#113 Tips for Giving Effectively to Disaster Relief, with Regine Webster and Sally Ray of The Center for Disaster Philanthropy

Jan 23, 2023

The Center for Disaster Philanthropy has supported donors and given away over $85 million in donations, specifically to support communities affected by disasters. Today Regine Webster and Sally Ray join Sybil to dig into the question of giving effectively when disaster strikes. You will love all of their wonderful advice and words of wisdom.


Episode Highlights:

  • Strategies to ensure your donations are effective when disaster strikes
  • Stories about resilience and hope even helping in the most under resourced communities recover
  • What donors do right and also what they can do wrong in disaster philanthropy

Regine Webster Bio:

As vice president, Regine A. Webster leads the Center for Disaster Philanthropy’s grantmaking and consulting teams. She also leads CDP’s learning and partnership initiatives, including the annual Measuring the State of Disaster Philanthropy report and the Disaster Philanthropy Playbook. A frequent blogger, presenter, and webinar panelist, Regine is committed to sharing her deep knowledge and true passion for disaster philanthropy, the need for effective disaster recovery, and an increased attentiveness to global humanitarian crises.


Sally Ray Bio:

Sally Ray brings nearly 30 years of experience working in the nonprofit world and a passion for community and social service to her current role as director of domestic funds, and previously as director of strategic initiatives and the director of the Hurricane Harvey Recovery Fund.

In her current role with CDP, Sally oversees grantmaking for several domestic disaster funds, including the CDP Atlantic Hurricane Season Fund, the CDP California Wildfires Recovery Fund, the CDP Colorado Wildfires Recovery Fund, the CDP Disaster Recovery Fund and the U.S. grantmaking for the CDP COVID-19 Response Fund. Sally is a sought-after speaker on strategic topics of long-term recovery funding, support for trauma-informed care after a disaster, funding grassroots organizations to build community resilience, and supporting organizational and community capacity for recovery after a disaster. She has been a speaker for National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD), the Federal Emergency Management Association, and local, state, and regional disaster-related conferences and training.



Website: https://disasterphilanthropy.org


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#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


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Full Transcript

During this month, I'm focusing, as you know, on how to be an effective philanthropist when disaster strikes. One of the main organizations that I think is really important and a great first stop for you as a donor is the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, and I was lucky enough to be able to interview Regine and Sally, who are the leaders at the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. And they have great advice for you today about how to be an effective donor. and how to show up for the community in the best way possible when disaster strikes, and you want to be there to help.

So have a listen.

Regine and Sally, I am so happy you're on my podcast. It is so important to think carefully about how to give in times when disaster strikes a community. You both are on my podcast because you are experts in answering this exact question. And so, I am just very happy to have you both here. Thank you for joining me. 

So, this is going to be so much fun. All right, before we get into your tips and tricks and you explain the lessons for philanthropists and how they can give effectively, can you just talk to me a little bit about why you decided to pursue effective work in disaster philanthropy?

Regine, can you talk about it a little bit? 1st, and then we'll go over to Sally.

Yeah, I think if I'm doing my math correctly, June of 2023 will represent 20 years where I've been doing disaster philanthropy. So, I'm stuttering over it because I'm a little staggered by the fact that I'm in the A 2-decade mark!

It just really became very clear very early on that philanthropy is just incredibly well-meaning, right? And they're incredibly well-resourced, and as it relates to disaster relief, they're not always well-informed. And so, both in my early years of doing disaster philanthropy and now for the past 12 1/2 years with the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, my passion has been to encourage the philanthropic sector to look beyond the immediate, beyond what we see in the news. Look beyond what we hear from the news. And think about what it takes to bring people back from a disaster or humanitarian crisis.

And Regine, you have some in your biography, when I read your history, I saw that you've had some intense experiences helping people in Africa, for example, and other locations. You talk a little bit about your personal experience in these areas and helping people.

Yeah, I mean, you're so nice to say nice things about my bio and I am very thankful for my career journey. That's said. my work has been in the role of a funder, and so my work has primarily been done over the phone won out over the computer. I would not want to be compared to an operational NGO professional who is on the front lines doing the hard work. 

That is like literally rebuilding structures and bringing back education to an affected community. I'm quite comfortable working long days. The biggest calluses that I have are probably on my fingertips.

Even though I adore it. Many of us will see a disaster is unfolding, and we want to help as donors. But we're not necessarily living it in the community, so we'll talk more about your thoughts about how we can be effective from afar because you are.

But, before we get there, let’s talk to Sally. Sally, you have also had some real hands-on experiences. It sounds like you're an experienced philanthropist in this world, so can you talk a little bit more about that, Sally?

My career started on the other side. I was working with nonprofit organizations as a fundraiser for the most part for most of my career and transitioned to the philanthropic side in 2014 with the Community Foundation, which put me in charge of the disaster portfolio Leo and where we were engaged in a cohort of community foundations that was facilitated by the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. And so when I moved to Houston with my husband 10 days before Hurricane Harvey, that's…

That was just 10 days before Hurricane Harvey.

I experienced lots of flooding, tornadoes, wildfires, and other things like that with the Red Cross and during my time with the Community Foundation. However, this was my first Hurricane.  And we lived through it and did fine, and afterward, I reached out to Regine because I knew that the Center for Disaster Philanthropy had a large fund. And I said, "Hey, just a reminder, I'm here. How can I be helpful to you guys? And in connecting you to people”, Regine said, "Well, here's a job description." And so that's kind of how I started. 

But where did you learn about my passion? At a young age, what were the effects of tornadoes on my fellow Oklahomans? That's where I'm from, and I witnessed Harvey's effects on Texas firsthand, not just in Houston and Harris County, where I live, but across the state. Way beyond the rural communities that were devastated by it built my passion and make me want to share it with philanthropists. How they can be more thoughtful about truly supporting those in need who aren't getting the attention they deserve? That don't have access to those resources.

I love that, and I love that advice, so let's go advise four donors on how they can be effective in preparation for this interview, as I asked you both. What are some of the key things that you think donors should think about? And Regine, I'd love for you to start and talk a little bit about your advice to the donors because it's really important and we can talk about what happens if we do it wrong too.

And now for an ad, but don't go away because Sally and Regine have lots of advice for us.

And I'd like to do what we do wrong. Because there is, and there is no perfect, but I'll start. I'm going to start with an auspicious moment that we had. Have you heard how today? 

Sally joined the CDP team in 2017. And she started making grants are available for communities affected by Hurricane Harvey. You know, sort of day three of her friends are on the. The job may be on day eight, but it's getting close. And we just closed our last Hurricane Harvey grant. It was a That was Grant. It was awarded in August 2019 and just closed. 

That's what I'd say I'd like to talk about. That is to say, it is to be the kind of funder who holds funding back so that two years after an event, a new grant can still be made. And I also want to lift up the idea of being the kind of funder who navigates when situations change. You can imagine that a grant that was awarded in August 2019 wasn't implemented like we thought it would be a result of COVID Changes in volunteerism because needs shifted with the shutdowns. You know we were there to make changes with our grantee partner. When they said this needs to change, we said, "All right, let's make the change”, and so I'll just lift those two things. as good practices. The neck. 

That's great, and I just want to emphasize that the reason I reached out to you is that I was doing a review on disaster philanthropy, specifically on wildfire resilience, for a client of mine. I interviewed your team, and I was blown away by you guys, which is why I reached out for my podcast. So, you can toot your own horn there.

OK, thank you.

Well, thank you for that, and thanks for the emphasis there. It does take time. I mean, disasters feel very immediate, but the aftermath of a disaster involves rebuilding and supporting the rebuilding. When it comes to giving, community and flexibility are invaluable pieces of advice. Sally, do you have any additional suggestions to help donors consider how they can be most effective when disaster strikes?

Well, I think the other thing that I would consider is to think about those communities that may not be getting all of the attention on TV for Hurricane Harvey, for example. It was Harris County in Houston. Everybody saw Harris County in Houston. We strategically made a point for the first year or so after the event to direct our grant-making outside of Houston and Harris County because we knew the bulk of the funding - The philanthropic funding - was going into those communities. 

And so, the grant that regimes were talking about was for Wharton County, which is outside of Houston, about an hour and a half to two hours away, and they were devastated, and they were not getting the attention or the resources that they needed, so paying attention to those under-resourced communities is important. Those who are not receiving media attention may have a low-attention disaster. Some areas received a lot of attention, but the effects in Wharton were devastating, but they did not receive that attention. And we certainly see that with even smaller disasters, it's even worse. So, paying attention to those communities that aren't in the news isn't getting all of the money and attention they deserve. Even the government or other funders, direct your funds where they're going to be needed most.

Well, that brings me to a question for both. Of you. As donors, we may want to help people who have been affected by disasters who do not live right next to us. But our hearts go out to them, so we want to support them. We don't know the local community. And I've seen lots of horror stories in the news about how funds are misspent or misappropriated from well-intentioned donors. But the money doesn't end up where they expect it to. It's going to go. So, can you talk more about your organization and maybe other sister organizations or communities? As an example, suppose a donor wishes to donate to a charity like that they could go If they want to support community resilience in a place where they may not already live and may not be familiar with that community and the smaller local groups

Yeah, I'll jump in, Sally. If you don't mind.

The first thing I want to do is Say is. That financial malfeasance is not the norm, right? The norm is that organizations are doing the work that they say they're going to do.

Great point. But unfortunately, it appears in the news, in news stories are like that, so I love that. To emphasize that, thank you.

I think Disaster RESPA and recovery organizations in the non-profit sector do work. And how I would go about… Certainly, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy’s Have we not? Call us for information and rights, and we also have disaster profiles on our website, so there's a lot to learn about any active or impacted humanitarian crises caused by wildfire tornado humanitarian crisis, the conflict in Ukraine is also one of those issues insights I mentioned, and those providers provide a kind of 101-level introduction to how to approach things like water, sanitation, hygiene, or simply learning what a tornado is. 

And this is 70 insights on our website at the moment, but Noodle City is sure. 

I’ll explain how to work with a disaster organization of the bumper sticker sayings popular among town residents is "You never change your business cards in the middle of a disaster”. So, in thinking about who might possibly be listening to podcasts, you already know that you know have a plan. Have an approach. How is your organization is going to address insufficiently, low and you'll understand said I say "don't say strapline" for the plan B. clause? I think you may have heard that before. loftier, or more mythical creatures than it is necessary to be.

The funder in case of emergency overarching objectives is, something straightforward. What types of disasters will you respond to? At what point are you going to respond to them? How do you align your mission with your response?

I'll put it out there. I want to say one thing, which is what we learned from a study that we conducted with the Lilly School of Family Philanthropy. Back in 2018, we discovered that households exist for three primary reasons households respond. And say that you could extrapolate to foundations. What we learned from households, of which there are three primary disaster drivers, you know, for disaster funding. 

The first is the magnitude of the disaster, right? Hurricane Harvey deluged Texas with the equivalent amount of water that would have powered New York for 69 years. New York City for 69 years.  That's right just this truckload of water in contrast, other hurricanes are simply smaller and don't have the same broad, sweeping motion. 

The second reason has to do with where we were during Hurricane Dorian and where we received so many phone calls. People who had Have you grown up in the Bahamas or had family vacations there year after year? Bahamas, and so they did. That was a really strong tie to the region. 

And then, lastly, So, that's the skin and the effect much to my chagrin, this really is a driver for disaster donations. Again, at the household level. But again, I would posit that you could extrapolate out what happens at the household level. This is also what happens at the institutional level. Sally jumped in. I've just offered it.

Super helpful; thank you, Sally. 

And now for an ad but stay tuned to hear what Sally has to say.

I think one of the things that, I believe, is correct. If you're standing in a specific location. Not where you're not familiar. Understand that place as much as you can.

We use a lot of tools to assess, after a disaster, what the needs are in a specific community. There are a lot of available data out there that you can look at and understand. You know there's vulnerability data, census data, and all sorts of things that can help drive your interest and help you identify where you can go.

But I'll be honest with you. The first thing I do is call a local fund. Or I e-mail a local funder because I don't want to. Inundate them with it too much during a very busy time. So, I'll email and say, "Hey, we're thinking of you; let us know how we can be helpful. I'd love to chat with you when you have a minute”, and I talked to them. What are you seeing? What's happening? What's going on? 

They know their community. They have a relationship there, and they can help you identify people to give to you if they have a fund. Sometimes I need to get money out the door quickly. That's not a bad option. But two they’re often helping you understand what's going on so that you can figure out which groups are really helping here. What's happening here, and how can we be helpful? That's the first call.

We have lots of national organizations with which we have standing relationships. They're great partners for us, and if they're responding, they know immediately to let us know we're responding to a disaster, and we rely on them an awful lot to help us understand. 

What's going on in non-COVID times before 2020? We would. We actually did "two other philanthropies," as we called them. OH, and dive into that community and really understand. I drove all over the 47 counties of Texas that were affected by Harvey. So, I went there, sat in the community, and met with the people who were affected, met with the organizations that we are responding there and assisting with recovery I really knew and understood those communities. We do it now a little bit more on Zoom, although I'm starting to travel again. and that's critical. And I think it makes me a better Grantmaker when I can go into the community. 

But really, if you don't understand that community or don't have the time or resources to put that into perspective, find someone who can assist you with this. As you are aware, we do that. A local funder Does it work as well? So, there are opportunities to really understand where your dollars can go.

Sally, can you talk to me about maybe one or two of your most inspirational times working in this field? Because you obviously have devoted so much of your life to supporting people and your community, there are some things that really offer hope for us. 

We had a donor who gave us money during our COVID fund, It was kind of fun with the Global Fund, so we were really giving at a more regional, even countrywide level, or, in some cases, an international level, across multiple regions and countries. Mostly two large NGOs, but we had a donor who came. We said no we want you to go local, so they gave us a significant gift and said, "I want you to identify places in these seven states that are doing amazing work to support recovery from COVID." 

Oh, my goodness, it was such an opportunity for us to really dive deep into those seven states and the communities and what the needs were. and we are able to really help build the capacity of those local organizations to help those in that community and our populations in those communities, which are so in need. 

We assisted small organizations that are doing incredible work in providing vaccines to immigrants and providing educational opportunities to children, materials that they needed for school while helping with food. You are aware that food was a critical issue. It's still a critical issue but having access to it was such a critical issue food during the early days. 

Providing access to food for foster kids and families that didn't have transportation or other ways Kids, meat, packing plants, people having access to information about the COVID vaccine, and access to vaccines.

There are so many greats things that we were able to do in very specific communities in a deep dive (It was on Zoom) but it really fed my soul because I got to do what we love to do at CDP, which really dives into those communities and understands what the full needs are for the population as a whole. We benefited from what we were doing to be strategic in our grant-making, so I'm grateful to that donor who came to us and said, "Do what you do best." We want you to do it for us here.

I love that Sally and Regine tell us more about you because you are my listeners. I can't see the video, but you're looking very good. You're thinking a lot about this question. I can tell, so I'd love for you to offer some thoughts.

Oh, there's no question. That was the kind of work we could do there. It was life-giving at a time when you knew there were some, I'll speak for myself. There were some dark days, right? You know, they had extra people doing school in my house and all that. 

And so, this suite of grants that we made, and I believe we did between 60 and somewhere around 65 grants. So, I completely agree with Sally. The fact that we were able to meet the needs of these small, local organizations was extremely powerful and profound. So I'm 100% in agreement with Sally.

That's fantastic; you both are so wonderfully humble. But from looking at the Center for Disaster Philanthropies' work I mean, overall, it looks like you've supported donors and given away over $85 million in donations, specifically to support communities around these issues.

You have reams and reams of fact sheets and information for people who are interested will have your website link in our show notes so that anyone interested in digging into this question more can look there, and I assume you'll be open and available to people if the donors want to learn more about a specific topic. I loved all of your wonderful advice and words of wisdom, and before we go, do you have any other last thoughts? I have a feeling that this conversation will spark some additional things that you might want. to tell us.

I do, and I will. Request you. I'm going to need Sally's help on this. Every day, we see how race plays a critical part in disaster recovery. And I might also say it slightly differently, and I might say that racism plays an incredibly large part when it comes to effective disaster recovery globally. 

We know that here, domestically, and I'll put this in its most simple terms. Race is the single greatest variable or predictive variable when it comes to an effective recovery, and we know that based on the research of some incredibly smart researchers. If you are a middle-income white homeowner, you gain wealth after a FEMA-declared disaster. And if you are a middle-income black homeowner, you lose wealth after a disaster, so I can encourage the funding community to address structural inequities. They exist and either work to change them or work to fund against the inequities that I would love to be able to do.

Thank you for that, Sally. Do you want to add anything to those very powerful words there?

Those are things that we see with our shoes' leather flanks because we've gone into the community and seen the results of that racist system that causes problems that are both wrong and correct. Increase that wealth gap tremendously. So yes, definitely, and I'm glad Regine brought that up.

Thank you for your time and knowledge; I'm sure this is just the beginning of our discussions about all of this, but I wanted to express my appreciation. I’m guessing that the folks listening to this podcast have thoroughly enjoyed your advice, and I look forward to more conversations in the future.