Measuring the State of Disaster Philanthropy 2017: Data to Drive Decisions

Originally published
View original


Executive Summary

Disasters and humanitarian crises affected millions of people globally in 2015. A massive earthquake struck Nepal in April, followed by aftershocks that hampered relief efforts and further increased the devastation. Floods inundated areas of India and Malawi. The number of refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced people rose to 65.3 million people.

In the United States, deadly storms and flooding affected South Carolina, Texas, and Oklahoma. The drought continued in California, contributing to wildfires. The Flint water crisis became full blown, with toxic levels of lead making tap water unsafe for residents.

Each year, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy and Foundation Center analyze global disaster-related funding from foundations, bilateral and multilateral donors, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), corporations, and smaller donors who give through donoradvised funds and online platforms. We analyze this funding according to a taxonomy that classifies giving by type of disaster and disaster assistance strategy.

Key findings from our 2015 analysis:

• Drawing upon nine data sources, we documented $23 billion in disaster-related giving in 2015.

• Grants awarded by 1,000 of the largest U.S. foundations totaled $158.1 million. There were some considerable differences in the distribution of contributions in 2015 compared with previous years. It is too early to determine whether this represents a new approach to disaster-related giving or is an anomaly.
– Overall funding decreased from the previous year when disaster-related contributions totaled $225.7 million, due to large grants addressing the Ebola epidemic. However, more grants were distributed in 2015 by more funders.
– Funding for complex emergencies increased dramatically from previous years and represented a greater proportion of overall funding. Large U.S. foundations distributed $26.6 million for complex emergencies (17 percent of overall funding), compared with $7.7 million (3 percent) in 2014. As the Syrian war continued and millions of refugees fled to surrounding countries and Europe, foundations increased support for the humanitarian crisis.
– Epidemics were the highest-funded disaster type ($32.6 million), with foundations continuing the support they gave in 2014 following the Ebola outbreak. In addition, $16.9 million was distributed for earthquakes, which received the most number of grants (159 grants).
– Among disaster assistance strategies, response and relief efforts continued to receive the most funding (34 percent), though this proportion was far lower than in previous years. Conversely, resilience, risk reduction, and mitigation represented a larger share of funding than in the past (17 percent, compared with 9 percent in both 2013 and 2014). In the aftermath of the Ebola outbreak, some funders made sizable investments to strengthen disaster risk management.
– Disaster preparedness (6 percent) and reconstruction and recovery (5 percent) continued to be underfunded areas of the disaster lifecycle.

• A review of Foundation Center’s broader database identified an additional $119.7 million in funding by smaller foundations, public charities, and international foundations.

• Official development assistance by 29 government members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC) totaled $16.8 billion for disasters and humanitarian crises. Non-DAC government donors and multilateral organizations contributed an additional $3.7 billion.

• FEMA distributed $2.2 billion in grants and assistance for domestic disasters in 2015. The top recipient states of FEMA grants were California, Texas, and South Carolina.

• Based on available data, corporate giving programs committed at least $50.1 million to disasters and humanitarian crises, as both cash and in-kind donations.

• Individual donors contributed $15.8 million through donor-advised funds managed by Fidelity Charitable and $2.9 million through donor-advised funds managed by Vanguard Charitable.

• Many individual donors also gave through online platforms like Network for Good and GlobalGiving. Network for Good helped direct at least $2.2 million in donations for disasters and humanitarian crises through their giving portals, with $1.7 million being donated for earthquakes. GlobalGiving raised $7.7 million for disasters, supporting 213 projects by 167 organizations. GlobalGiving’s Nepal Earthquake Relief and Recovery Fund raised more than $5 million.

Philanthropic funding for disasters and humanitarian crises is situated within a large ecosystem of global aid. While assistance from governments far surpasses funding from foundations, institutional philanthropy still plays an important role. For example, foundations can choose to fill funding gaps and support underfunded areas of the disaster lifecycle. Support for disaster risk reduction and preparedness can mitigate the impact of disasters, and many communities need sustained funding for the long road to recovery.

We hope this analysis will aid donors in considering how to maximize the impact of their disaster-related giving. To learn more about Measuring the State of Disaster Philanthropy, we invite you to visit our online tools at