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Fire and Philanthropy: Special Edition

Monday, October 8, 2018

By Emily Katz, Communications Director, Northern California Grantmakers

It turns out human psychology may be working against us when it comes to certain kinds of funding strategies. Specifically, most of us aren’t so good at calculating risk when that risk is in some indeterminate future; especially when that risk comes from natural events like fires, earthquakes, and floods. Added together, we’re disinclined to plan for events out of our control when we face so many pressing needs.

A year ago today, firestorms came racing through our North Bay communities. With the immediacy of the smoke and danger to our friends and neighbors, it was hard to think about anything else. Our community responded with urgency and generosity. Donations from outside Sonoma surpassed even the local outpouring.

The heads of the Sonoma, Mendocino, and Napa community foundations have spent the year since that time responding with smarts and humor. We share with you their reflections, including a thoughtful look at equity:

Terence Mulligan, President of the Napa Valley Community Foundation reports on the extraordinary experience of responding to a trifecta of disaster—a 2006 flood, 2014 earthquake and 2018 wildfire—that happened in one community. He offers principles for disaster grantmaking and connection to undocumented and uninsured folks missed by the first wave of assistance. 

Beth Brown, President and CEO of the Community Foundation of Sonoma County shares five lessons learned, starting with the observation that disasters do indeed discriminate.

Megan Barber Allende, CEO of the Community Foundation of Mendocino County looks deeply at what it will take to restore the area’s unique identity and to support resilience and equitable recovery in a community that lost a quarter of its housing.

There is still much work to rebuild and redress inequities from the most destructive wildfire in California history.  We must also plan for what is yet to come, at a time and in a place that we cannot know, in fire-conditions worsened by climate change.  We are fortunate to have the wisdom and guidance of these leaders.

Please join us as they come together on October 22 at NCG’s San Francisco meeting space to look at the road ahead for their region, and to reflect on how we all can be better grantmakers in our beautiful-but-disaster-prone part of the world.  

We also invite you to check out our study on the impact of the fires in those same three counties on artists whose work is a major driver of the local economy, generating $80 million a year in Sonoma alone. KQED, Inside Philanthropy, and the Press Democrat all report on what we should do about the findings which show organizations serving communities of color were hit with triple the financial losses of other arts nonprofits.