Four Ways Funders Can Respond to Tragedy

By Mi?o??NieWyklucza (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

In response to the Orlando shooting and the very difficult question: “What would I do if my community was faced with a tragedy?”

On June 22, about 10 days after a shooter opened fire in an Orlando night club, killing 49 and injuring 53 more, the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers cohosted an update call along with a number of other organizations.

Orlando victims are commemorated in front of the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw, Poland on June 13, 2016. Credit: Mi?o??NieWyklucza (Own work) CC BY-SA 4.0

The call was perhaps the most informative one hour I have had around the Orlando shooting. It not only covered what was happening in Orlando through the eyes of the people living that situation, but it also was extremely practical when it came to the involvement and action of funders. Here are four approaches to funding that came from the call:

  1. Cultivate a strong network before you have reason to utilize it. Funders in Florida mobilized immediately, holding a conference call to update each other the Sunday afternoon following the shooting. I think this was important, not just emotionally for those organizations, but also practically, because it started key discussions on what needed to be done and how it should be done.
  2. It’s important to remember everyone affected by an event like this. Several of the pages set up on GoFundMe were for victims and their families. While it is unthinkable to lose a family member while they are out for a night of fun, keep in mind that there were a little more than 300 people in the club that night. One in every three was killed or injured (approximately), but many more witnessed the event, fled for their lives, and were severely traumatized. We should also consider how their families are affected, and how minority communities are impacted. We also can’t ignore how this affects the larger community or the nation. When the shooting occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary, I was living in Kansas. That’s a long way from Connecticut, but it didn’t stop my sons from talking in heartbreaking detail about how they planned to escape their school if there was ever a shooter inside. There is a larger scope of people affected by events like this, even though it is to a lesser degree.
  3. There’s a need for a central, collaborative fund. The outpouring of generosity was massive. There was a fund launched by Equality Florida and managed by the National Compassion Fund, geared towards the victims and their family. The One Orlando Fund was initially launched through the cooperation of the City of Orlando and the Central Florida Foundation, but then was split as CFF created the Better Together Fund. In tragedies like this, it is important to meet the immediate needs, the mid-term needs, and the long-term needs of everyone involved. I would contend that it is best when that can happen through a central source and committee that can see the entire process through. It was interesting to hear the questions on the call about whether the funds for the victims would be combined at some point. (The answer was, “We don’t know yet.”)
  4. Consider the bigger issues. By far the most interesting question on the call was towards the end, when someone asked if or when funders would address bigger prevention measures in situations like this—such as anti-terrorism, gun control, and more. I couldn’t agree more. Funders should have spaces where they can fearlessly address touchy topics, because those discussions are vital to real change.

The Forum will be hosting two more calls to follow-up on emerging issues from Orlando—one featuring the perspectives of groups who have been working on the front lines in Orlando and one focused on long-term needs and responses. If you are involved in funding in this tragedy, I would encourage you to dial in. This ongoing, engaged discussion is something I would hope all funders carry out when their community faces a disaster.

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