All disaster victims and organizations that have been impacted are in need of legal assistance and advice. Not only do philanthropic leaders possess a deep and comprehensive understanding of the issues they support, but they are in a unique and important position to successfully advocate for the communities they serve.

  • Insurance claims, FEMAFederal Emergency Management Agency applications, relocation services, and mold remediation are just some of the daunting legal issues disaster victims must manage;
  • When grantmakers use their knowledge and experience to facilitate a region’s recovery, their own critical issue areas, along with their nonprofit grantees and the individuals they serve, are protected and supported;
  • Local philanthropies have a powerful voice and platform from which to engage public bodies and lawmakers in discussions and decisions that ensure a fair, equitable and just recovery for all citizens.

Innovative Practices

Advocacy and Legal Services

Support a cohort of volunteer lawyers and paralegals who can help individuals to:

  • understand rights and obtain information on available programs and services (including financial assistance, behavioral and mental health services, long-term recovery groups services, and more);
  • understand the FEMAFederal Emergency Management Agency application process, and if available, state financial assistance programs;
  • complete extensive financial aid applications and apply for assistance from the local, state and/or federal government agencies;
  • complete and file insurance claims and understand their rights to appeal should their claim be denied.


Protect the Voting Process

When disasters strike in the days or weeks prior to an election:

  • Support efforts to ensure registered voters understand where and how they can vote when faced with:
    • polling stations that are damaged or closed;
    • electricity outages;
    • displacement from their place of residence and inability to get to their polling station;
    • conflicting or inaccurate information.
  • Support efforts to assist voters and communities during elections, such as:
    • mobile voting buses;
    • curb-side voting booths;
    • constructing temporary polling stations; and
    • organizing paper ballot voting.

Storming for the Vote: Hurricane Sandy and the Election, a powerful 20-minute documentary, sponsored and produced by the League of Women Voters of New Jersey about Hurricane Sandy's impact on the 2012 Presidential Election in New Jersey.

Public Policy

Creating equitable, functional communities is a responsibility of philanthropy working in cooperation with government bodies. Philanthropies can stay informed and ensure their voice is heard by embedding a Philanthropic Liaison or Coordinator in the offices of elected officials, emergency management or state-level recovery offices.

  • Public policy can be influenced through supporting research, information-sharing and education, and advocacy.
  • Public policy issues include:
    • advancing the understanding of coastal, deltaic, river and water resource systems;
    • surveying, tracking a region’s disaster impact, recovery efforts, progress and gaps;
    • identifying toxic exposure and standards for mold remediation;
    • changing zoning and planning laws; and
    • developing and adopting a region-wide preparedness and mitigation plan.


Key Takeaways

  1. Advocate for the issues your organization traditionally supports—you know what’s important, you know what success looks like, and you have the leverage to draw attention to equitable and sustainable solutions.
  2. Use your powerful platform to advance the dialogue around the most critical issues facing your community in the aftermath of a disaster.
  3. Be vocal with members of the media; keep the spotlight on recovery.
  4. Keep open lines of communication with your nonprofit grantees who are working on the ground and continue to amplify their voice and maintain strong, ongoing advocacy efforts.
  5. Remember that the availability of free and/or discounted legal aid is tantamount to ensuring a community is informed and has the vital support as it begins the long road to recovery.