The Forum: Collaboration in Disaster-ful & Delightful Times

What does Ocean County, New Jersey (pop. 601,651) have in common with Greenbrier County, WV (pop. 35,480)?  

There is more than meets the eye.

Recently, West Virginia hosted the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) Conference with national and state leaders from all across the country.  This conference provided us an opportunity to showcase the connectedness of New Jersey and West Virginia in more ways than one.

State partner – West Virginia VOAD, Philanthropy WV member – The Sisters Health Foundation, national partner – The National Center for Disaster Philanthropy, and Philanthropy WV co-presented during the opening keynote on the first day. The plenary session was titled, “The State of Philanthropy & Funding State VOADs” and showcased the unique and innovative leadership model that West Virginia VOAD has created since the tragic disasters in 2016.

A little background:

In late June 2016, West Virginia’s central and southern counties were ravaged by massive thunderstorms and over 8 inches of rain in less than 12 hours. This historic one thousand-year flood resulted in the tragic deaths of 23 people, and is the deadliest flash flood event in recent U.S. history.  The flood hit communities and counties of West Virginia that were already grappling with an economic decline, staggering unemployment, and an economy going through a once in a century transition.  Communities such as Rainelle, WV were ground zero for the disaster and faced compounded challenges as they begin cleaning up and rebuilding.

Needless to say, these communities had already been hit with a “sucker punch” and the flood was the “gut punch” that took them down.  If necessity is the mother of innovation, disaster is the parent of creating ultimate collaborations.

The night and day after the flood struck, organizations such as West Virginia VOAD, Philanthropy West Virginia, and others were getting reports of the catastrophic damage, lives lost, homes destroyed, churches and schools washed out, downtowns decimated, and extreme need for assistance.  Having never encountered a geographic and natural disaster of this caliber before, Philanthropy West Virginia began reaching out to our peer members through the United Philanthropy Forum (Forum).

Mobilizing Collaborations:

Philanthropy WV heard of the tremendous work through the Forum as to how our peer organizations along the east coast collaborated to respond to Hurricane Sandy.  Our first step was reaching out to these peers on their lessons learned working alongside and bringing together businesses, nonprofits, government, and philanthropy to apply in our response to our urgent need.  Specifically, we contacted our colleagues at the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers, Maryland Philanthropy Network, Philanthropy Delaware, and Philanthropy New York.  Their hard-learned lessons from Hurricane Sandy would be beneficial to our communities.

The Philanthropy WV team was focused on identifying the best ways for our organization to assist in disaster response to:

  • communicate needs to the philanthropic community to engage a broader base of support,
  • ensure grants and giving would go toward the greatest needs on the local levels, and
  • prevent charitable fraud.

The generosity of time and expertise provided by the then President & CEO of the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers, Nina Stack, was tremendous.  When I asked for insights and lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey that might apply in West Virginia, Nina generously shared her rolodex aka Outlook Contact list and playbook on best ways to get moving early.

Nina knew that no matter how different communities such as Ocean County’s Seaside Heights, NJ and Greenbrier County’s Rainelle, WV might seem on first glance, that they may share similar challenges in disaster cleanup. Her, CNJG, and New Jersey’s lessons learned in responding to Hurricane Sandy would be extremely helpful to West Virginia.  She opened up a bridge of collaboration by:

  • Reconnecting us with the National Center for Disaster Philanthropy & their priceless Disaster Philanthropy Playbook
  • Sharing the best roles that Philanthropy WV could serve by hosting weekly conference calls among all funders bringing in local and state leaders sharing the short-term and long-term needs for assistance
  • Serving as our first guest speaker for the weekly Philanthropy WV Flood Recovery Conference Calls with dozens of foundations, corporate, government, and nonprofit partners in West Virginia and across the country
  • Connecting Philanthropy WV’s team other issue experts and resources to educate our members and develop long-term recovery strategies
  • Reminding us that organized philanthropy needs to focus on long-term recovery and connecting local, state, regional, and state networks

During the National VOAD meeting in South Charleston, WV mentioned earlier, Philanthropy WV was able to pay forward the generosity of experiences shared by Nina and CNJG so that other state VOADs and partners could identify and mobilize in “delightful times”how to respond in disaster.  Over three years later, the WV VOAD, Philanthropy WV, Center for Disaster Philanthropy, and partnership is seen as a national example of collaboration especially as the WV VOAD has become one of less than half-dozen state VOADs with full-time staff.

Presently, there are a lot of polarizing perspectives and assumptions between rural and urban.  As we stepped back, we (New Jersey, West Virginia, and others) saw our similarities. We discovered the immense value of learning that urban and rural communities actually can collaborate for our mutual benefit and advantage.

Philanthropy WV has for a long-time held the value of COLLABORATION as a key priority of our work, approach, and mission.  Thankfully through the Forum and their mutual commitment to collaborations that our collective philanthropic sector can embrace building bonds between rural and urban communities and so many more to strengthen our society.

Highlighting this spirit of collaboration and mutual benefit the Forum unveiled in July the Field Guide for Navigating PSO Partnership. This field guide outlines formal ways Philanthropy WV and our peers can partner with each other state and national philanthropy organizations.

Philanthropy WV is thankful to Nina, CNJG, WV VOAD, Center for Disaster Philanthropy, United Philanthropy Forum, and so many others who partner to strengthen philanthropy’s impact locally and nationally.  For WE are truly better TOGETHER as communities, states, and our nation when we work together for the common good in disaster-ful and delightful times.
by Paul D. Daugherty, President & CEO of Philanthropy WV