Disaster Philanthropy Playbook

Regional Catastrophic Planning NY-NJ-CT-PA

Collaborating with FEMA, HUD, State and Local Governments


The philanthropic sector is a highly effective and essential component of disaster recovery, but it is important to remember that the government leads recovery efforts.

To that end, effective preparedness, mitigation, response and recovery strategies rely upon wide-scale collaboration and open lines of communication. The Federal Emergency Management Administration’s (FEMA’s) mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from and mitigate all hazards. Developing relationships, preferably in advance but most definitely post-disaster, with government emergency management and response personnel is vital to developing a fully-informed recovery strategy.

  • There are ten FEMA Regions in the USA, and every region has a full-time, permanent FEMA staff present year-round, regardless of whether or not there is a local disaster recovery in effect.
  • FEMA’s primary role in any disaster is to provide emergency assistance to individuals. This could be in the form of temporary housing, short-term financial relocation funding, and grant payments for damaged property.
  • When disaster strikes, FEMA personnel are deployed to the affected community/region, and depending upon the size of the disaster, anywhere from several hundred to a few thousand FEMA staffers and volunteers may be positioned.
  • Philanthropic leaders have a keen understanding of the characteristics that define their communities and can communicate this important tacit knowledge to recovery specialists.
  • While the FEMA personnel deployed to a region post-disaster have a National Disaster Recovery Framework from which they operate, they do not have the key relationships in that region and will rely on philanthropic and nonprofit leaders for this background and information.
  • FEMA staff deployed to a region in response to disaster can and will be re-deployed to another region without notice.
  • Federal dollars in support of your region’s recovery will be dispersed from the Federal Office of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) (via Community Development Block Grants) to your Department of Community Affairs (DCA) who will then allocate grant recovery funds. As such, your state’s commissioners play a vital role in the recovery process.
  • Establishing communication with FEMA and state, county and local government offices in advance of any disaster, will serve your community and your mission in an effective and smart manner.

Innovative Practices

Philanthropy should serve as a leader and convener in establishing and/or strengthening relationships with FEMA and state and local emergency management personnel.

Regional associations can provide services and programs that help the philanthropic community to:

  • On a federal level, grantmakers and their Regional Associations can find their local regional representative here and schedule a meeting for your team.
  • On a state level, grantmakers and their regional associations can:
    • Coordinate with the state disaster recovery department in your Governor’s Office (if one exists).
    • Make sure your state’s Congressional Representatives (Senate and House) are well-informed about your region’s pre-and post-disaster needs.
    • Reach out to your state government’s commissioners and their staff, including the leadership of the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) and the departments of environmental protection, health & human services, transportation, public safety, and children and families.
    • Coordinate with your State Office of Emergency Management and State Police Department to understand what their response strategies include and how/where your organization and your grantees align with these preparedness and mitigation strategies.
    • Contact the State Office of Volunteerism as this office may be called upon to assist with wide-scale volunteer recruitment, coordination, tracking and reporting.
  • On a local level, grantmakers and their regional associations can keep in contact with county executives and local elected officials (including any Mayoral Associations which may exist in your region), and coordinate with county and municipal emergency management personnel.

Key Takeaways

  • Build relationships with the individuals/offices listed above.
  • Help educate FEMA’s recovery specialists on the important cultural norms and nuance of the impacted area and introduce them to the region’s stakeholders, municipal and state leaders, and nonprofit professionals who will be working at the forefront of their region’s recovery.
  • Include state officials and personnel in appropriate philanthropic meetings throughout the year, especially when the agenda is focused on preparedness, response and recovery.
  • It’s essential that philanthropic and nonprofit leaders make every effort to work collaboratively with FEMA personnel.
  • Build relationships with your region’s permanent FEMA staff in addition to the temporary disaster specialists placed in your area.
  • Philanthropic leaders must understand how federal aid is dispersed and consider that when developing their disaster grant making strategy.

Further Reading