Responding to Emergencies: Natural and Unnatural Crises

Charlottesville. Harvey. Irma. DACA.

Hurricane Harvey, CC: Jillccarlson

It seems that every day our hearts are broken with news of natural disasters, violent mobs, and pretty much every word coming out of the president’s mouth.

Over the past year, there has been more rapid response giving than I’ve ever seen. Of course, whenever there is a catastrophic hurricane, typhoon, tidal wave, nuclear power disaster, or oil spill; disaster philanthropy follows. People send money, goods, and volunteers hoping to help in any way possible.

Since the election, there have been a new set of crisis situations: the ending of protections for immigrants, trans and black folks, and the disappearance of safety nets for those already struggling financially. News breaks of a passed bill or executive order, and philanthropy jumps to fill in the gaps wherever they can.


Yes, we need to deal with the immediate dangers in front of us.

  • Providing aid and financial assistance to families that lose everything in a hurricane
  • Physically protecting communities of color when Neo-nazis are marching down the streets armed to the gills
  • Providing legal assistance to young people who need to renew their DACA paperwork before that window closes for good.

But we also need to look at the issues that brought these crisis situations about in the first place.

  • The rise of xenophobia, where poor white people are blaming poor black and brown people for their poverty, rather than looking at the corporate billionaires profiting off
  • The role of climate change plays in increasing the strength and destructiveness of hurricanes and other catastrophic weather events.
  • The decrease of infrastructure funding for projects for climate change resilience, and the rebuilding of smarter structures going forward.

So here’s my advice:

  1. Support local organizations that are working on the ground in these communities. There are plenty of groups that have been working in Charlottesville, Houston, or New Orleans, know what is most needed, and are led by the people who are often affected themselves by the issues. Let these folks LEAD.
  2. Make a long term commitment. Funding often dies down with the end of a news cycle, but that doesn’t mean that the problems are over. Commit to giving monthly to an organization so they can plan out their work, and know they can count on that sustained support. Maybe match your own giving: For every dollar you give to the immediate needs, pledge a monthly dollar for fixing the systemic issue.
  3. Do what you can, or maybe just a little more. None of us can do everything, but we can all probably do a little more than we think.

Got other ideas or questions about giving in crises? Tweet at me, follow me on Medium, or send me a good old-fashioned email!