New Facebook philanthropy partner reflects trend toward long-term disaster response

A flood punt team responds to Hurricane Harvey in Texas. Photo by: Petty Officer 3rd Class Corinne Zilnicki / U.S. Coast Guard / CC BY-NC-ND

SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook has become increasingly influential in driving donations to nonprofits, particularly in times of crisis, when more of their users are looking for ways to give with the click of a button.

While the American Red Cross has been its longtime partner for disaster giving, the technology giant went with another organization in response to Tropical Storm Harvey: The Center for Disaster Philanthropy. Facebook directed so many users to this little known organization that its website crashed.

CDP is certainly not the only organization working to make humanitarian response more strategic and long term. The importance of combining an immediate response with long-term development was a major focus at the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit, and crises ranging from famine to floods in South Asia draw attention to the need. The Facebook partnership with CDP seems to reflect both a growing discontent with a focus only on rapid response and a growing interest among Silicon Valley technology companies in working with trusted intermediaries.

“Our visibility has changed radically in the past week given our relationship with Facebook and Google, and when I say radically, I mean, really radically,” Regine Webster, vice president of CDP, told Devex. “With that has come questions about our capacity or questions about our ability.”

The Hurricane Harvey Recovery Fund — which will support medium and long-term needs, such as rebuilding infrastructure, meeting the needs of children, and boosting damaged sectors — is just the latest of the pooled funds CDP has managed. Another example is the Global Refugee Crisis Fund, which just awarded three grants to Concern Worldwide, Mercy Corps, and the Maram Foundation for Relief and Development. But with the boost from Facebook, this Harvey fund is sure to be CDP’s largest yet, leading some in the humanitarian sector to express concerns that the organization lacks proven capacity to manage this level of inbound money and interest.

The Center for Disaster Philanthropy is dedicated to transforming the field of disaster philanthropy, including advancing the understanding of how the sector can support recovery in their communities with grantmaking in areas such as housing, mental health and wellness, and education, Webster said. Its disaster work has included past crises such as Typhoon Haiyan and the Ebola virus and current crises, including the famine in South Sudan, Yemen, Somalia and northern Nigeria, as well as the global refugee crisis. In each case, the organization seeks to provide strategies to increase donor effectiveness and impact, with an emphasis on recovery and disaster risk reduction, Webster said.

CDP develops relationships with partners during times of calm and so a foundation is built when there is a crisis. Facebook is not the first Silicon Valley company CDP has worked with, having received $50,000 from Google last year, in the form of a disaster consulting grant. In building these relationships, CDP makes the pitch that with the growing frequency and intensity of disasters comes the need for more informed disaster giving.

“Over the course of the past year, we have developed a shared understanding of the needs that arise following a disaster — and the many strategies that can be used to minimize the negative effects on individuals and communities,” Webster said of the relationship with Facebook, which has been a CDP partner since last year.

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About the author

  • Catherine Cheney

    Catherine Cheney is a Senior Reporter for Devex. She covers the West Coast of the U.S., focusing on the role of technology, innovation, and philanthropy in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. And she frequently represents Devex as a speaker and moderator. Prior to joining Devex, Catherine earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Yale University, worked as a web producer for POLITICO and reporter for World Politics Review, and helped to launch NationSwell. Catherine has reported domestically and internationally for outlets including The Atlantic and the Washington Post. Outside of her own reporting, Catherine also supports other journalists to cover what is working, through her work with the Solutions Journalism Network.