Hurricane Katrina and Philanthopy
The devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina has already inspired
an enormous outpouring of philanthropic support. Within two weeks,
data compiled by the IU Center on Philanthropy showed that U.S.
donations for Katrina-related relief efforts surpassed $830 million.
This is more than twice the amount raised for tsunami relief efforts
within two weeks of that catastrophe ($342 million) and also exceeds
the best estimate of funds raised for the victims of 9/11 during
the first two weeks ($501 million). If these trends continue,
total charitable support for Katrina victims will easily surpass
total charitable funds raised to date in support of victims of
9/11 ($2.7 billion) or the tsunami ($1.6 billion).
How will Katrina impact U.S. charities? Two groups are directly
and severely affected: national charities directly involved in
the relief effort (Red Cross, Salvation Army, Catholic Charities,
etc.) and charities within the affected region. Both groups are
facing unprecedented increases in demand for services, but the
latter are likely to have their service capacity dramatically
impaired because of destroyed facilities, dislocated staff and
volunteers, and disrupted collaborations. Charities elsewhere
will be affected as well if evacuees arrive in their communities.
But if our experience from 9/11 is any guide, analysis by the
IU Center on Philanthropy suggests that the outpouring of charitable
support for Katrina victims may have little or no impact on giving
to charities outside of the affected region.
However, I am not sure that 9/11 is the best model. The Deep South
is not New York City. Not only are there fewer charities per capita
in the south, but there is no concentration of large, national
foundations on the ground with the capacity to serve as rallying
points for relief efforts. The scope of the disaster is also much
larger in terms of numbers of people and institutions directly
affected (even deaths are fewer), the number of square miles devastated,
and the enormous cost of relief and recovery against a backdrop
of a fragile economy and mounting deficits by government and nonprofits.
It is also clear that responses to the disaster were much slower,
revealing profound racial and class differences and severe gaps
in planning and coordination. We are therefore unlikely to see
a “bounce” in confidence in government.
It remains to be seen whether the support now flowing to charities
will erase the mostly undeserved impressions of abuse and mismanagement
created by congressional hearings over the past 15 months. Indeed,
recent reports of Katrina-related charity scams by con artists
may muddy the waters again. However, one thing is certain: Charities
will again face difficult questions about how to most effectively
use the cash and other support they receive—and ultimately
about who is helped the most, who the least, and when.
Kirsten Grønbjerg is a professor at SPEA,
IUB. Her research focuses on the nonprofit sector—its structure
and composition, the sector’s funding relationships, its
management challenges, and its community dimensions. She is the
Efroymson Chair of Philanthropy at the Center on Philanthropy
at IU. Professor Grønbjerg has a Ph.D. in sociology from
the University of Chicago (1974).