Long-term Recovery Requires Smart Philanthropy



Like so many of us, I am deeply saddened and alarmed by the ongoing reports of the destruction in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the rest of the Caribbean. Our nation was also hit hard once again with the news of the mass shooting in Las Vegas. With hundreds of thousands of lives affected by all these tragedies, the relief work that lies ahead will involve complex and long-lasting challenges. 
As images of the disasters come to light and pour across our TV screens, newspapers and social media, the natural question for many of us to ask is, "How can I help?" While it's always important to make decisions from the heart, it's also important to give smartly. With emotions running high, it's essential to make sure you are giving effectively and to a reputable organization.
Let's also remember that long after our news media stops the regular coverage of the recovery efforts, resources are still needed to help. 

Following disasters or tragedies, donating money to effective and efficient organizations that have an established presence on the ground is the best way to make the greatest impact. While many good-willed people hear the stories of those affected without food, clothing or water and instantly think of the bag of old clothes in their own attic or the cases of water in their kitchen that they could donate, these contributions are not practical in the long run. Often times monetary donations are the most effective way to make a difference and help with long-term recovery.

It’s also important to think about the organizations that you plan to support and where your dollars will go. Only give to a registered public charity with a 501(c)(3) status. While numerous well-meaning organizations or funds pop up over night to help after a disaster, it’s important to consider that many do not have the infrastructure or knowledge to effectively manage the gifts and make the greatest impact. Consider working with organizations that have already been on the ground doing work pre-disaster or that are well-established in the aid community.

Always be cautious of fundraisers who pressure you into giving a gift over the phone, email or social media, or even pose to be or know a victim. There are many reputable charities, with proven records of dealing with certain types of disasters and regions, who are already making a difference, as well as many resources to help you find these organizations. Always do your due diligence by using websites such as GuideStar (www.GuideStar.org)  and CharityNavigator (www.CharityNavigator.org), which  are great resources to get ratings and detailed information about existing and credible nonprofit organizations.

For your local research, keep in mind that organizations serving our community showcase their transparency locally. The Giving Partner (www.TheGivingPartner.org) is an online tool populated with in-depth information about more than 600 charitable organizations serving Charlotte, DeSoto, Manatee and Sarasota counties. Nonprofits voluntarily upload information into the tool and update it annually. Each nonprofit profile includes the 501(c)(3) organization’s legal name and information about its core mission, programmatic impact, governance, management and financials.

The Community Foundation of Sarasota County is also fortunate to be connected to a network of Community Foundation leaders from across the country (and the globe) that can convene and mobilize when tragedy strikes a community. Local Community Foundations have the rare ability to quickly assess the situation and the needs of their local nonprofits to ensure that recovery efforts are impactful and donations are spent wisely.

Community foundations are also available to help with research for donors who are questioning which organizations to support or how to make the biggest impact with their charitable dollars. Donors with advised funds can also recommend grants to international organizations that are dealing with the disaster relief and make sure that the funds are designated to the cause the donor intended.

Lastly, remember the importance of patience and realizing the difference between emergency need and on-going recovery need.  As the news of a disaster is fresh in the minds of donors, many want to see their dollars make an instant impact, so millions of dollars pour in to help with emergency relief. But as time goes by and headlines change, many forget about the long-term efforts that are needed for a region to rebuild after a disaster. Make sure you reflect on the decision as to whether your dollars would be best invested in an organization working on recovery, rather than relief.

Roxie Jerde is president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County.

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