“Every year, communities in the United States are challenged by natural disasters including floods, tornadoes, and earthquakes. Every time a major disaster strikes, community members are forced to figure out how to respond, often with little preparation. With support from individuals, nonprofit organizations, faith-based groups, funders, and local/state/federal agencies, incredible work gets done, but perhaps not as effectively or as efficiently as it could.”

— The Funders Network


When a disaster is not on the immediate horizon, or has faded from memory, it is easy to overlook the preparations that organizations and communities can make to mitigate loss of life and property, and facilitate effective disaster response. To lessen the impact of a disaster, it is important for philanthropic and nonprofit organizations to have:

  • an internal preparedness plan (how staff and Board members will maintain operations during a disaster) and
  • an external plan (strategies and actions that will be taken to assist constituencies and communities).

These plans are especially critical for those organizations located in areas subject to repeated disasters, such as tornadoes, fires, landslides, hurricanes, flooding or earthquakes.

  • Preparedness plans should be thorough, and reviewed and rehearsed regularly;
  • Identify whether or not your state/region has an active VOADVoluntary Organizations Active in Disaster and/or LTRGLong Term Recovery Group;
  • Make sure your state/region has a central, non-governmental, website (this could be your VOADVoluntary Organizations Active in Disaster site) to communicate vital information to a broad audience during and following a disaster;
  • Build and strengthen existing relationships with government and emergency management officials, local first-responders, and nonprofits who are most likely to be called upon in times of disaster.

Grantmakers can emphasize the importance of disaster preparedness to their communities and provide appropriate assistance in that effort. According to the United Nations Development Programme, “Every dollar invested into disaster preparedness saves seven dollars in disaster aftermath.”


Play Stop Disasters–a disaster simulation game from the UN/ISDR.

Innovative Practices

Philanthropic organizations can make significant contributions to helping communities be prepared for disasters thereby mitigating losses and fostering resiliency by:

  • training your staff and board on disaster preparedness and response;
  • including business continuity planning in daily operations;
  • hiring a new employee or recruiting a board member trained in emergency management;
  • creating a restricted disaster fund;
  • developing memos of understanding (which define parameters of emergency grants) with key grantees who will be called upon to act when a disaster strikes;
  • supporting and convening preparedness training sessions for grantees;
  • supporting and interacting with statewide VOADVoluntary Organizations Active in Disaster and LTRGLong Term Recovery Groups or, if these don’t exist, in the region, convening your region’s stakeholders to develop a strategy to establish a VOADVoluntary Organizations Active in Disaster;
  • partnering with federal and state government agencies in supporting relevant training programs; conferences; educational forums and exercises for your community;
  • participating in readiness campaigns.


Grantmakers can lead efforts to educate nonprofits and local leaders regarding the possible financial resources available for rebuilding and the criteria/parameters surrounding the use of these monies. These resources may include:

  • FEMAFederal Emergency Management Agency grants for individuals;
  • FEMAFederal Emergency Management Agency’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program for communities;
  • Small Business Association loans;
  • HUDFederal Office of Housing and Urban Development grants and 203(h) and 203(k) mortgages;
  • State Community Development Block Grants (federal disaster funding);
  • homeowners insurance;
  • Long Term Recovery Group grants (last resort funding).

Lawrence McGill from Foundation Center and Ben Starrett from The Funders' Network talk about preparing for something every community will experience: a disaster.

Key Takeaways

  1. It is important for philanthropic and nonprofit organizations to learn how the disaster response system works and have internal and external preparedness plans in place.
  2. Connect with the VOADVoluntary Organizations Active in Disasters and LTRGLong Term Recovery Groups serving your communities, as well as other local, state and national stakeholders.
  3. Grantmakers can be role models of preparedness and support disaster preparation efforts in their communities.
  4. A central website is an effective and efficient way to communicate during and following disasters. It can provide links to critical resources, educate citizens on the availability of financial resources, provide vital information on recovery and planning, and dispel rumors and misunderstandings.