Around the Nation
12:00 pm
Sun November 25, 2012

Disaster Donations Surge, But What About Tomorrow?

More than $174 million in donations has been raised for those affected in New York and New Jersey by Superstorm Sandy, which devastated parts of the Atlantic coast in late October.

"The more affluent and well-insured people will figure a way to recover their lives, but there are a lot of people in New York who really won't have that capacity and can't speak out for themselves," says Stacy Palmer, the editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Palmer tells Jacki Lyden, host of weekends on All Things Considered, that nonprofits in New York are also watching out for those among the poor and immigrant communities who were affected by the storm.

"There are a lot of people who can't speak English and so can't get typical disaster aid," she says. "Making sure that somebody looks out for those poor, very vulnerable people who are living in the city, that's one of the lessons that certainly previous disasters have taught us."

Stepping into the breach to assist with disaster aid is Occupy Sandy, an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement. It might seem strange, but it makes sense that Occupy Wall Street would be great at doing Sandy relief: It has networks of organizers and it's been tested camping out in adverse situations.

Thaddeus Umpster, an Occupy protester, told NPR's Margot Adler that after what he and others experienced during Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park, they were prepared to help in the storm relief effort.

"When the police took away our generators, we built bicycle-powered generators," he says, "and because of that the day after the storm we had bicycle-powered generators set up on the Lower East Side."

Other former Occupy Wall Street protesters – now working with Occupy Sandy – are helping out with food preparation, unloading supplies and giving medical checks to homebound residents. Occupy Sandy was one of the first organizations on the ground in Brooklyn's Red Hook neighborhood, but now it is working with Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The Long Haul

Any kind of giving presages the question: What happened with the money?

While still managing editor of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Dan Shea's reporting followed some of that relief money in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Shea says a lot of people wanted to help Katrina victims immediately after the storm; a lot of money came flowing in, even from overseas, but then came the long-term recovery.

"What happens in these disasters is half of all giving happens in the first two weeks and tends to be focused on providing initial shelter, food and some additional cash," Shea tells NPR's Lyden. "The problem ... is that phase is over-covered, while [during] the longer-term recovery phase, the attention and the money move on and people are in for a very long slog."

Although many of the first responder groups, like the Red Cross, for instance, do a great job with the initial response, Shea says, they often disappear quickly. While he is not suggesting people not donate to the first-responder organizations, he asks that those interested in giving think of the long term as well.

"Perhaps look up local charities who are into the longer housing rebuilding," he says.

Shea says many of the lessons from Katrina were evident in the early response to Sandy, but he adds we won't know for some time how well the long-term recovery efforts will pan out.

"I think people in New York are going to look back four or five years from now, to wonder how much of that initial flow of funds and effort should have been held back a little bit to in order to focus on the more difficult phase two," he says. "The money dries up, the interest dries up and then you have people fall to the wayside."

In June, Shea quit the Times-Picayune ahead of projected layoffs. Now he's volunteering his time and expertise at the St. Bernard Project, which helps rebuild disaster-affected communities.

Shea says the lessons he's learned are that while FEMA and the Red Cross are essential up front, it's transparency and consistency that are needed for the long haul.

Unrestricted Giving

This week marks the launch of a national campaign called Giving Tuesday, an effort to encourage people to give not just money, but also their time.

"It's a day of thanks after Black Friday and Cyber Monday," says Eileen Heisman, the CEO of National Philanthropic Trust.

She offers advice to potential donors to be loyal in their giving because it helps build planning.

"It's really expensive for charities to find new donors and to raise money, so by doing fewer larger gifts, and then staying with them for three to five years, you're actually helping the charity plan better and it's easier for them to meet their mission," Heisman tells NPR's Lyden.

One common mistake people make, Heisman says, is that they often give to a very specific project or narrow program within a charity. These "restricted gifts" don't help a charity out with its other needs such as computers, training and maintaining facilities.

"Really, if you like a charity and you're going to give a small gift, consider giving an unrestricted gift," she says. "It really is the hardest money for them to raise ... [and] charities that are well run will use it wisely, I promise you."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

JACKI LYDEN, HOST:

It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden. Guy Raz is away.

Giving - whether it's tithing to a church, funding your local opera house or that international relief effort, we give, especially this time of year. The Romans considered ostentatious giving a sign of wealth.

Americans pretty much leave that to celebrities while the rest of us pick up the slack, even if it's just 25 bucks to a nonprofit. Our cover story today: Giving. This week marks the launch of a national campaign called Giving Tuesday. It's an effort to encourage people to give, not just money but also their time.

EILEEN HEISMAN: It's a day of thanks after Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

LYDEN: Eileen Heisman is the CEO of the National Philanthropic Trust. She advises donors to be loyal in their giving because it helps build planning.

HEISMAN: It's really expensive for charities to find new donors and to raise money. And so by doing fewer larger gifts and then staying with them for three to five years, you're actually helping the charity plan better and it's easier for them to meet their mission.

LYDEN: What are some of the common mistakes then that people make?

HEISMAN: One of the things people do is they give to very specific narrow projects. It's very hard for charities to raise overhead. And they need computers. They need good phone systems. They need clean offices. And a lot of donors just want to give to a narrow program. And really, if you like a charity and you're going to give a small gift, consider giving an unrestricted gift because it really is the hardest money for them to raise.

LYDEN: You're urging people to give unrestricted gifts, but many times when people, say, give to a hospital or an organization that works with children, they want it not to go to administrative costs. How do you make that argument?

HEISMAN: Charities are usually living on very small budgets. And when donors give a lot of restricted gifts, then you can't have the staff it takes to provide those programs. And it's a very big discussion inside the charitable arena. People that work in nonprofits know how hard it is to raise money to actually run the programs to make sure they have good leadership, make sure people are trained well. And those all come from unrestricted dollars. So for a charity to run well, it needs program money for specific programs, but it also needs unrestricted dollars. Charities that are well-run will use it wisely, I promise you.

LYDEN: This year, no story on giving could detour around Hurricane Sandy. Already, over 174 million in donations has been raised for those affected in New York and New Jersey. Stacy Palmer is the editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

STACY PALMER: The more affluent and well-insured people will figure out a way to recover their lives, but there are a lot of people in New York who really won't have that capacity and can't speak out for themselves. The other thing that a lot of nonprofits in New York are really watching out for is the poor and the multicultural nature of this disaster. There are a lot of people who can't speak English and so can't get typical disaster aid. So making sure that somebody looks out for those poor, very vulnerable people who are living in the city, that's one of the lessons that certainly previous disasters have taught us.

LYDEN: Indeed, stepping into the breach: Occupy Sandy, an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement, it's redeployed. NPR's Margot Adler went to take a look.

MARGOT ADLER, BYLINE: It actually makes sense that Occupy Wall Street would be great at doing Sandy relief. They have networks of organizers. They've been tested in adverse situations - camping out. Take this story from Thaddeus Umpster - that's what he said his name was - who is working at Occupy Sandy's Brooklyn distribution center. He says last year in Zuccotti Park...

THADDEUS UMPSTER: When the police took away our generators, we built bicycle-powered generators. And because of that, the day after the storm, we had bicycle-powered generators set up on the Lower East Side.

ADLER: Or listen to Kirby Desmarais who lives in Red Hook and works with Occupy Sandy there. The people who are cooking our meals, she says...

KIRBY DESMARAIS: They are out of Zuccotti Park's kitchen. They learned the skills to be able to service a community in need on that level.

ADLER: And after all, if you learned how to cook meals for 1,000 people camping out in Zuccotti Park, it stands to reason that you could do that for people without power in the Rockaways. Desmarais, who has been helping to feed and give medical checks to homebound residents in Red Hook's public housing unit, says they were the first on the ground in Red Hook. But now they're working together with the Red Cross, with FEMA, with everybody.

There's a big mix of people here, many with no particular interest in Occupy. Take Jacqueline Hawkrider(ph), a waitress and singer-songwriter from Queens who wanted to volunteer for a day, heard about a bunch of possibilities.

JACQUELINE HAWKRIDER: And Occupy Sandy was the one that everyone was like, this is so well-run. There's a website. You can just show up at any place and they'll put you somewhere.

ADLER: Hawkrider, along with Cheryl Clark(ph), also from Queens, have just gutted a flooded house on Beach Channel Drive in the Rockaways. You could see the water line halfway up the door. As water rose, the owner was stuck upstairs for 19 hours.

CHERYL CLARK: Everything had to be taken out.

HAWKRIDER: Calendars with his grandchildren on it.

CLARK: We knocked all the sheetrock off the walls. It's just a frame inside.

ADLER: The central distribution hub for Occupy Sandy is in a church in Brooklyn. When I arrived, there was a huge UPS truck outside and some 20 volunteers unloading the truck. Occupy Sandy opened a gift registry on Amazon. They list people's needs, cleaning supplies, generators, and people can donate through Amazon. When I left the church an hour later, they were still unloading. All new volunteers fill out information and describe their skills, and there's an orientation.

DAMIEN CRISP: This is Occupy Sandy Relief. It's organized by Occupy Wall Street.

ADLER: That's the only time I really heard about Occupy Wall Street. Damien Crisp talks to 12 new volunteers about the difference between charity - top-down giving, he says - and mutual aid, helping people to help themselves. The orientation, though short, kind of reminded me of when I was trained for Mississippi voter registration in the 1960s.

For example, don't assume you know what people need. And given a number of articles about tensions between wealthy volunteers doing Sandy relief and people in poor neighborhoods, it was striking to hear Crisp say don't take photographs.

CRISP: We are not there to be disaster tourists. We don't want to establish ourselves as the other. We don't want to establish anyone in a community as the other.

ADLER: In the basement, there's a kitchen where I'm not allowed to walk without a hairnet. Bob Solen(ph) is on a computer coordinating meals.

BOB SOLEN: Our communications group says, you know, we need food for 500 people in Staten Island. Can you do it? We have a kitchen here. We have a kitchen in Bay Ridge. Thank God for Google docs and stuff because we're coordinating it mostly by...

ADLER: So you're basically doing it on laptop?

SOLEN: By laptops. And dispatch has got - they know where the drivers are and when we have them. And it's amazing how well it works.

ADLER: You hear a few grumbles. It's all sugar. It's not changing the system, one occupier told me. But besides goodwill and good press coverage, it's clear over the last year a whole bunch of young people learned some serious skills that can be put to many different uses. Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.

LYDEN: So any kind of giving presages the question: What happened to my money? Especially with disasters like Hurricane Katrina in 2005, people want to know how all that aid is being used. While he was still managing editor of The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Dan Shea's reporting followed the money.

He says immediately after the storm, lots of people wanted to help Katrina victims and lots of money came flowing in, even from overseas. Then came long-term recovery.

DAN SHEA: What happens in these disasters is, historically, half of all giving is in the first two weeks. And it tends to be focused on providing initial shelter, initial food, some additional cash that you may need to replace your clothing or other small items. The problem with our response as a people and as charitable donors is that phase is over covered, while the longer-term recovery phase, the attention and the money move on and then people are in for the very long slog.

LYDEN: People are thinking that what they're giving to the Red Cross is going to rebuild homes, but, in fact, it isn't really going to rebuild homes.

SHEA: The situation with the Red Cross, they are the donor of choice. Americans are moved by plights and want to give. Whether it's in the form of a text or on the iTunes store, there are so many ways to give now. The Red Cross swallows that all in, but they have pretty limited impact in the longer term. They have a congressional mandate to be a first responder and they do provide shelter, but they disappear very quickly, along with many other groups.

LYDEN: We don't want to give the impression that people ought not to give to organizations like the Red Cross or the Salvation Army. They were particularly helpful right after the storm. Tell us why.

SHEA: Not for a moment do I suggest people don't respond to their charitable instinct. And the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Save the Children, any of the first responders, do fantastic work. They do have an impact on people's lives when they're most vulnerable. I would ask Americans and anyone who was interested in the plight of the citizens of metropolitan New York to think long term as well. Perhaps look up local charities who are into these longer-term housing rebuilding.

LYDEN: It's interesting. Here we are, seven years on from Katrina, from the hurricane of September 2005, and we're looking at another hurricane with billions of dollars' worth of damage. What lessons do you think have been learned from Katrina?

SHEA: As a country, we're doing a much better job with the initial response. An individual who's been cold in their home, who's very frustrated might not think the aid has come quickly enough in New York and New Jersey, but if you look at it historically, it was an enormous response at all levels of government and through the nonprofit community.

I think people in New York are going to look back four or five years from now to wonder how much of that initial flow of funds and initial effort should have been held back a little bit in order to focus on the much more difficult phase two, which is not the response but the recovery. The money dries up, the interest dries up. Then you have people fall by the wayside, people who lack the financial or even psychological means to deal with the recovery. And then you're really going to need to rely on very small, very underfunded local charities to help these people for years to come.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LYDEN: In June, Dan Shea quit the paper ahead of projected layoffs. Now he's volunteering his time and expertise at the St. Bernard Project, which is helping with rebuilding. But on and off newspapering, he says the lessons he's learned are these: While FEMA and the Red Cross are essential up front, it's transparency and consistency that are needed for the long haul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.