Disaster Philanthropy Playbook

Spotlight on the Rita Allen Foundation

The Rita Allen Foundation invests in transformative ideas in their earliest stages to leverage their growth and promote breakthrough solutions to significant problems. It enables early-career biomedical scholars to do pioneering research, seeds innovative approaches to fostering informed civic engagement, and develops knowledge and networks to build the effectiveness of the philanthropic sector. Throughout its work, the Foundation embraces collaboration, creativity, learning and leadership.

“When disasters and tragedies strike communities, we are moved to want to help in any way we can,” said Elizabeth Good Christopherson, President and CEO of the Rita Allen Foundation.

Creative, collaborative efforts to create more robust civic institutions and technology can yield vast dividends for communities facing disasters. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy made landfall outside of Atlantic City eight days before the national presidential election. Widespread power outages, road and school closures, and massive flooding in the days after Sandy forced the relocation of dozens of polling places. The steep challenge was how to alert citizens to new polling station locations—in the Rita Allen Foundation’s home state of New Jersey, more than 2.7 million households and businesses were without power, and access to normal channels of communication and news was disrupted. An innovative project to expand access to election information, led by the Pew Charitable Trusts and supported by partner funders including the Rita Allen Foundation, swung into high gear. The Voting Information Project (VIP) allowed more than 243,000 people in New York and New Jersey to find election information and polling places using a simple text message system made possible by VIP and project partner Mobile Commons. Many others used VIP online and mobile tools created with partners including Google, Microsoft, Facebook and AT&T—ultimately, VIP provided nonpartisan election information to 25 million voters in the November 2012 election. Voters everywhere were served by the Rita Allen Foundation and VIP’s and commitment to fostering an informed and active citizenry‚ but in areas most effected by Hurricane Sandy, it became crucial.

In the weeks and months following the hurricane, the Foundation also supported New Jersey’s long-term recovery efforts with a grant to the New Jersey Recovery Fund. The Fund supported catalytic and collaborative projects focused on community recovery, civic engagement, investigative journalism and sustained media attention for a fair and transparent recovery.

In addition, the Rita Allen Foundation has provided leadership support for this Disaster Philanthropy Playbook, a comprehensive repository of the innovative strategies, effective best practices, lessons learned, and successful collaborations that have come about in response to disasters and tragedies.

“When disasters and tragedies strike communities, we are moved to want to help in any way we can,” said Elizabeth Good Christopherson, President and CEO of the Rita Allen Foundation. “Yet recovery efforts can be so much more effective if they begin before a crisis, in building resilient and knowledgeable networks of support. The Disaster Philanthropy Playbook takes a proactive approach to helping communities deal effectively with disasters before and after they occur. The Disaster Playbook will help the philanthropic community across the country save lives and livelihoods and ensure a quick recovery when disaster strikes. That is a highly transformative way to approach disasters. And it’s one we’re honored to have been a part of from the very start.”