BY Brook Kramer Senior Vice President, Head of Key Client Group Philanthropy & Impact

Apr 13th 2022

Financial PerspectivesInvestment

Generosity as Climate Resilience: A Philanthropic Disaster Relief Strategy

Apr 13th 2022

Can generosity be a source of climate resilience?

There’s no denying the heartbreak we feel when climate disasters devastate communities around the world. We also find hope in what inevitably follows: an outpouring of giving. In the last few years of pandemic impacts and record-breaking climate events, we saw record-breaking philanthropy1. When we direct donations to communities harmed by climate disasters2, we help them recover, rebuild, and adapt for the future.And—if we are thoughtful about these contributions—we can help build resilience3 as communities have more reliable recovery funding when needed. Let me explain how.

“When we direct donations to communities harmed by climate disasters, we help them recover, rebuild, and adapt for the future. We help them build resilience.”

Many donations following disasters are unplanned, emotional reactions to communities in need. There is a special joy in—and great need for—spontaneous generosity. But, these donations do not have to be separate from the philanthropic strategy we have in place that serves our community and the intentional impact of our grant-making. Being strategic with one’s philanthropic endeavors incorporates intentionality and impact to enable systemic change. That is so important. Hurricanes, floods, and wildfires are unpredictable, but what we can expect is to see more of them. With this in mind, we should consider how thoughtful planning can help direct giving to climate-impacted areas in a more sustainable way.

To make a meaningful contribution to climate resilience, we must rethink this giving to complement our current philanthropic endeavors. As you review your gifts in 2021 and begin to evaluate how to allocate your charitable resources in 2022, consider funding a dedicated disaster relief fund with a portion of the year’s gifts.

Here are six things to consider when developing a disaster relief funding plan that can help communities build climate resilience:

1. Understand the Scope of the Need

Better understanding the scale and patterns of the disasters across the United States can help you decide where to direct your giving, how much you’d like to give, and when. In 2021, the US experienced 20 natural disasters4 that led to damages of $1 billion dollars or more.

Source: NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) U.S. Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters (2022)., DOI: 10.25921/stkw-7w73

Over the last 30 years, both the number of disasters and the cost of the damages on an inflation-adjusted basis have been increasing. The costs of these major natural disasters tend to escalate5 during the second half of the year. As you plan to support disaster relief, you will find more resources are needed between July and December.

Source: NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) U.S. Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters (2022)., DOI: 10.25921/stkw-7w73

2. Purposefully Allocate Disaster Relief Funds

When you allocate resources for the year, have a conversation with those involved in your giving around disaster relief funding. Determining in advance how much to dedicate to this purpose will ease the process of allocating those resources as incidents happen throughout the year. It will also enhance decision makers’ confidence, knowing the funds have been set aside for this important purpose.

During these conversations, consider putting parameters around how much to give to any one disaster, so there is pre-established guidance when decisions need to be made.

3. Do Your Due Diligence on Nonprofits Now

When there are significant funds involved, it can attract unseemly characters operating under the guise of doing good. By doing due diligence in advance on organizations focused on disaster relief, you can be more confident that your funds will be used effectively and will yield positive results.

Ask organizations to send you information on how they approach disaster relief, what makes them different, and what impact they have made in the past. Having the organization complete a formal grant application can provide decision makers with more information and help them make side-by-side comparisons, giving them more confidence in their decisions.

4. Create a Short List of Approved Organizations

Once you have compiled the names of a few organizations that align with your funding values and do effective work in disaster relief, include them on a short list of vetted and approved organizations for immediate funding. This preparation will enable you to deploy funds in a timely manner and with the confidence that your funds will be used wisely.

5. Plan Repeat Gifts to Climate-Impacted Communities

Data shows that only between 2 and 8 percent6 of US households gave resources repeatedly to a community harmed by a natural disaster. Yet, for many affected by a disaster, the need for resources continues while they recover from a significant loss. As you consider the best manner to support communities, it’s helpful to go back and see what resources are needed nine months to a year after the original disaster.

As time goes by, the local community will likely have the best insight into what still needs to be done to get its citizens stabilized and productive. For the second round of funding, consider a local community foundation, because they will likely best understand the need going forward.

“It’s helpful to go back and see what resources are needed nine months to a year after the original disaster.”

6. Consider Aligning Your Investments* with Disaster Relief

It’s prudent to consider how you might be inadvertently profiting from organizations contributing to climate change. If you are a shareholder of or a lender to organizations that do not have a strategic plan to be environmentally friendly or carbon-neutral, you could find yourself profiting from poor environmental policies in your investment portfolio while supporting recovery efforts from natural disasters. Aligning your investments with your grant-making can increase your ability to make a sustainable impact on our planet and its inhabitants.

By planning ahead, your disaster relief giving can help communities both recover and become more resilient. In the future, disaster relief will likely be a key component of our philanthropy, and it deserves a purposeful plan of action within your overall philanthropic endeavors.

At Bank of the West, we work alongside individuals and families to foster thoughtful conversations and actionable outcomes, so philanthropy can have the client’s intended impact. Please reach out to your Bank of the West advisor to learn more about how they can provide guidance with both your philanthropy and your investments

Author image

Brook Kramer Senior Vice President, Head of Key Client Group Philanthropy & Impact

With over 30 years of experience, Brook joined Bank of the West in October 2021. She specializes in guiding ultra-high net worth individuals and families to create impact with their philanthropic resources, investments, and grant-making.


*Impact investing focuses on investments in companies that relate to certain sustainable development themes beyond traditional financial factors and demonstrate adherence to environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices. Therefore the universe of investments may be limited and investors may not be able to take advantage of the same opportunities or market trends as investors that do not use such criteria. This could result in relative investment performance deviating from other strategies or broad market benchmarks, depending on whether such sectors or investments are in or out of favor in the market.

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