GlobalGiving’s Disaster Response Approach

Posted by john hecklinger on February 2nd, 2012

GlobalGiving was not originally established with disaster relief funding in mind. When the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami hit, everyone at GlobalGiving was surprised when the website lit up, the phones started ringing, and donors began asking GlobalGiving to identify local organizations responding to the disaster. Since then, GlobalGiving has connected donors with specific relief and recovery efforts after natural disasters and humanitarian crises in China, Pakistan, Haiti, Australia, Chile, Italy, Japan, Thailand, Turkey, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, New Zealand, India, the USA, among others.

When we first learn about a natural disaster, we assess whether or not GlobalGiving is in a position to respond. In some situations, GlobalGiving project partners assess the situation, formulate a response, and spontaneously post relief projects. When this happens, GlobalGiving’s job is to connect them with donors, so we launch social media and corporate partner outreach.

Sometimes, project leaders do not immediately post projects, but it’s clear that help is needed, donors are willing to give, and NGOs are ready to respond. In these cases, GlobalGiving posts a disaster-specific relief fund to collect donations while we assemble a portfolio of specific projects.

In making the decision to mobilize, we consider the strength of our network in the affected area, the scale of the disaster, the number of people affected, the intensity of news coverage, and social media activity. In extreme situations like the earthquakes in Haiti and Japan, the decision is easy. In other cases like Australian wildfires, and Missouri tornadoes, we’re less sure about matching needs with donors, so we wait until we see donor interest or an NGO response before launching.

Our response to more slowly-evolving humanitarian crises like the famine in East Africa is more gradual and organic. Projects from existing partners appear as our partners see emerging needs. Well before media coverage of the East Africa famine ramped up, we saw projects from partners already responding to the crisis. We also received inquiries from NGOs wanting to post projects on GlobalGiving for the first time. When it’s clear that the situation has reached a crisis stage, GlobalGiving mobilizes a response exactly like a sudden natural disaster.

As we make decisions about adding projects and making allocations from a disaster-specific relief fund, our priority is to support the work that the affected community believes to be most important. Generally, we believe local organizations are best-positioned to assess and to respond to needs, so we listen carefully to what they deem to be most critical. Our view is that locally-run organizations can nimbly and effectively provide for immediate and ongoing community needs. Getting funds to them benefits communities directly and quickly.

GlobalGiving has worked with thousands of NGOs in over 120 countries over the years. When a disaster strikes, some of these NGOs naturally begin responding, as was the case after the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. We did not have a rich network in Japan prior to the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, but we quickly identified key local NGOs through personal and professional connections. Japanese NGOs found out about GlobalGiving and reached out to us for help in connecting with resources. Ultimately, we were able to begin supporting local NGOs within two weeks of the disaster.

Large, international NGOs that specialize in disaster response frequently provide a necessary backbone and are in many cases best-equipped to provide initial support in affected areas. As we assemble a portfolio of disaster relief and recovery projects, we seek to balance efforts and to ensure a transition from large international NGO projects to local NGOs. Early on, most of the funding goes to projects related to relief efforts. Ongoing funds support more recovery and reconstruction work.

When making allocations from disaster-specific funds to specific projects, GlobalGiving acts more like a traditional foundation than we typically do. We’re accustomed to managing a marketplace of ideas, information and money, not an endowment. When placed in this decision-making role by a large outpouring of generosity, we use the principles articulated here as a guide. We prioritize funding local NGOs that demonstrate clear community ties and an ability to provide specific reports back to donors.

In early phases of a disaster, we disburse funds very quickly – ensuring that donor funds are on the ground, usually within a week of being received. Later, we disburse funds as needs develop, taking a more cautious approach, learning more about the situation, and carefully allocating funds to organizations demonstrating a clear purpose and a willingness to report back to donors on specific results.

After the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, we began disbursing funds weekly, until it became clear that immediate funding needs were being met by the international community. We could have quickly disbursed all of the funding we received, but we waited until local NGOs were able to identify specific recovery efforts. In this way we ensure that our donors’ funds support initiatives that local organizations feel are most important. Since then, we have been disbursing collected funds for specific projects emerging from our partners as recovery continues. We require every NGO receiving funds to report on activities at least quarterly, and we typically conduct site visits to check on the work being done.

For donors, GlobalGiving provides a way to help quickly and effectively without having to do a lot of research. Donors can support a specific relief or recovery project, or they can trust GlobalGiving by giving to the disaster-specific fund. All donors receive specific updates, so they know where their funds have gone and what has been accomplished. Many companies use GlobalGiving to track and match employee donations to disaster relief efforts, amplifying employee impact and driving further support directly where it’s needed.

Donor response in these situations varies widely. After the earthquakes in Haiti and Japan, donor reaction was immediate and huge through GlobalGiving and other channels. Sudden, catastrophic natural disasters tend to capture donor interest more than slowly rising floods or gradually worsening famines. Sometimes, a diaspora community mobilizes in a big way, as we saw after the 2011 Van Earthquake in Turkey. The disaster received relatively little media coverage, but a committed group mobilized a lot of support through GlobalGiving.

In the future, as disasters and crises emerge, GlobalGiving will continue to prioritize working with local NGOs to respond to emergencies in their communities. In developed and developing countries, NGOs play a key role in initial relief and ongoing recovery efforts. We’ll make it easy for donors to give by posting disaster-specific funds while providing very specific options for donors interested in supporting unique projects.

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