Disaster Philanthropy Playbook

Immediate Relief / Individual Support


Support for individuals in the aftermath of a disaster is vitally important. Necessary support includes temporary shelter, clean water, food, supplies, sanitation, and healthcare. Hundreds of millions of dollars are raised by the nation’s largest disaster response nonprofits that supports immediate relief and critical needs mentioned above. And yet, direct financial assistance to individuals remains a critical need.

Emergency first responders and non-governmental organizations carry out immediate relief work in the hours, days, and weeks following a disaster. First responders assist with evacuations, initial first aid, clearing and examining structures, and many other activities that allow a community to begin processing a disaster. NGONon-governmental Organizations respond by assisting with temporary shelter, food needs, clothing, and water. In some cases, federal and state aid may be allocated, but there is a critical need for long-term individual case management. Long-term case management would provide support as immediate relief groups transition out and rebuilding begins.

Innovative Practices

The best practices in this area in many ways involve being prepared before a disaster occurs – an area especially difficult to obtain funding for.

  • Community education: fund programs that educate individuals and families on how to develop their own disaster plan – where to go and what to do post disaster.
  • Bolster the funding of local organizations that will be on the front lines following a disaster – food banks, homeless shelters and programs, elderly and child care programs. Fund their staffing and programs that plan for disasters.
  • Research a core group of organizations ahead of time that you will grant to immediately following a disaster. This group of organizations is ideally already working with vulnerable populations and in providing immediate relief to underserved, even in blue-sky times. Work with them to develop a disaster emergency plan and then vet them to receive funds immediately following a disaster to implement those plans.
  • Cash assistance is vital to individuals and families following a disaster. Each of their needs will vary greatly, and cash provides the needed flexibility to resume their lives as quickly as possible.
  • Consider funding the development of mobile platforms – mapping and phone apps that place first responders, NGONon-governmental Organizations and those affected by a disaster on the same page in terms of information availability following a disaster. These mechanisms also allow for more efficient response and case tracking and management.

What Funders Are Doing

The following are examples of innovative practices and grants that philanthropic organizations have supported, developed and/or implemented related to individual relief/immediate support.

Necessary support for individuals includes temporary shelter, clean water, food, supplies, sanitation and health care.

The following are some examples of Individual Relief/Immediate Support grants from the Center for Disaster Philanthropy’s COVID-19 Response Fund:

  • World Central Kitchen (WCK) was awarded $250,000 to expand its efforts to provide meals through two different phases or methods. First, by providing meals on a large scale for vulnerable populations in cities with the greatest need. The focus is on feeding frontline health care workers, older adults, children and their families, as well as people who are suddenly in a situation where they no longer have a paycheck. Second, by integrating restaurants and meal delivery companies, WCK will also be supporting the food industries that are suffering. Meals cost a bit more this way, but they are providing meals, wages and income for the struggling industry.
  • Rainbow Days was awarded $65,000 to support children’s social-emotional development and meet tangible needs, the multifaceted COVID-19 Response Efforts include: 1) two weeks of outdoor summer camp (including recreation, interactive STEM classes and arts experiences) for homeless children, practicing social distancing with other safety protocols in place, 2) care packages with learning activities and tangible items for homeless children, 3) monthly deliveries of food, cleaning supplies and toiletries for low-income families living in motels and 4) mental health support for at-risk youth through virtual check-ins and care packages.
  • Partnership with Native Americans received $150,000 to support mostly rural and geographically isolated tribal communities by providing food, water, essential supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE) for roughly 500 households.
  • Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) received $250,000 to provide direct cash assistance to clients, including refugees and other migrants, with priority given to clients disproportionally affected by financial hardships (women, elders, children and clients with disabilities). Target amounts will range from $25 to $2,000 and will be based on demonstrated need. Clients assisted by these grants will be identified by an affiliate network of over 30 organizations working to resettle immigrants in 33 states.
  • Information Technology Disaster Resource Center (ITDRC) received $175,000 to support projectConnect, which provides WiFi connectivity for up to 5,000 students and families in rural, tribal and underserved urban communities to facilitate their ability to participate in distance learning, telehealth and more.
  • Baton Rouge Community College Foundation was awarded $50,000 to provide technology to support remote student services — laptops, software, remote meeting capacity (i.e. Zoom, Microsoft Teams, etc.) — for faculty and staff, along with training for all constituents to help fulfill the mission of Baton Rouge Community College.

Other Individual Relief/Immediate Support examples related to COVID 19 include:

  • The UnitedHealth Group Incorporated Contributions Program used a portion of a $45 million commitment to convert their company cafeterias to provide more than 75,000 meals a week for people in need.
  • The Moody Foundation committed $675,000 to its Dallas-area partners to support both immediate basic needs and first responder assistance in the battle against COVID-19. The funds will go toward providing food, shelter, PPE, computers, rent assistance, employment, education and physical and mental health resources.
  • The Boston Foundation donated $40,000 to the Transgender Emergency Fund to purchase food products and gift cards in the Brockton area. Funds will also be used to cover transportation costs to transports individuals to medical appointments.
  • The Greater Milwaukee Foundation donated $4,500 to the Notre Dame School of Milwaukee to provide grocery store gift cards for the next five weeks for families to purchase food on the weekends when there is no food pickup at school.

Other Individual Relief/Immediate Support grants have included:

  • The Coles Group gave US$2.1 million (AU$3 million) in gift cards to rural fire brigades in Australia to aid in the 2019-2020 bushfire efforts.
  • As part of CDP’s 2019 California Wildfires Recovery Fund, Corazón Healdsburg received $250,000 for their Corazón Healdsburg Unity and Community Fund for Kincade Fire Victims, a program that supports the most vulnerable individuals and families affected by the Kincade Fire. The program provides direct financial assistance to cover expenses such as utility bills, food, medical care, shelter, repairs, transportation and other urgent unmet needs.
  • In 2018, the Molina Healthcare, Inc. Contributions Program made a $100,000 donation to the California Fire Foundation to help those impacted by the recent destruction caused by the Camp Fire and Woolsey Fire. The donation will provide direct assistance to those who have suffered catastrophic losses by providing gift cards so that victims can purchase basic necessities such as food, clothing, medicine and more.

Key Takeaways

Preparedness in this particular area is especially key. The more prepared individuals and families are, the better positioned communities and businesses are to bounce back following a disaster.

  1. Advocate for families to be financially prepared ahead of time. This means compiling copies of bank information, identification and social security documents, recent tax returns, medical records and more.
  2. Have a disaster plan for your organization – and include your key partners in the process. This will allow you to respond immediately in the way that makes most sense for your organization’s purpose.
  3. Be prepared to fund the immediate needs – short-term food, shelter, household items and cash – and make decisions about how you will meet those needs ahead of time. But also remember to hold some funds for the long-term needs that will surface.

Further Reading