Overcoming choice paralysis: The concentric circle model

Photo by Silvan Arnet on Unsplash

We are scarcely a third of the way into 2023, and already the globe has shown how mighty it can be – floods and snow in California, tornadoes across the south, earthquakes and thousands of aftershocks in Syria and Turkey. Disaster seasons are shifting in unpredictable ways, and the associated devastation on individual communities is incalculable.

Choice paralysis, slightly different from analysis paralysis, is the theory that “the more options people have to choose from, the harder the decision becomes.” We quite literally cannot make up our minds from the overload of options.

With the sheer number of disaster events facing the world today, it is no wonder that the funder community is wrestling with how to invest its finite dollars amid countless options and needs.

My colleagues and I at the Center for Disaster Philanthropy have fielded numerous calls this year alone from corporations seeking guidance on utilizing their dedicated disaster dollars to meet the needs of affected communities best. My advice is to employ the concentric circle model (aka the bullseye!).

Here’s how it works.

Start at the center.

The center, or bullseye, represents your corporation’s headquarters, manufacturing sites or geographic regions where you have high concentrations of employees. It is time to invest if a catastrophic event happens in this circle. Helping the community that represents your company’s backyard is of utmost importance. Why? Simply put, your company’s success depends on the thrivability of the community in which you operate.

Now take one step out from the center.

The second ring represents geographic regions where you have vendors, franchises or core associates of the business enterprise. These vendors and their employees are a critical part of your company’s operations; without them, business operations are at risk. Given the interconnectedness of your corporation with these entities that provide goods and services for your operations, awarding grants to their affected community is both good business and the right thing to do.

Moving to the third ring.

The third concentric circle represents your market. We have clients who have core concentrations of clients in Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas. It makes sense that this company would preferentially support disaster recovery efforts in these five states before or after an event. While speaking about preserving your market might sound overly predatory or opportunistic, I purport that this is altruism. Taking care of the individuals and communities that keep the business going sounds like the right course of action.

The outer ring.

The final circle from the center reflects the rest of the world. We learned from our friends and colleagues at the Westfield Insurance Foundation that this circle is called “Your Fair Share.” This circle speaks to our collective role as global citizens and calls us to prepare for and respond to catastrophic events that rock the world. Examples include the COVID-19 pandemic, earthquakes that recently struck Turkey and Syria, and Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. Without global action and investment from corporations and others, these disaster-affected communities will not recover.

Now, what should you fund?  

CDP recommends focusing on long-term equitable recovery regardless of where you consider investing or awarding grants in the concentric circle model. Intentionally focus on the needs of historically marginalized or underserved communities who will undoubtedly be disproportionately affected by any disaster.

We also strongly encourage you to consider the following as you determine how to work with your grantee partners. First, can you provide multi-year, unrestricted funding? Second, consider funding organizations that support housing, mental health needs, legal services, disaster case management and economic development.

If you follow the concentric circle model, we know your choice paralysis will dissipate.

As always, my colleagues at CDP and I are a phone call or an email away. We are here to help make disaster investments easier, more effective, and equitable. Please reach out.