Role of philanthropy during Hurricane Harvey

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On August 25, 2017, Hurricane Harvey hit the shores of the Texas Gulf Coast, bringing widespread devastation to the region. Over the next six days, Harvey made landfall three times and caused over $125 billion in damage. That’s more than any other disaster, except for Hurricane Katrina. The storm affected the lives of 13 million people from Texas through Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kentucky. Its effects are still felt today.

The magnitude of the disaster forced philanthropies to learn quickly how to navigate complex public/private relief systems, flatten grantmaking processes, and work across sectors to identify and uphold nonprofits that provided relief for individuals and families, and to build the capacity of others that had the trust and knowledge of hard-to-reach communities such as immigrant and undocumented neighborhoods.

Against the backdrop of enormous economic and physical ruin, strained federal and state resources, philanthropic efforts provided immediate and flexible funding which helped communities begin the recovery and healing process as they awaited government or national support. When time was of the essence, philanthropies across the Gulf Coast acted quickly and with great agility to buttress the relief, recovery, and rebuilding of stricken communities. As important, philanthropies served as communicators of accurate information—essential in times of chaos—by funding critical research and key informant interviews that informed decisions by elected officials, civic leaders, relief agencies, community members and the media.

As a philanthropy serving organization, Philanthropy Southwest played a huge role to direct donations and shine a light on those Gulf Coast communities no less devastated by Harvey yet overshadowed by the attention given to major urban centers. 

Overall, the Harvey relief donations summed to approximately $971 million. (Houston Chronicle,  And in the aftermath of immediate response efforts, philanthropic dollars continue to catalyze work that supports long-range planning and disaster preparedness.

While all disasters present opportunities for philanthropies to be more thoughtful, cooperative and strategic in their work, Harvey also taught us that it is the network of relationships, flexible funding, and the offering of expertise that philanthropies can bring to bear in a disaster that is the difference between relief and resiliency.