It’s more than just a grant. It’s much more than just money.
At least, that’s how I choose to think about grantmaking for the two Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) funds I oversee – the CDP Hurricane Harvey Recovery Fund and the CDP COVID-19 Response Fund.
And, lately, conversations with and reports from several organizations that we have funded during my time with CDP have validated my thinking. I consider our grantees to be partners in the work that we do, and I believe they see us that way as well.
I moved to Houston, Texas, just before Hurricane Harvey so lived through the storm and saw the effects of floodwaters and wind on my neighbors. After the hurricane, I was able to easily drive to all the counties affected by the storm. I met with state leaders, local community leaders, nonprofit organizations and fellow funders to get the full picture of what was happening and the greatest needs for each community were. I clearly identified gaps that philanthropy could fill and how a grant from CDP would make a difference.
And we often funded the things other funders wouldn’t such as staffing or even something as simple as office equipment, meeting space or communications tools.
With the CDP Hurricane Harvey Recovery Fund, we were thoughtful and strategic in our grantmaking with an eye toward building the capacity of the organizations we funded and the communities where they worked to do what needed to be done. I met with the leaders of these organizations, visited their work sites and helped connect them to other funders.
A Lesson from Harvey
A recent external evaluation of the Harvey Fund confirmed that it truly is about more than the money. A consistent message the evaluators heard through surveys and through interviews with our grantee partners on the ground is that CDP funding opened doors that enabled them to do more, raise more and better communicate what they were able to do. It also set them up for long-term stability.
Since Harvey, many of the partner organizations we funded here in Texas have been called to respond to other emergencies, storms and hurricanes, and most recently to the COVID-19 pandemic and Winter Storm Uri. The capacity to respond then helped build their capacity for continued response now.
Zoom Leather Philanthropy
With the COVID-19 Response Fund, shoe-leather philanthropy is not an option. Mainly because the pandemic keeps us all isolated and because this is a global fund and global travel is not an option.
This limitation hasn’t stopped us from doing a deep-dive analysis and engaging with partners working on the ground. I call what we do with the COVID Fund Zoom leather philanthropy. Corny, I know. Virtual meetings, though, have allowed us to interact with potential grantees in a way that helps us truly understand what they’re seeing, what they’re experiencing and what they need most.
Our most frequently asked question during these meetings is, “What is your greatest funding gap?” And almost without fail, it’s about building capacity. Capacity to meet the needs of those they serve. Capacity to provide safety equipment for their own staff members. Capacity to go where they are most needed. Capacity to ramp up from a smaller, in-person organization to a larger, virtual one.
Beyond the Grant
During a recent follow-up Zoom call with one of our early COVID-19 Response Fund grantees, we learned about another important aspect of the grant that we might not have considered before. Our grantee partner – a small health organization – shared, “We were able to leverage CDP’s grant to secure additional funding. For other grantmakers, the CDP grant was a sign of trust and confidence in us. As a result, we expanded our work and saved more lives.”
Since joining CDP more than three years ago, a lot of tragedy has happened in our world. This past year has been tough for all of us, but my soul is soothed by the work that our funding allows our partners to do. It’s soothed by hearing the stories of organizations that started with rebuilding houses after a hurricane and now provide much-needed food and water to those without it in Texas. It’s soothed by hearing of lives saved because community health workers were trained appropriately to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
It’s about more than a grant. It’s about inspiring recovery. It’s about inspiring hope. And I’m so lucky to get to do what I love to do every day.