly School of Philanthropy has a good blog on disaster philanthropy. Also, in my summary, I include a few other articles of possible interest that my friend and my colleagues at the Center for Disaster Philanthropy have offered me to look at. So, I hope you had a really good experience listening to my "Civil Speaks" episode, where I laid out some of my ideas for disaster philanthropy. And I hope you will enjoy learning even more about this topic for the entire month.