By Dara Major, Betsy Dubovsky, & Brian Byrd
A billion dollars is a lot of money.
A billion dollars in damage is the US government’s benchmark for measuring the relative impact of natural disasters. In the United States alone, the number of billion-dollar disaster events—from western wildfires to Texas tornadoes—continues to climb, with new threats rising almost faster than we can measure them.
When disasters strike, advances in philanthropy as a field of practice—leverage, collective capacity, and coalition-building—should kick into high gear. Yet research and our own experience indicate that private giving, including from foundations, remains loosely coordinated and dramatically declines after five or six months.
What does this mean for struggling communities?The Foundation Center’s new online grant visualization tool Foundation Maps is a potential game-changer, offering both funders and nonprofits a common framework to define, map, and share data in real time. We are hopeful that funders of all kinds will invest in and adapt such tools for multiple uses, including documenting disaster grantmaking in real time.
Whether it’s an Ebola outbreak in West Africa or a bankrupt Detroit, “disaster” communities are our proverbial canaries in the coalmine—not just for what they reveal about the underlying state of society’s infrastructure, but how they impact us as people. Because often when disasters happen, we see ourselves. We see our own fragility and vulnerability. For a few moments, we see “us,” not just “them.”