I've been reading Bill Somerville's book Grassroots Philanthropy: Field Notes of a Maverick Grantmaker with great interest over the last few days. Bill's belief is that all of the paperwork and bureaucracy of philanthropy prevents us from achieving our purpose of helping the community. His most important principal for grantmaking is to locate outstanding people doing important work. I know all of this should be grantmaking 101 but this lesson seems to have been forgotten as we are buried under our piles of grant reviews. All of this of wonderful and I highly recommend that you read the book because if we all slightly changed our practices and spent more time in the community it would have an amazing impact, but that is not what made me say "holy crap, that's a great idea" and run to write this blog post. In the chapter on grantmaking with speed and grace (I love that description!), Bill describes how his foundation, Philanthropic Ventures, has prepared for disaster grantmaking. They are located in San Francisco where the threat of earthquakes are real. The foundation has identified 10 organizations that they have worked with over the years that have outstanding leadership and has a long track record of working with the poor. They have signed a letter of understanding with each organization starting that "in the event of a major earthquake, flood, fire, or other disaster", they have immediate access to $25,000 for the first 4 days following the event. The organizational leaders can use their personal credit cards for anything necessary to alleviate pain and suffering. Nothing has to be approved by the foundation 1st and the charges will be paid by the foundation before they are due.
What an amazingly simple and powerful idea. So much time is spent after a disaster figuring out the fundraising plan, rather than providing services that are so desperately needed. What is your local disaster risk? We are a flood and tornado state (with a slight chance of bridge collapse) and there are many partners that our geographic community foundations have worked with over the years that would be much more effective if this type of arrangement was in place.
Who would your foundation work with in a disaster and what is stopping your institution from developing those relationships now?