Measuring the State of Disaster Philanthropy – a Partnership in Practice


By Regine A. Webster 

Every year, hundreds of disasters - from floods and earthquakes to humanitarian crises - affect more than 200 million people worldwide. Donations to disaster relief tend to be episodic and unpredictable. In order to learn more about the state of disaster philanthropy, and how it may be improved, important questions arise, including how much money goes to disaster related activities and how is it used. Is it too much, or not enough?

For three years running, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) and Foundation Center have worked in partnership to both provide an analysis of disaster-related funding by foundations, governments, corporations, and individuals, as well as drive behavioral change, encouraging funders to address not only immediate relief needs, but rather, to look at the preparedness, response, and recovery needs associated with disasters globally.

The report Measuring the State of Disaster Philanthropy: Data to Drive Decisions, tracks data from six sources including 1,000 of the largest U.S. foundations, OECD – DAC donors (Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, Development Assistance Committee), bilateral and multilateral aid tracked by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, FEMA, corporate giving, and online, individual giving. The report categorizes all donations into one of seven disaster assistance strategies including resilience, risk reduction and mitigation; preparedness; response and relief; reconstruction and recovery; multiple strategies; unspecified; and other. Finally, the report organizes the data by four disaster ‘types’, including general disasters, natural disasters, complex humanitarian emergencies, and man-made accidents.

A number of key findings from the report will inform future work on disaster philanthropy. The report documented $22.5 billion in disaster-related giving from these sources in 2014. The Ebola outbreak dominated funding from foundations, corporations, and individuals, whereas bilateral and multilateral aid was largely directed to complex humanitarian emergencies. Seventy percent of U.S. foundation funding addressed the Ebola epidemic, with most investments coming from large foundations. The report found that grants awarded by 1,000 of the largest U.S. foundations totaled $225.7 million, nearly twice the amount distributed in 2013. While funding increased in terms of grant dollars, fewer grants were distributed in 2014 by fewer funders than in years prior. Most of the total funding (73 percent) targeted immediate response and relief efforts.

The report underpins the Center for Disaster Philanthropy’s mission to transform disaster philanthropy with hard data. In our third year, the data continues to show an unbalanced focus on funding immediate response and relief efforts, rather than on disaster risk management and preparedness. We know from experience that philanthropy’s current event-driven, episodic funding approach is insufficient and unsustainable. We hope this report motivates funders to support more strategic, long-term solutions, catalyzing a shift in commitment to disaster planning, prevention, and long-term recovery to mitigate the impact of disasters and to build stronger, more resilient communities.

The numbers are clear. We can no longer afford to wait for disaster to strike before we begin to act. We can and should use this data to become more intentional and more collaborative disaster-related philanthropists.

I look forward to the release of Measuring the State of Disaster Philanthropy: Data to Drive Decisions report every year. It represents a tremendous amount of work by many, including our partner, Foundation Center, our expert project advisory committee, and our own team here at CDP. This work would not be possible without the inspiration of our board chair, Lori J. Bertman, and the support of the Irene W. and C.B. Pennington Foundation.

Regine A. Webster is Vice President of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy

Support by Jessica Russell, Communications Consultant at the SDG Philanthropy Platform