Guy David Gundlach’s story of philanthropy is unique. This is not your typical planned giving story involving a long relationship between a donor and a charitable organization resulting in an estate gift dedicated to a specific cause. It is the story of a businessman with global interests who left the vast majority of his entire estate, totaling nearly $150 million, to his hometown of Elkhart, Indiana through the community foundation.
There is a Toby Keith song with the lyrics, “I wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then.” With each catastrophic disaster, I am reminded of this song. I was an emergency responder following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and continue to work towards the Gulf’s recovery. It is predicted that the books will not be closed on that storm until 2026. Back then, I had no idea how long the road to recovery would be. I often wish I didn't know now relief is just the beginning and taking the long view is much harder. We must implement the lessons we learned that allow us to take the longer – and sometimes harder – view. So let us try a new approach with Typhoon Haiyan, and implement these lessons of recovery, rebuilding, and preparation.
As our nation sits and watches the devastation in Oklahoma following a series of tornadoes this week, I was reminded of a conversation I had with Jennifer Lammers, the new Program Director for the Alliance for Nonprofit Management, about an article she wrote following the 9/11 attacks. She referenced the piece during a call with a group of funders and nonprofits to discuss the establishment of Boston’s One Fund.
Hurricane Sandy has once again brought disasters—and the desire to help—to the forefront. Media attention has been critical to the nation’s preparedness efforts and in bringing immediate relief to affected communities. But lives will be impacted long after the storm has passed and media attention has faded. This is where private philanthropy can do its best work. It is critically important to long-term recovery because of its flexibility, ability to be forward thinking in every funding area, and capacity to complement public dollars.
On the morning of August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast. Within hours, it became one of the deadliest and costliest hurricanes in U.S. history. As a Southern funder, the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation recognized that while Katrina was an equal opportunity destroyer, it was not going to be an equal opportunity recovery due to the economic and racial inequities present before the storm. Seven years after Katrina, low-wealth and minority communities along the coast continue to struggle with rebuilding their lives and communities.
El Pomar Foundation began preparing to respond to one of the worst natural disasters in Colorado history 10 years before the first sign of smoke in Waldo Canyon. In June 2002, the Hayman fire ripped through four Colorado counties, consuming more than 137,000 acres. While those flames were still active, El Pomar trustees established an internal fund of $5 million (known as the Wild Land Fire Fund) to make grants related to wildfire response. Staffers, with checks in hand, made their way to the affected areas. They worked quickly to provide small grants to volunteer fire departments with immediate needs to replace damaged and destroyed equipment.
If there is an epicenter of the decline of a city and its loss of an economic base, the candidates start with Detroit, where the population has plummeted 25 percent in the last decade to 714,000–this for a city whose population was 1.85 million in 1950. The city now has an extraordinarily high poverty rate, massive tracts of vacant land, and empty housing. Or maybe the epicenter was New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city and region, taking a particularly hard toll on the region’s poor. Or maybe it was Los Angeles two decades ago, convulsed by the “disturbances” in South Central that the community divided by race and ethnicity.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us” Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Especially in our current funding climate, partnership and authentic engagement with those we seek to serve is critical to ensuring that limited philanthropic resources are invested wisely and deliver the greatest possible impact for those most in need.
There has never been a more challenging time for philanthropy. Globalization, natural disasters, and economic turmoil have placed additional stresses on social safety nets already stretched to the max. In this environment, the philanthropic sector must be smarter, more adaptable, and more collaborative.