Last week New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman released his office’s preliminary report on how 89 charitable organizations have, or have not, spent more than $575 million for Superstorm Sandy relief. According to the report, $238 million (or 42%) remains unspent, and that concerns Mr. Schneiderman.
Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) is number one on that list with100% of its funds unspent as of April 30, and while the Attorney General considers our unspent dollars cause for concern, we disagree with his assessment.
Our sympathies are with those who lost family members, or their homes and businesses as a result of this catastrophic event. We know that many people are still not able to return to their homes or communities. They are waiting on insurance settlements and hoping for grants and other resources to help them pick up the pieces Sandy left behind, and to move forward.
While there has been a lot of money spent on relief, and more funds are on the way, it’s also time to turn the focus to long term recovery for both known and unknown needs, and the long, arduous task of rebuilding communities.
This work is difficult and complicated and needs to be done carefully. To that end, we are pleased that the Attorney General is following the use of money donated to Hurricane Sandy relief. Nonprofit organizations have an obligation to be transparent and accountable with the charitable donations, and donors should settle for nothing less.
But to suggest that all monies should have been spent by now or that all of the many problems caused by Sandy should have already been fixed shows the Attorney General’s misunderstanding of the devastating nature of Sandy and the complexity of rebuilding.
In the race to give following a disaster, many donors unintentionally flood funds that provide immediate relief with more money than can be used. Often the full needs of a community are not revealed in the days and weeks following a disaster, but rather, it can take months or more for some needs to expose themselves.
For example, we know from Hurricane Katrina, the South Asian Tsunami, the Haitian earthquake and other catastrophic disasters that bringing communities back to some sense of normalcy can take decades.
By design, the CDP Hurricane Sandy Disaster Fund was created to give donors an opportunity to maximize the impact of their generosity to support the full life cycle of the disaster. Our donors told us to emphasize funding that is medium- and long-term in nature and based upon the prevailing needs that emerge in the weeks and months to come. We are doing exactly what our donors expected us to do, and what we believe will best serve the needs of Sandy-affected communities. Over the past months, we have been identifying unmet needs and the organizations that might fill them.
Within the next few weeks, we will announce the grantees of the CDP Hurricane Sandy Disaster Fund. We invite the New York Attorney General to learn more about why disaster donors need to focus not only on the immediate response after a disaster, but also the long-term challenges of rebuilding communities suffering from the losses of property and lives.
—Robert G.Ottenhoff, President and CEO and Regine A. Webster, Vice President