From Katrina to now, Co-founder Lori Bertman shares the beginnings of CDP

Lori Bertman in a SETRAC high-water rescue vehicle.

Positively affecting the lives of others is a common goal for those of us in the nonprofit sector, and as Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) Co-founder and Board Chair Emeritus, Lori Bertman shared, it’s the best way to create change. We at CDP, with the support of donors and grantee partners, get to do that every day. We help create long-term change at the individual, family and community levels.

Last month, Lori sat down with the CDP team to share her journey of co-founding CDP and the hopes she has for its future. As a team member of just seven months, I consider it a privilege to learn about the beginnings of CDP directly from one of the founders.

Lori’s story started back in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans, Louisiana. At the time, Lori was a philanthropy consultant and vividly recalls the moment she learned the levee in New Orleans broke; she immediately felt compelled to respond. Not only would New Orleans be impacted, but the surrounding areas as well, including Baton Rouge where Lori was based and where many residents would later come to seek shelter after the storm. She joined forces with John Davies of the Baton Rouge Foundation and helped raise $4 million, yet she knew this would not be enough. There would be a long road ahead of them as they trudged through recovery from Hurricane Katrina.

While advising the Pennington Family Foundation over the next two years, she collaborated with the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, establishing the Pennington Disaster Resilience Fund, raising funds, establishing a grantmaking and mental health program, and cofounding City Year. From this experience, Lori realized disaster philanthropy requires a completely different approach than “traditional” philanthropy. She saw both the thoughtful and thoughtless approaches to philanthropy in the wake of Katrina and knew that a strategic approach would be necessary to help make people’s lives better in a more efficient manner post-disaster.

As a funder herself, she realized all funders would eventually support disaster grantmaking. And she recognized the need for an organization with a year-round approach to disaster philanthropy that could help grantmakers direct their funds appropriately. In the early 2000s, no such organization existed, hence the birth of CDP as Lori, along with fellow CDP co-founders, Regine A. Webster and Eric Kessler, realized they could fill that need.

Their goals were to provide guidance to funders, to establish pre-positioned funds to effectively and equitably help communities throughout the lifecycle of a disaster, to focus on disaster recovery 365 days a year, and to bring greater attention to the field of disaster philanthropy.

Since 2010, CDP has supported more than 400 grantee partners domestically and abroad. As funders experience more disasters – including wildfires, flooding and COVID-19 – in their own backyards, more are looking to strategically support disaster recovery. It has never been more true that every funder is a disaster funder.

After 10 years in disaster philanthropy, Lori is even more determined to positively impact the lives of others. She shared with our team one of the quotes she lives by:

“If you have a chance to accomplish something that will make things better for people coming behind you, and you don’t do that, you are wasting your time on this earth” – Roberto Clemente.

Lori is proud of the work CDP has accomplished, the thoughtful approach to grantmaking, the workplace culture, the consulting services, the provision and use of data-driven resources, and more. She looks forward to what is yet to be accomplished by CDP and our donors and grantee partners across the globe.

Thank you, Lori, for taking the time to share your journey with us; CDP would not exist without your passion and determination. May each of us reflect on how we, individually and together, can positively impact the lives of others.

Abby R. Bonilla

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