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16 Sep. 2019 | Comments (0)

September is National Preparedness Month in the U.S., something we’re acutely reminded of after Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas and the East Coast. And to that end, a recent analysis from The Conference Board maps the central role corporate philanthropy plays in dealing with such disasters.  

It turns out that many companies are changing their practices to deal more effectively with multiple crises in a short period. Here are 10 ways they’re doing it: 

  1. Helping employees and deploying them effectively. Employees are both the primary concern and the primary resource for corporate disaster philanthropy. Businesses’ first priority after a disaster is typically supporting affected staff, often through initiatives such as employee assistance funds, which give colleagues an avenue to donate to those affected by disasters. After that, companies turn to their workforce to fuel volunteering and fundraising. Corporations can do three things to make volunteering effective:
    • Encourage employees to engage with the preparedness and long-term reconstruction phases of disaster philanthropy;
    • Develop a playbook to help employees tap into the disaster philanthropy ecosystem so they can contribute in meaningful ways or engage with their company in an appropriate response; and
    • Share data about volunteers more readily among each other to help match volunteers with the opportunities that are needed.
  2. Giving customers a reprieve. Customers affected by disasters can face considerable financial hardship, making it difficult to meet their obligations such as credit card payments. Banks are often the first to waive overdraft or other fees in the aftermath of a disaster, as we saw from the likes of Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and SunTrust following Hurricane Irma. Other institutions should build customer reprieves into their disaster philanthropy plans.
  3. Providing nonprofits only what they need. Effective corporate philanthropists advise their employees against making direct product donations to local nonprofits because this often means that resources are wasted sorting through unnecessary goods. Instead, companies can provide a list of the products they can contribute and have nonprofit partners request what they need. Even as companies are taking a more strategic approach, representatives from the American Red Cross and Points of Light have noted that the greatest need in the disaster philanthropy space is often unrestricted dollars—money given to relief organizations to do with as they see fit. These types of donations show organizations can be trusted and help them build capacity to continue to operate and to focus on disaster preparedness.
  4. Building relationships with local nonprofits. Nearly half of companies prepare for disasters with the help of strategic partnerships, according to our survey. Local nonprofits are often at the heart of disaster relief efforts. For that reason, as part of their disaster preparedness efforts, companies are developing relationships with those local partners to help make communities more resilient. Examples of this work include reaching out to food banks in local communities to understand their needs and working with partners to stockpile hygiene kits.
  5. Participating in long-term rebuilding. Companies admit that rebuilding for the long term can be complicated, confusing, and expensive. The goal is often to rebuild a community to surpass its former level of preparedness, particularly when it is likely to continue to experience disasters. Nonetheless, many businesses are navigating these challenges and the results are beginning to show, particularly in places like New Orleans, where—after 14 years—several companies are still involved in rebuilding the city.
  6. Taking a holistic view of disaster philanthropy. Although most companies rank post-disaster relief as their number-one priority in terms of disaster philanthropy, members of The Conference Board’s Corporate Citizenship and Philanthropy Institute Councils said they’re also looking to do more than simply support the immediate response to catastrophe. This includes tackling disaster preparedness. As Gail McGovern, President of the American Red Cross, told council members: “Every dollar invested in preparedness saves us in relief.” United Nations data backs this up, showing that an annual investment of $6 billion in appropriate disaster risk management strategies could generate risk reduction benefits worth $360 billion.
  7. Making disaster relief more effective. Companies recognize that while it is critical to invest more in preparedness, the importance of disaster relief is unlikely to diminish. For some companies, making disaster relief more effective means taking more time in a disaster’s aftermath to understand the situation on the ground, and following, rather than leading, relief efforts, so that their responses are better aligned with the community’s needs. Companies often nonetheless feel the need to respond quickly to satisfy media, employee, or customer demand. Having a pre-approved, set sum of cash or other resources that can be rolled out relatively quickly can help satisfy those demands. That way, the company can take a more measured approach to the rest of its relief efforts.
  8. Operating within the disaster philanthropy ecosystem. Governments, academics, NGOs, faith groups, the press, and social media, among others, all have roles to play to deliver effective disaster philanthropy. A corporation's role typically depends on its industry, size, and location(s). Forward-thinking companies assess their position as part of the broader ecosystem and contribute resources where they can add the most value, complementing other parties that do important work in the sector while not overwhelming or controlling efforts.
  9. Linking their disaster philanthropy efforts with business strategy. Companies are assessing their businesses to understand how they can use their resources most effectively, while also linking their disaster philanthropy approaches to their other strategies. For example, some companies have linked their disaster philanthropy strategies with their sustainability strategies, allowing them to unlock more resources (including employee resources) to focus on areas like disaster preparedness.
  10. Preparing supply chains and working with small businesses. Working within their own supply chain is an opportunity for companies to both serve the community and mitigate risks. As the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan demonstrated on a large scale, a disaster that affects suppliers in one area can disrupt business in another. That country is a vital source of parts and equipment for industries such as computers, electronics, and automobiles, so when the disaster struck and multiple suppliers were shut down for days—some, even, forever—a major disruption to the global supply chain ensued. Some companies partner with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation to offer support to small businesses in vulnerable and affected areas, helping them both prepare and regain operational capacity when affected.

Hurricane Dorian reminded us that this can be a dangerous time of year for many. With National Preparedness Month already underway, companies should check that their disaster philanthropy strategies are optimized to help people and communities over the long-term.

  • About the Author:Alex Parkinson

    Alex Parkinson

    Alex Parkinson is Principal of Parky Communications, a communications agency specializing in sustainability and CSR reporting and communications. He serves as the Co-Leader of The Conference Board Cor…

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