by Caren Croland Yanis, Principal, Croland Consulting

Smart giving in crisis is full of challenges and rewards. When nature or human error instantly changes the landscape we rally, irrespective of our political and economic positions. Understanding how and when we can best use skills and resources to alleviate the after effects of tragedies benefits the affected communities and responders but also us as givers in some amazing ways.

Planning Ahead

Developing a response plan for disasters brings family members closer together. Talking about family values, resources, geographies and impact is a starting place. Consider what you might want to do if a tornado or hurricane wreaks havoc for residents, utilities, and merchants in the region you grew up in, vacationed in or where your business is located.

Talking together as a family about data and analyses from relief, recovery and rebuilding efforts following past disasters is a great starting place and builds connections and insight.

Critical Questions

  • How should decisions about giving be made in our family?
  • At what point during the aftermath can our resources make the greatest difference?
  • How can we ensure that our resources have the desired positive impact?

When and Where to Give?

Once a disaster happens the landscape is changed forever. Think about 9/11, Hurricanes Katrina, Sandy and Maria and the Boston Marathon Bombing. Each disaster had immediate and ongoing needs for relief, interim needs for recovery and an ultimate need for rebuilding and strengthening community resilience. Understanding the stages of a disaster helps you decide when, where and how to focus your giving.


Remember the indelible images of first responders and volunteers post 9/11 working around the clock on a pile of smoldering rubble, or people on roofs with spray painted signs that read HELP after Katrina begging to be rescued?

Relief exists to meet the most immediate human needs. Government funding and the reserves of large agencies kick in after an emergency to provide relief. Fundraising helps replenish reserves but does not trigger immediate response. Organizations with public platforms can do a lot to bring much needed attention to disasters after the news cycles end.

Post Katrina, The Oprah Winfrey Show and Oprah’s Angel Network partnered with Feeding America (then America’s Second Harvest), FedEx and Schweppes water to build an immediate supply chain sending much needed food and water into the region.

If relief efforts are important to you, find out which organizations have a presence in the community. Those tend to be the community foundations and place-based agencies. The resources at the end of this article are full of quantitative and qualitative information on effective responses.


In most cases recovery means the clearing of rubble and debris from the physical and emotional landscape. This is about establishing a new normal for the community.

Some disasters garner more support than others. In 2017 hurricane Maria stormed through the Caribbean leaving Puerto Rico devastated. Close to a year later, efforts on the island are falling short of resources.

As a donor, you have time to think about what investment in recovery means to you. Opportunities to make an impact include volunteering and funding to ensure that homes (often starting with the elderly and infirm), are safe, mold free, and have electricity. Providing counseling to traumatized victims and first responders is another needed service.

Rebuilding and Resilience:

Patience is a virtue. Rebuilding and resilience is about infrastructure, safety and prevention.

Hurricane Katrina opened the door for the city of New Orleans to rethink their failing education system. Many of the city’s public schools were destroyed. Severely disrupted systems needed to be rebuilt from the ground up. Significant public and private investments in charter education and creative leadership created autonomy in schools, and brought in Teach for America and charter systems like KIPP to build fresh. The new system is significantly better than the old one and has the platform to continue to improve.

Staying in for the long game and investing in systems change has a huge payoff.

Before responding to a disaster think about your timeline and what you want to accomplish and then take a dive into the data and make informed decisions about the future.

Disasters are complex which makes aligning donor interests and the timing for giving even more important and meaningful for your family.


Center for Disaster Philanthropy


Charity Navigator

Caren is the Principal of Croland Consulting, a philanthropic advisory group for UHNW/HNW families, corporations and institutions. Caren built and ran Oprah Winfrey’s philanthropy in the 2000s and has extensive experience working across generations on models for effective family learning, cooperation and investing for social benefit. Caren is an author and regular speaker at wealth management conferences.