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Can Data Help Save Lives and Protect Vulnerable Populations?

December 12, 2014

Headshot_regine_websterThe use of data to drive philanthropic decisions has been discussed at great length within the philanthropic sector over the past few years, and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) has been captivated by all the energy around the topic. One of our founding principles is to transform the field of disaster philanthropy, and we have achieved some traction toward that goal. But over the past two years, we gradually realized that a key element was lacking in our tool kit.

That key element was funder data. More specifically, which disasters are funded, by whom, for what purpose, and with what goals in mind?

The beginning of an answer lies in our newly-released report, Measuring the State of Disaster Philanthropy 2014: Data to Drive Decisions (52 pages, PDF).

The report, the result of a partnership between CDP and Foundation Center, is the most comprehensive analysis of disaster philanthropy to date. As stated in the key findings section, the report "provides a snapshot of funding for disasters by the largest U.S. foundations." Based on 2012 data, it is also designed to establish a baseline and serve as the foundation for a longer-term effort to collect and aggregate data from the philanthropic community. Subsequent reports will provide insights into more current and comprehensive trends on disaster giving.

Key findings from the report include the following:

  • In 2012, 234 foundations made 884 grants totaling $111 million for disasters. The majority of that funding was for natural disasters (58 percent). Almost half was directed to response and relief efforts (46 percent).
  • About three out of five grant dollars (62 percent) addressed human service needs related to disasters.
  • The majority of grant dollars awarded targeted disasters in North America (62 percent). Countries in Asia received 16 percent and countries in Africa received 13 percent.
  • Giving is often influenced by media coverage, which tends to focus on acute and telegenic disasters. Complex humanitarian emergencies, famines, and other disasters that are considered "slow-onset" tend to receive less media attention and less funding.
  • Disasters receiving the most television news coverage in the past quarter-century years were the attacks of September 11, 2001, the Oklahoma City federal building bombing, and Hurricane Katrina.
  • Lessons learned from past disasters highlight the need for funding beyond immediate relief. Building community resiliency and preparedness can contribute substantially to mitigating the impact of disasters. In addition, long-term recovery and reconstruction efforts are crucial, particularly after media attention and relief funding have dwindled.

With the knowledge we gained from this year's report – and will gain from future reports – we have the power to truly change our collective behavior, directing more funds in more strategic ways to ensure that the needs of disaster-affected communities, both domestically and globally, are well taken care of.

The release of the report is only step one in that effort. We will soon begin to build a space on our website to house the data we collect, will be launching a data gathering network to facilitate the capture of real-time disaster grantmaking, and will continue to use the expert advice of our advisory committee and technical working group. If you would like to learn more about the report, CDP's next steps, or speak with me about how you can get involved in this effort, email me at [email protected].

I would also like to invite you to join us for a webinar on December 16 at 2:00 p.m. ET to hear more about the report and our plans to collect more data in the years ahead and truly transform the field of disaster philanthropy.

Regine Webster is vice president at the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.

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