10 Years After Katrina: 10 Questions for Funder Best Practices


Bolder Advocacy

Saturday, August 29, 2015, will mark the ten-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall on the Gulf Coast, and President Obama will be in New Orleans on Thursday to honor the anniversary and celebrate the region’s resilience and steady progress. After such a devastating storm, how was this region able to steadily make progress toward recovery? Advocacy. Local advocates and community-based organizations were empowered by funders to be an integral part of the recovery process. As G. Albert Ruesga writes for the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, philanthropy “gave voice to beleaguered residents.

As professionals in the philanthropic world, perhaps the best way for us to honor this anniversary is to reflect on how we can strengthen and prepare these nonprofits and community-based organizations for the next natural disaster. After Katrina, AFJ partnered with several foundations to research best practices to guide foundation support for effective advocacy in the aftermath of disasters. AFJ summarized these findings in Power Amidst Chaos (2007) and Power Amidst Renewal (2010), and while these principles were informed by the experiences of nonprofits, foundations, and residents in the Gulf, they are equally applicable to preparedness for other natural disasters.

Best Practices for Funders Supporting Advocacy and Disaster Relief

For the below practices, rate yourself on a scale of:

In practice—Partially in practice—Considering this practice—That practice is not for us

  1. Foundations need to invest in building and strengthening advocacy capacity of all organizations now.

Involvement with advocacy cannot wait until disaster strikes. Advocacy comes into play immediately. Foundations can address that challenge now by making multi-year grants and general support grants, and by providing capacity-building grants, particularly those targeted to building advocacy programs and support.

  1. Foundations need to develop their own advocacy capacity.

An effective advocacy staff can initiate constructive, tactical grantmaking and make purposeful use of all of a foundation’s resources, including its voice and reputation.

  1. General support and other types of flexible funding are needed immediately after disasters.

In addition to providing general support grants, in the wake of a disaster foundations should streamline their usual grantmaking proposal processes, allow existing grantees to deviate from grant proposals as to how they use the funds, and consider supporting different types of organizations, in broader issue areas, or in different geographic regions than they usually do.

  1. Funding grassroots leadership development and community organizing efforts should be a priority.

Foundations should make special efforts to identify emerging leaders and organizations. With more resources, grassroots organizations can better represent people affected by disasters at the policymaking table.

  1. Foundations must work with and through local organizations and people.

All funding and other decisions should be made by working with local funders, community-based organizations, and others familiar with the culture and priorities of the community. Building these relationships prior to disasters is beneficial.

  1. Foundations need to support grantees to make positive, systemic, and infrastructure changes in communities after a disaster.

Disasters provide an opportunity for transformation of systems that have historically failed. Foundation support for institutional re-visioning can lead to the development of an advocacy agenda that will be transformative rather than replicating the status quo.

  1. Foundations need to think long-term.

The recovery and transformation of most of the major systems in the Gulf Coast region require a five- to ten-year framework, a timeline beyond grantmakers’ typical commitments. Foundation support is needed to help nonprofits with long-term rebuilding and renewal that is necessary for effective advocacy work.

  1. Foundations should collaborate to hold government and business accountable.

Coordinated actions by foundations could shape policy that has widespread effects and bring a force to bear on federal decisions.

  1. Grantmakers should recognize the critical role of government in disaster work by supporting and encouraging grantee engagement with the public sector.

No matter how organized or well-funded, the nonprofit sector can never supplant government or rebuild alone. Nonprofit organizations have to bring their constituents’ voices to policymakers, legislators, representatives of the executive branch, and the courts in order to maximize the effectiveness of government’s response.

  1. Foundations need to have communication strategies in place, especially related to disaster planning and recovery.

Communications come in various forms, including communication between a foundation and its grantees; between grantees and clients; among members or constituents; and with the government. As policies are being developed, plans drawn, and decisions made, it is crucial for organizations to be able to communicate those with the public (including harder-to-reach people in rural areas and those who have been displaced) and to seek input.

Learn more detail about the importance of and how to accomplish these principles in Power Amidst Chaos (2007) and Power Amidst Renewal (2010).