Guest Post: Seven habits of highly-effective natural disaster recovery granting

This post written by Alex Gartmann, Foundation For Rural and Regional Renewal (FRRR).

Previously, I wrote about the overarching issues that need to be considered in responding to the natural disasters which have continued to unfold around us. In this post, I want to share some practical lessons and principles that we have used to guide our activities in the natural disaster recovery space.

1. The first principle is that it’s critical to recognise that recovery is a marathon rather than a sprint. The emergency response and first recovery phase can take up to 12 months; full recovery can take up to 10 years. Accordingly, we advocate thinking about philanthropic spend over the long term. Short term relief is absolutely critical, but there are often many other government agencies involved in the first 12 months. Yet they move on to other issues, or disasters, after about 12 months. Our tip therefore is to commit 40% of your allocation to emergency assistance and response (the first year), and 60% for medium to long term recovery (providing support long after the media and high intensity support has disappeared).

2. A second principle we learnt following the 2009 Victorian bushfires was the importance of philanthropic, government and private sector collaboration for recovery. There is a need to support and collaborate at the time of a disaster, and for the duration of the disaster recovery. Collaboration means we can better manage duplication; we use each other’s strengths and skills more effectively. It also means stressed communities have an easier time navigating their way towards philanthropic support.

3. Be comfortable in early allocation or dispersal of your recovery funds but a delay in a report on the ‘impact’ of your funds, particularly if those funds were to be used for medium to long term recovery phases.

4. Put an emphasis on listening to the locals. This way you can learn what will work at the local level, what is needed and what could help in the future. It is tempting to invest in infrastructure – it’s visible and often ‘easy’. However, our experience shows that it is the community services, or soft fit out, that are often in most demand. Philanthropy is well placed to facilitate lateral thinking such as the appropriateness of ‘like for like’ restoration. Turning the disaster into an opportunity to review community needs and create something that will sustain and support community in the future – when they are ready to consider the disaster in that manner.

5. Because recovery from a disaster is a sustained effort over a long period of time, it is important to be mindful of volunteer fatigue issues that will emerge later in the journey. The money for recovery is vital, however so is the volunteering and semi-skilled labour. Given the economic impact many businesses and communities will face, mentoring during recovery will be essential – a key role for corporate foundations with access to business skills.

6. Critical to any communities’ recovery is an element of economic development and adjustment. Communities cannot survive on air and water alone and reinvigorating that economic fabric is crucial to a town’s survival. Recent research by the Regional Australia Institute has highlighted that economic recovery, particularly in smaller regional locations, is often not supported or assisted - a gap philanthropy could address.

7. Consider the systems and processes that will be needed in a disaster recovery environment. How fast can you operate; what risks can you take to grant to organisations you have no established relationship with; what system do you have to handle applications and acquittals; do you have the personnel that can interact with stressed community members?

At FRRR, we don’t profess to have all the answers, by any means. However the lessons above have emerged from active involvement in the area of natural disaster recovery over the last seven years. If you would like to explore any of these issues in any more detail, or if you would like to contribute to the program we are currently implementing to support the fire and flood recovery efforts in relation to the current and recent disasters, please contact us on 03-54302399 or email


Bushfire recovery interview (retrieved 29/1/2013).

Morris, H. (2012). Lessons in Disaster Recovery: Learnings from FRRR’s Response to the 2009 Victorian Bushfires.

Nov. 11, 2013

 Tags: topical issues, guest post, general, environment, disasters

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