Transforming the State of Disaster Philanthropy

As the only full-time resource devoted to disaster philanthropy, I’m pleased to inform you that the Center for Disaster Philanthropy is partnering with The Foundation Center, the leading source of data on philanthropy worldwide, to systematically track disaster-related philanthropy
Every year, American individuals and institutions generously donate hundreds of millions of dollars in response to natural disasters. Despite this overwhelming out pouring of support, we know surprisingly little about the sources of these donations, where the donations are going, and how they are spent. With the frequency and intensity of disasters increasing, the role of private philanthropy in disasters is more important than ever and it is essential that we invest these donations as effectively as possible. Until we learn more about the flow of donations from start to finish in these events, improving the effectiveness and impact of disaster philanthropy will be impossible.
A key result of our collaboration will be an annual report called Measuring the State of Disaster Philanthropy that will summarize the year’s disaster giving and activities. We plan to issue our first report by the end of 2014.
We won’t consider this project a success unless we are able to create data and tools that you can use in helping make your disaster-related giving decisions. Therefore we’ve decided that the data we collect will also be made available with interactive online tools to help donors and advisors make better disaster-related decisions. We also expect to provide an online data platform for real-time data collection, searchable by donors to help make strategic giving decisions while disasters are occurring.
We recognize that this is an enormous and complex undertaking – something never done before – and we acknowledge well beyond our capacity to do by ourselves alone. We look forward to broad participation and collaboration across the disaster philanthropy field, and together, creating useful and relevant tools to assist in donor and grantee decision-making, transparency, and coordination.
To help us with identifying donations, we are creating a data-gathering network of both donors and grant recipients engaged in disaster funding
The project’s work will be guided by an expert advisory committee and consultation with key stakeholders.
The advisory committee members include the following: Joe Ruiz (UPS Foundation), David Meltzer (American Red Cross), Ed Cain (Conrad N. Hilton Foundation), Nancy Anthony (Oklahoma City Community Foundation), Sam Worthington (InterAction), Seema Shah (Foundation Center), Larry McGill (Foundation Center), Lori Bertman (Irene W. and C.B. Pennington Foundation), Rudy von Bernuth (Save the Children, retired), Mark Lindberg (Margaret A. Cargill Foundation), Clay Whybark (University of North Carolina), Una Osilli (Indiana University), Helena Frasier (UNOCHA), Alex Pittman (Foundation Center), along with CDP’s Vice-President, Regine A. Webster, and myself.
There is a technical working group for this project as well, which consists of Julie Thompson (UNOCHA), Sherrie Forrest (NAS), and Apollo Nkwake (Disaster Resilience Leadership Academy, Tulane University).
We’re also pleased to announce that the Irene W. and C.B. Pennington Foundation has generously offered to fund the inaugural year of our project and we are grateful for their leadership role. We hope this will be the first of many donations to fund this important work.
Through Measuring the State of Disaster Philanthropy, donors, NGOs, government, media and more will now know exactly how much money is spent on which disasters each year, by whom, and for what activities. We expect to be able to identify trends, learn about unmet needs that warrant more funding and ways to be more effective.
This project lays the foundation for major change over time. Creating the initial data and an ongoing network for data collection provides the necessary first building blocks that others – donors, advisors, and nonprofits – will be able to use to transform the critical contributions that philanthropy plays in helping millions of people plan, respond and recover from disasters.
If you’d like to get involved or learn more about our project, please write to me at

Robert G. Ottenhoff

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