After 13 amazing years of creating, launching, building and leading the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, it is time for me to head to my next adventure. Serving as CDP’s founding executive director and vice president has undoubtedly been my greatest career highlight. I am thrilled by how the organization has bravely grown over the past years.
The Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) was founded on the belief that the private philanthropic community needed a full-time, 365-day-a-year resource on how to support effective investing in disasters. Those of us who came together way back in 2010, Eric Kessler, Lori Bertman and me, knew that private philanthropy was incredibly well-resourced and incredibly generous, but owing to media and information flows, regrettably not always as well informed on all disaster-related matters.
We set out to change that information flow and how funders donated to disasters. We knew that media attention quickly waned following a natural hazard and that funding declined as media attention declined. Communities affected by disaster events and the nonprofit organizations seeking to support those communities did not have funding to prioritize medium- and long-term recovery efforts. As we laid the groundwork for the founding of CDP, we knew that we needed to commend recovery as the best strategy for philanthropy to fund.
As I wind up my time at CDP before taking a planned sabbatical, I am brought back to the image that has been my “why” since those early founding days. That image is a relatively simple one – a blue tarp – something I had seen countless times in site visits across Africa and Asia, serving as temporary shelter, protection from inclement weather or as roofing. I learned that those same blue tarps were used here stateside following hurricanes and other natural hazards. The blue tarp became a symbol to me, making me consider how philanthropy could reduce the time between disaster events and recovery. With its vast riches, could philanthropy reduce the number of nights a community slept beneath a blue tarp?
Over these past thirteen years, the CDP team has counseled hundreds of philanthropic organizations to understand that planning for how to fund disasters wasn’t an “IF” but rather a “WHEN.” The COVID-19 pandemic regrettably brought that reality home. It also brought home the reality that recovery is a multi-year, complicated process. With CDP’s leadership, philanthropy has made great strides to ensure recovery receives adequate attention and funding. However, there is still much more work to do, and I am grateful to the CDP team for continuing to push for both that attention and associated resources.
My time at CDP is marked by two things: 1) the disasters that we have witnessed and 2) the colleagues and friends that I have worked with along the way.
Give me the name of an event, and I’ll tell you what person or organization I added to my life. The people I have encountered while at CDP have enriched my life tremendously; I am forever grateful for that. I’ll extend special thanks to Eric and Lori for their wisdom and tenacity as founders and for supporting my leadership as founding executive director. Many thanks to Bob Ottenhoff and Patty McIlreavy for their inspiring leadership as CEOs of CDP.
I am ever grateful for the funders who have supported CDP; we do not take your trust in us lightly!
Thank you to our board of directors and advisory council for lending your talent and inspiration to keep CDP aiming higher.
To all our nonprofit and grantee partners – we simply cannot do our work at CDP without you. I am proud of the work you do to support communities and their ability to thrive before and after a disaster.
To my dear CDP teammates, thank you for making every day meaningful. I have learned so much from you and am ever grateful for all we have accomplished together.
To anyone reading this blog, thank you for making a difference in supporting equitable recovery for disaster-affected communities – and thank you for bringing your camaraderie to the work.
As I close out this piece, I’ll leave with two bits of wisdom for the funder community.
First, find joy in the work. If you find yourself in the unique position of being able to give away money, celebrate that! Thank your grantee partners, offer a virtual high five to them and do whatever you can to reduce the burden on their time as you seek to award a grant. If you don’t find joy in the work of philanthropy, then something isn’t working.
Second, adopt a ‘get to yes’ mindset. The grantmakers on my team and I say this to each other often – “Let’s find a way to get to yes.” It is a simple way to indicate that we like an idea, a concept or an approach and we have shared agreement that we will find a way to award a grant to a partner. To me, the saying means that we have trust in each other and our abilities and that we have trust in our grantee partners. The saying means that we know we don’t have the exact right path forward yet but are willing to work to find that right path.
It is my belief that adopting these two nuggets of wisdom enriches the work, both for you and your organization, as well as with grantee partners who will most definitely appreciate the approach.
I’ll sign off here by saying that CDP is on an exciting journey to build on its success from these past years as its staff, with guidance from the board, implement a new strategic plan. The CDP team is growing, and we hope to have increased staff capacity to meet increased disaster demand. Watch this space!