Jun 3, 2014

By Adam Harms, Communications Coordinator, EGA

Funder gatherings are always opportunities to learn more about on-the-ground issues from key stakeholders, but at their best they also find ways to interweave grantmaking strategy and tactics. It was refreshing to see this so well addressed at this year’s Canadian Environmental Grantmakers’ Network Conference, which was held in Calgary earlier this month. The conference’s three main stage plenaries framed environmental issues within the context of important and oft-underappreciated bolsters of grantmaking work: strategies for effective communications and policy influence.

Pat Letizia, Chair of CEGN, and Scott Vaughan, President of the International Institute for Sustainable Development

Brad Lavigne, Vice President at Hill + Knowlton Canada, helped set the tone for the conference with the takeaway that “the best defense is a good offense”. Brad’s presentation laid out the ways that funders, with any size budget, can begin to proactively approach communications in a prioritized (but holistic) way. Based on the evolving way the public interacts with the philanthropic world, Brad advocates a few elements for effective, modern communications as grantmakers:

  1. As consumption channels expand, and shared experience dwindles, we need to focus our messaging towards targeted audiences, and increase our spread across platforms
  2. Big data is crucial for effective messaging and targeting
  3. Stories should be layered, and champions must be engaged

While these were all salient and eye-opening points, the second was especially relevant, as it helped to hammer home the importance of data aggregation projects like EGA’s Tracking the Field Report and CEGN’s newly-released The Future of Freshwater Funding in Canada. Tools like these can be used to hone in on a specific metric and provide robust conclusions, which have countless applications on foundations’ communications fronts and beyond. (Check out the Tracking the Field report and the new interactive heatmap to make some data sets and conclusions of your own. You can also learn more about CEGN’s efforts via their webinar, taking place June 4th at 1:00 pm ET; RSVP to Pegi Dover.)







Other main stage sessions included Sarah Stachowiak’s engaging talk on approaches to policy change, and a panel discussion about how to proactively combat the pitfalls that often accompany foundation audits. These and other sessions related to the conference theme served as a primer for countless conversations and debates, and ultimately provided attendees with a more comprehensive understanding of the value of well-informed strategic approaches. We look forward to pulling in more of our members for a continuation of these conversations at our Annual Fall Retreat in September!

Apr 22, 2014

By Rachel Leon, Executive Director, EGA






This Earth Day, my dreams and visions are of China. One month ago today, EGA led an adventurous and globally diverse group of grantmakers on an unforgettable learning tour of China. And I can't stop thinking about and visualizing places, stories and people from that journey.

I'm still processing what we saw and experienced, but there is no doubt that I have a renewed approach towards our shared mission of helping to support a sustainable world.

While there were plenty of moments of clarity and pure joy, multiple experiences also proved confusing, contradictory and downright scary given the apparent scale and scope of challenges we face on a global level.

Through intimate glimpses into the environmental state of China, our adventure affirmed how clearly our future is tied to what happens 7,000 miles away, and how small the planet really is. From breaking bread with sustainable ag activists in February in Detroit to sharing dumplings in a space operated by Beijing County Fair local food organizers in China, the hope and fresh action underway in both these small spaces was palpable.






Shared experiences

The trip provided numerous wonderful up-close moments and opportunities to observe projects funded by numerous EGA members and new Chinese philanthropies. These experiences included everything from visiting pigs at bio mass pilots in rural eco-communities to witnessing thriving environmental education initiatives underway in Shanghai. We dug in deep on the big challenges ahead on air pollution, and discussed a transition to green energy whilst choking on the smog of Beijing.

In the last days of our trip, we visited the world’s largest port near Shangai. We were brought to a collective silence staring at the enormity of our appetite for ‘stuff’, and its ramifications for the planet.

One of the highlights of the trip was our visit with the SEE Entrepeneurs and the Vantone Foundation, who were involved with the delegation of Chinese philanthropists that joined EGA last Fall, with the support of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. It was inspiring to know that in part, because of our shared learning, a Chinese EGA is being organized, and that many of the questions they are asking as they evolve are the same questions we grapple with two and a half decades later.






The importance of a global perspective

Having the Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network and the UK Environmental Funders Network participate throughout the China Distance Learning Program deepened our discussion, and showed how global collaboration is both possible and already underway. The Distance Learning Program’s global diversity also helped to affirm EGA’s impact on a global scale - I don't think it's debatable anymore whether our work should include a significant global lens.

And I didn't come to EGA with that view. If anything, I was a local girl who liked keeping my feet on the ground and my action plans local and achievable. But the rapid globalization of our economies and social networks that have occurred in the five years I've had the privilege of serving this community has opened my eyes to the necessity of EGA working on a global level. This is a thread we will continue when we seek to explore the theme of “from pueblo to global” this Fall at our Retreat in New Mexico.

We didn’t find all of the answers in China - we actually left with more questions. But we left hungry for more interaction, more collaboration and more shared learning. That, I think, is my modest takeaway from this trip to share, on this day when we reflect and appreciate our shared planet. We shouldn’t pretend to have all the answers or the perfect strategies to easily fix what we’ve undone in our ecosystem, but we should have the passion and the connectivity to face what is next, together. For me, “together” now stretches from upstate NY to the corners of China.

Today, I share pictures from that journey with you all, hoping it whets your appetite to learn more about the trip and our organizational efforts to deepen EGA Global engagement when we all coalesce this Fall. Most of all, I express deep gratitude for all who shared meals with us, hosted us and organized this special journey, a 12-day trip that will live on through how we at EGA evolve to approach and implement our mission.

Mar 5, 2014

This blog post was originally featured on the Hewlett Foundation's Blog, "Work in Progress". This post was authored by Erin Rogers, Program Officer, Environment Program at the Hewlett Foundation.

Remember the scene in Star Wars where Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and their friends were trapped in a trash compactor on the Death Star? Soon after falling into a watery container filled with space garbage and a really creepy snake, the walls around them started slowly closing in. They had a shrinking window of opportunity to find a way out. They scrambled higher atop mounds of trash, adapting to the situation as best they could and buying time. But the walls kept closing in. Finally, R2D2 was able to shut down power to the entire garbage system. Addressing the root of the problem saved their lives.

With apologies for the over-simplified and dated analogy, we are facing a similar shrinking window of opportunity to address the root cause of climate change by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases we pump into the atmosphere through burning coal, oil, and other fossil fuels.

On January 17, the New York Times reported on a leaked draft of a forthcoming United Nations report that explains that although we are starting to see increases in renewable energy and more efficient use of energy, these hopeful improvements are dwarfed by the rapid increase in the burning of fossil fuels. In other words, we are making progress, but not far or fast enough to avoid widespread human suffering as well as major economic and ecological problems.

The Times article describes the UN report, which was produced by scientists around the word who work together as part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, as a warning that “another 15 years of failure to limit carbon emissions could make the problem virtually impossible to solve with current technologies...If countries permit continued high emissions growth until 2030…the [atmospheric carbon] target will most likely be impossible to meet, at least without a hugely expensive crash program to rebuild the energy system, and even that might not work.”

Fifteen years. The Hewlett Foundation takes the urgency seriously. Our Environment Program has built its core funding strategies around this shrinking window of opportunity. We are keeping our eyes on the prize of reducing emissions from the world’s highest emitting countries and their highest-emitting sectors—electricity and transportation—as substantially and quickly as possible. This entails funding for work developing policy and technical solutions to reduce emissions, but also building the political and consumer will to adopt and deploy them.

CERES estimates that in order to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change, current global investment in clean energy should double to $500 billion per year by 2020. For comparison--the cost to the US economy of just two storms--hurricanes Katrina and Sandy-- amounted to more than $175 billion. The costs of mitigation pale in comparison with the costs of global adaption. Investing in efforts that reduce emissions now is the most cost-effective way to address climate change and if we’re going to succeed, we’ll need vastly greater investment of these public, private, and philanthropic dollars.

Too many governments, companies, and foundations are spending too much on efforts to adapt to changes that are already occurring. Such changes, while undeniable, are minor compared to what will happen if we don’t reduce emissions quickly. The amount and expense of adapting to global warming later will be far higher—indeed, will dwarf what we are spending today—if we don't act to cut emissions within the short window of opportunity that remains.

This isn’t to say that any or all efforts to help communities adapt to what's happening now are a mistake. On the contrary, we should be seeking approaches that help us adapt to climate change that also serve to reduce emissions. But what matters most, what everyone needs to focus on now, is diminishing the amount of heat-trapping gases going into the atmosphere. Any other focus is just climbing up garbage piles while the walls continue closing in.

Like R2D2 and the trash compactor, more of us need to focus on addressing the root cause of the problem. Now, if only we had Yoda on staff… 

Jan 13, 2014

This blog post was originally featured on the Health and Environmental Funders Network Blog, "Giving Insight". This post was authored by Franny Chiles Canfield, Senior Manager of Program and Knowledge at the Environmental Grantmakers Association.

Finding opportunities to discuss, share and collaborate on grantmaking strategies with other funders goes a long way in ensuring portfolios remain effective and relevant. But funder gatherings are not the only way to learn from other grantmakers that are interested in combating the same issues. Do funders’ approaches differ depending on the issues they tackle? Where is funding being focused – or leaving gaps?

The Environmental Grantmakers Association (EGA) has made it a priority to answer these questions through our Tracking the Field project. This project includes a semi-annual report, a searchable Tracking the Field database, and an interactive trending grant heat map. Tracking the Field Volume 4: Analyzing Trends in Environmental Philanthropy was published in September 2013. The new EGA report analyzes over 40,000 grants by approximately 200 EGA member foundations from 2007-2011, as well a birds-eye analysis of environmental philanthropy with data provided by the Foundation Center.

Our report uncovers many interesting connections and key correlations between strategies, geographic regions and issue area concentrations. In 2011, estimated funding to environmental issues by all U.S. foundations reached an all-time high of $2.8 billion. In the same year, the total environmental giving by EGA Members equaled $1.13 billion (40% of all environmental giving). Environmental giving by EGA members dropped 17% in 2009 but experienced gains of 28% and 2% in 2010 and 2011. As the following graph illustrates, environmental philanthropy spans many issues.

Because Health and Justice grants (“Environmental Heath”, “Toxics”, and “Environmental Justice”) are so crosscutting, it is especially important to consider all grants that identify Health and Justice issues as primary or secondary issue areas. When using these metrics, we find that $100 million (9%) of EGA members’ grants in 2011 were targeted at Health and Justice issues. EGA and HEFN staff, comparing membership lists, noted that the EGA database includes just over half of HEFN members’ grants.

Where are Health and Justice Grants Geographically Focused?

EGA members’ Health and Justice grants are largely given to organizations that focus domestically. There are proportionally far fewer grant dollars going to Health and Justice abroad than members’ other environmental philanthropic giving. Only 12% of Health and Justice grant dollars went outside of North America compared to 23% overall.

Our members’ Health and Justice funding is also more local than environmental funding overall. This is demonstrated by far less “Federal Level” and cross-regional funding for Health and Justice issues. Only 21% percent of domestic funding went to the “Federal Level” compared to 27% overall.

So Where are Environmental Health and Justice Grants Going?

The Health and Justice funders we track fund the Pacific Coast and Southeast more than overall environmental grantmaking. Twenty-four percent of domestic funding goes to the Pacific Coast compared to 19% for all environmental issue areas. Eighteen percent of domestic funding to Health and Justices went to the Southeast compared to 11% overall.

What are the Strategies Behind These Grants?

“Advocacy / Organizing / Movement Building” is the most common strategy behind EGA members’ grantmaking, but it is especially common within Health and Justice grantmaking. Fifty-three percent of Health and Justice grants used the strategy “Advocacy / Organizing / Movement Building” compared to 30% of all environmental funding. This correlates with the more local focus of “Advocacy / Organizing / Movement Building” grants.

Within EGA members’ environmental funding overall, only 1% of grants were for litigation as the primary strategy. However, we found that 25% of “Environmental Justice” grants used litigation as the primary strategy behind the grant.

How Does Tracking the Field Connect us?

With over 40,000 grants tagged, Tracking the Field allows foundations to not only make strategic decisions based on data - it also helps find colleagues in the field. With the complexity of environmental issues, it is key that funders are aware of their colleagues’ related grants. All foundations, regardless of size or type, can learn valuable lessons from each other’s giving. Check out the Summary of Tracking the Field to learn more about the landscape and where you can have the greatest impact.


Franny Chiles Canfield is the Senior Manager of Program and Knowledge at the Environmental Grantmakers Association (EGA). Starting at EGA in 2008, she served as the Research and Data Coordinator for Tracking the Field Volume 2 and the Author and Tracking the Field Project Manager for Tracking the Field Volume 3 and 4. She was the Project Manager for EGA’s new website, searchable Tracking the Field database, and the interactive Tracking the Field heat map. 

Nov 12, 2013

This year’s Health and Environmental Funders Network’s Annual Meeting focused on recent trends in policy and demographics, and also featured lessons learned from prominent voices involved in recent breakthroughs in science, social movements and democracy. Being relatively new to the world of environmental philanthropy myself, it was a great opportunity to gain an even clearer grasp on the pulse of environmental funders, especially while still reflecting upon some of the major themes and discussions drawn from the EGA’s Fall Retreat. The tone of the meeting was refreshingly upbeat and solutions-oriented, and almost every session left us with implementable, strategic takeaways.

EGA Members at HEFN: Amy Solomon of the Bullitt Foundation, Ruth Hennig of the John Merck Fund and Anita Nager of the Jenifer Altman Foundation (Photo Credit: Andrea Levinson)

Tuesday’s “Tools and Technology” session especially stood out to me, as it served as a response to many of the issues we covered on the first day. The presentation was solutions in action, and showcased the ingenuity of the experts that make them happen. The panel featured the bright minds of Heinz Endowment grantees Shannon Dosemagen from Public Lab and Illah Nourbakhsh from the Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Department.

I was already familiar with some of the amazing work Public Lab has been funded for from our Fall Retreat in New Orleans, and Shannon’s presentation was spot on. Following was Prof. Nourbakhsh’s fascinating presentation about the evolving utility of satellite imagery. Employing practical applications of many different platforms, including Google’s Earth Engine, Time Magazine’s Timelapse, and NASA’s Landsat, the room was impressed to see how changes in geography, oceans, natural disasters, etc. actually occur over time. These different types of tangible tools and software are designed to be not only enlightening but widely accessible. Using these resources, Prof. Nourbakhsh’s team seeks to employ hard data to create a visible, digestible narrative that can change public thinking on many of the critical issues we discussed in the other sessions.

In a similar “solution-based” vein, during the final session, HEFN Director Kathy Sessions shared a graphic showing a breakdown of EGA member foundations’ “Secondary Issue Areas for Toxics”, which was derived from EGA’s newest installment of Tracking the Field.











The graphic shows how funders that work on toxicology issues prioritize and fund other issue areas. This is just one example of how the Tracking the Field report, and its accompanying online tools, can be used to hone in on a specific metric and provide robust conclusions. (Check out the Tracking the Field report and the new interactive heatmap to make some data sets and conclusions of your own!)

As tools and technologies become increasingly accessible, it’s important that the philanthropic community continues to pursue and invest in new ways to monitor the changing field. After seeing several presentations that discussed the problems of public perception and misconception about environmental issues, it was inspiring to also see how those ideas were being transformed into action.

May 7, 2013



May 4, 2013

Thank you, Dean Miranda.

SNRE faculty, administrators, staff, students, parents, family and friends, it’s a honor to give this commencement address. Although I’m not an alum, I’ve been closely associated with the school for thirty years and feel part of the SNRE family. I’ve also had the opportunity through my career to observe a disproportionate number of SNRE grads in critical policy making positions in and out of government. As we say on the Visiting Committee, SNRE definitely punches above its weight class!

Let me begin by congratulating you and your families on your graduation. It’s a major accomplishment worthy of celebration … and also reflection. And that’s what I would like to do in the next few minutes – reflect on the significance of this event.

Knowing SNRE and its faculty as well as I do, I know you’ve received a superb education. As a result of this education, you have joined a distinct minority in the United States – you are environmentally literate!

A few years ago the National Environmental Education and Training Foundation summarized a decade of public opinion surveys by the Roper Organization, and found “a persistent pattern of environmental ignorance [in the United States], even among the most educated and influential members of society.” The report estimated that only 1% to 2% of American adults could be considered environmentally literate and found little difference between the average American and government and business leaders.

And, never have we needed to know more.

We face global environmental threats such as climate change, loss of biodiversity, and interference with fundamental ecological processes such as the nitrogen cycle. Yet, today, most Americans don’t understand such simple concepts about nature as these:

First, water runs downhill. Most people live their lives unaware of the watershed they inhabit. They have no sense of the impacts of what runs off their lawn, what they pour down their drains or flush down their toilets.

Second, animals need homes too. Many people, even those who enjoy viewing birds in their backyards or other wildlife in cities or suburbs, don’t understand the concepts of an animal’s habitat, range and migratory patterns. They don’t understand that healthy habitats are required across ecologically meaningful landscapes or those birds and animals will disappear.

Third, animals and people share the same homes. In our high-tech society of modern conveniences most people do not understand that their fate is tied to the health of the environment. Many believe that protecting natural landscapes and functioning ecosystems is a luxury.

And, finally, there is no such thing as away. Most people don’t understand the basics of energy and materials flows or the fundamentals of total life cycle analysis. They have an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude toward the wastes they produce.

Our collective ignorance will be very costly.

A few years ago Scientific American published an article that identified nine “planetary boundaries” or thresholds for our planet’s biophysical processes on which our future wellbeing depends. As I alluded to a few moments ago, it concluded we’ve already exceeded these thresholds for three of them: climate change, biodiversity loss and interference with the nitrogen cycle.

Similarly, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment involved over 1300 experts and evaluated 24 ecosystem services essential to human well-being. It found that, notwithstanding technological progress, people today depend for survival and well-being on a healthy environment as much as in the past. And it concluded that most of the ecosystem services on which people depend are declining rapidly, stating:

At the heart of this assessment is a stark warning. Human activity is putting such strain on the natural functions of the Earth that the ability of the planet’s ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted.

But, you know this.

You know it thanks to your education at SNRE. You know this because you are among the 1-2% of environmentally literate Americans. And, with this knowledge comes responsibility and that’s the message I hope to leave you with today.

Fifty years ago, the noted scientist, author and activist Aldo Leopold wrote: “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives [thereafter] in a world of wounds.”

So, welcome to the world of wounds.

You will never again be able to walk in the woods, canoe a lake or stream, take a drink of water or even look at a sunset without knowing in the back of your mind the grievous illness of our planet. And there’s no turning back. You cannot unlearn what you know about humans’ impact on natural systems. You cannot insulate yourself in ignorance from the consequences of knowledge. And you cannot – at least, not ethically – shirk the responsibilities that come with this knowledge.

Now, you have a choice to make.

As Leopold put it, having learned of our world of wounds, one must act “as a doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.” The alternative, according to Leopold, is to harden one’s shell and become – as he put it – an “undertaker of the mysteries at which [you] officiate.”

Each of you graduating today – and each faculty member here today – faces a simple choice: will you be an undertaker or will you be a healer of the Earth?

What must you do to become a healer? Each of you will find your own path, but here are some general benchmarks by which to navigate your journey.

First, use your special knowledge to say what the science means.

You cannot sit on the sidelines watching public policy, unguided by science, go off the rails. Scientists are often uncomfortable with the policy process and fear sacrificing their objectivity if they engage in it. A few years ago Science magazine asked eminent scientists if advocacy diminished their credibility. Stuart Pimm, an ecologist involved in Everglades restoration, summed up the sentiments of many of the respondents by saying, “I have a moral responsibility as a citizen to make people aware of what the science means.” With the interdisciplinary focus of SNRE, you are especially well trained to become the essential translators of science to public policy and business practices.

Second, keep the forest in mind even when you’re studying the trees.

To be a healer you must diagnose and cure the illness, not just treat symptoms. Your specialized knowledge equips you to identify early symptoms of underlying harm to natural ecosystems – the consequences of our modern lifestyles – and to prescribe solutions to treat the disease. As Wendell Berry points out in his book, Life is a Miracle, the biggest drawback of science is its inherent reductionism. By reducing the scale of what we study to make it small enough to understand, we ignore most of everything. As Berry said, “an explanation is a bucket, not a well.” And the most dangerous reductionism, he warns, is “thoughtlessness of consequences.”

Third, once you have the big picture, make it happen on the ground – and, love the ground on which you make it happen.

Wendell Berry also points out the futility of trying to heal the entire planet; no one can love a planet; it’s an abstract concept. One can only love – and heal – specific places. But, through many people healing their special places we will heal the planet. Aldo Leopold was not content just to be an esteemed scientist, writer and policy maker. He and his family also worked weekends over a lifetime to heal their special place in Sand County, Wisconsin, now known now as “The Shack.”

Fourth, plan on spending your time with people, not with wildlife.

If you’re pursuing a career in natural resources management because you’d rather spend time with wildlife instead of people, you’re in the wrong line of work. The real challenges in natural resources management are managing all the people whose unsustainable behavior determines our planet’s future. Making natural resources policy is a messy business because it involves people. You need to be prepared to explain, explain and explain again why sound science-based management matters to an ever-more ecologically illiterate populace.

And, my final guidepost for becoming a healer instead of an undertaker, share the outdoors with someone you love.

Better yet, share it with someone you don’t love, someone you don’t know very well, someone of a different background, race or gender. Don’t just teach others your knowledge of the natural world, but also instill in them your passion to heal it.

I’m confident that all of you leave her today determined to be healers of Planet Earth. I hope these few guideposts help you as you embark on your unique journey.

So, welcome to the world of wounds and congratulations on your graduation!

May 6, 2013

This blog post originally appeared on the Health and Environmental Funders Network blog, Giving InSight, on April 29, 2013 and is reprinted with permission

It seems much longer than six months ago that Hurricane Sandy turned into Superstorm Sandy and devastated parts of New York and New Jersey. In the aftermath of the storm, philanthropy responded with millions of dollars for relief, recovery, and rebuilding.

Not surprisingly, funders based in New Jersey and New York have invested heavily in these efforts. The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation in partnership with the Community Foundation of New Jersey quickly established a New Jersey Recovery Fund to address intermediate and long-range impacts from Sandy (See Margaret Waldock of the Dodge Foundation’s guest post). Within two weeks of the storm, the New York Community Trust made $500,000 in grants to disaster relief and has made $965,000 in grants since then for ongoing recovery and resiliency planning.

As philanthropy looks back at the last six months, and forward to what’s next for impacted communities, NGOs and experts have been sharing their lessons learned from Sandy. Here are some highlights of challenges, opportunities, and advice offered by groups in the field on recent calls hosted by the Center for Disaster Philanthropy and the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers.


Mold. Public officials have warned that mold in houses flooded by Sandy’s storm surge is a growing threat to public health, especially as temperatures rise this spring. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) has provided advanced training for responders and is working with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to evaluate exposure patterns since the storm. However, groups like the New Jersey Work Environment Council have requested funding for additional intensive trainings from the NIEHS for volunteers, workers, and homeowners.

Toxic exposures. Residents near some of New Jersey’s most contaminated places have expressed concern about toxic chemicals in storm water that flooded homes and parks. In Newark’s Ironbound neighborhood, community members worry that flood water laced with toxic sediment from the Passaic River Superfund site and chemicals from industrial zones could pose long-term health hazards.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tested soil in Riverside Park, next to the Passaic River, for dioxin, mercury and PCBs. The agency concluded the soil had been contaminated during flooding, but that levels were not high enough to be considered a public health threat. The EPA plans to move forward with the Superfund site cleanup in beginning July 1, yet residents are concerned the plan will not prevent future contamination.

Permit waivers. Environmental and public health advocates in New Jersey are raising red flags about changes to the state’s permitting process. A new waiver allows homeowners and business owners planning to rebuild on waterfront or shoreline properties to skip a step of the permitting process requiring plan approval by state regulators. Opponents say the ruling reduces oversight and encourages development in flood- and storm surge-prone areas.

Flood maps and buyouts. For some homeowners and businesses, recovery and rebuilding have been put on hold as policymakers evaluate plans for updated flood maps and buyouts. New Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood maps, which hadn’t been updated since the 1980s, will be used to set flood insurance requirements that will likely mean many homes in New Jersey will have to be elevated, with costs depending on the zone in which the house is located. Some residents have suspended rebuilding efforts until the new maps are finalized. Others are lobbying FEMA to re-zone their properties to avoid costly elevation projects. Conversely, New York Governor Cuomo is offering incentives for homeowners to accept buyout offers from the state rather than wait for revised flood maps or insurance claims. In New Jersey, homeowners are still waiting for more details about buyout offers.


Strengthening overburdened populations. Many families on the road to recovery were some of the most overburdened populations before the storm. As funders help communities rebuild, Ana Baptista of the Ironbound Community Corporation in Newark notes it’s important to not exacerbate existing vulnerabilities. In the short-term, Ironbound and community groups are helping impacted residents get back on their feet with case management support to help families apply for FEMA assistance, weigh buyout options, and process insurance claims. Over the long-term, NGOs are advocating for these communities to be included in crafting climate change adaptation plans.

Convening and research. Ronna Brown, President of Philanthropy NY, and Nina Stack, President of the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers, agree that the philanthropic and NGO communities could play a key role in conversations around rebuilding. Brown suggested funders could act either as the convener or as a supporter of a convening, and she reported that some funders are supporting research into innovative ways to support communities in recovery and rebuilding.


Resist urge to get money out the door as quickly as possible. After a disaster there is usually an influx of funding and support that floods into foundations and organizations. Some groups working with Sandy funders are advising groups to think strategically about timing their support as recovery and rebuilding efforts may take years. They encourage foundations to take a measured approach to post-disaster giving to better identify gaps in support that might otherwise have gone unnoticed or addressed.

Invest in communication infrastructure. Funder affinity groups in New York and New Jersey cite existing regional networks of NGOs and foundations as key to communicating in the storm’s aftermath. They credit this type of infrastructure with making it possible for funders to set up conference calls quickly to coordinate relief efforts and share information. Groups also advise funders and NGOs to build connections with community members before a natural disaster or event happens.

Discuss disaster planning with your board. Does your board know what it would do if your community or region was struck by tragedy? Groups suggest funders discuss with their boards about disaster planning and response. Some questions they suggest for board consideration are: How would the foundation respond operationally? At what level (geographically and financially) would the foundation support relief efforts? What will happen to groups the foundation has supported for a long time, especially if they are not involved in disaster-related work? Funder affinity groups have also recommended that foundations not plan too much in advance of a disaster as conditions and needs evolve quickly.