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ONE YEAR LATER: GRANTMAKING LESSONS LEARNED FROM HURRICANE IRMA

Editor’s note: To mark the one-year anniversary of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, the Foundation is exploring lessons learned in how philanthropy and nonprofits can help a region bounce back and rebuild after a disaster. Here, a look at the grantmaking strategy we used and learnings to help inform pre-disaster planning and funding ongoing recovery work.

This month, we mark one year since Hurricanes Irma and Maria left devastation in their wake throughout the Greater Miami region and Caribbean islands. Local nonprofits and generous donors have played a significant role in helping Miami-Dade and neighboring areas bounce back. Even as the storm loomed, we were getting calls from local and national organizations and people simply wanting to help.

In all, thousands of donors from around the world came together to raise more than $6.4 million, of which we’ve awarded $5.4 million in hurricane recovery grants to help with relief and ongoing recovery work in Miami, the Florida Keys, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean islands most affected by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. The dollars have helped rebuild homes in the U.S. Virgin Islands, support the distribution of hurricane relief food and supplies to Miamians who needed it most and aid long-term disaster preparedness in Puerto Rico. Here’s what we learned about grantmaking after a natural disaster:

Develop local partnerships ahead of time. Relationships with other organization and key community players is all the more important when a disaster strikes. Nurturing them and knowing who to call before a storm or other disaster is critical. The Florida’s First Coast Relief Fund, founded to help those affected by Hurricane Matthew in the Northeast Florida region, is a good example of the kinds of strategic cross-organization collaborations that can work in a crisis. Hurricane Irma exposed the clear need for Miami-Dade County to develop a coordinated community-based preparation and response strategy to complement governmental emergency management systems. While we didn’t have something formal in place at the time, we’re currently working on deepening our own relationships with other backbone organizations to ensure a more cohesive response both in fundraising and grantmaking.

Find out how prospective grantees operate. When it came to making local disaster recovery grants, we realized that although we knew what nonprofits did on a regular, day-to-day basis, we did not fully comprehend the role that they play (or were capable of playing) in times of disaster. The Foundation has since convened nonprofits around the table to better understand this side. In June, we brought together recipients of our hurricane relief funds to discuss needs, opportunities and ways to build up their capacity as a whole. The nonprofits then held their own simulation to practice their neighborhood-based disaster action plans. The sector as a whole needs to be better informed about each other’s roles to ensure appropriate referrals and to start fostering fruitful partnerships.

Performers put on a show for students in Puerto Rico. This show, along with numerous relief and support efforts, was funded by The Walmart Puerto Rico Relief Fund's support of Mercy Corps.
Pictured above: Performers put on a show for students in Puerto Rico. This show, along with numerous relief and support efforts, was funded by The Walmart Puerto Rico Relief Fund's support of Mercy Corps.

Bear in mind the expertise of FEMA and national agencies. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy offer a wealth of information about local needs and the organizations strongly positioned to address those needs. FEMA and the center were able to help us uncover organizations who work nationally and internationally in the disaster recovery space that would be best suited to support the regions hit by the storms. FEMA also made it a priority to ensure we knew what they were funding so that we did not duplicate efforts or fund a project that the government would eventually support.

It’s okay to take time to assess the long-term needs. The Miami Foundation made initial relief grants to known, trusted, local entities in the days following the storms to support the immediate community needs. Two months after the storms, we paused grantmaking to take time and talk to organizations on the ground and assess the intermediate and long-term recovery and rebuilding needs. It was a challenge to determine the right balance between funding relief versus long-term rebuilding, as even six months post-storm, many impacted communities were still without power, shelter or water. The United Way and other foundations in each of the affected regions hit helped us to better understand the true needs of the local community and who the effective nonprofits were in the community that could address those needs and, in turn, how our funds could be most impactful.

This experience has given us the opportunity to develop a strength in the disaster recovery grantmaking space – we have solidified relationships with the local first-responder organizations, created a list of fully vetted organizations to which we can quickly make grants in the face of future disasters, and developed deep knowledge about best practices as it relates to disaster philanthropy. Now, as we enter the peak of the 2018 hurricane season, we are more prepared, more knowledgeable and better positioned to help our community face whatever challenges comes our way.

Lindsey Linzer is director of programs and grants administration for The Miami Foundation.

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