Sandy: Learning for Next Time

November 11, 2015


Three years ago may seem like a very long time ago for some; but not for those of us living in the Garden State. The collective consciousness of New Jersey residents remembers Superstorm Sandy like it was yesterday.

Nina Stack
Nina Stack

The days and weeks immediately following Superstorm Sandy were full of uncertainty, and like everyone, the philanthropic questioned how to best respond in the face of such wide-spread and immediate devastation.

In my work, I am responsible for helping the private philanthropic community to be as effective as it can be. This work takes many forms, but most substantially the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers serves as a relationship builder and knowledge broker.

When the scale of Sandy became obvious we knew we had to be ready to play both those roles actively, quickly and well. We held our first call at the Council for the funding community on November 5, the first Monday after the storm hit. Our intention was to help our members and funders across the country that wanted to understand what would be needed, and how philanthropy could and should plan to respond. We knew that the philanthropic sector – both in New Jersey and nationally – would want to know how best to support the response and recovery effort.

It became clear that given the severity of the storm’s damage, the unprecedented needs of our communities, and the extraordinary range of issues that must be addressed, the Council could best serve grantmakers, and by extension the state’s social sector, by hosting a series of briefing calls to assist funders in planning their next steps.

Through the Council’s briefings, grantmakers heard from nearly 70 guest speakers including policymakers, disaster relief and recovery experts, and statewide and national foundation leaders that have experienced similar catastrophes. The briefings provided an opportunity to connect directly with local leaders and state officials addressing the many needs of our communities.

Grantmakers learned about issues related to both disasters in general and Sandy recovery in particular. Topics included housing, mental health, social justice, universal design, FEMA’s National Disaster Recovery Framework, and an array of environmental issues. In addition to having dozens of New Jersey and Mid-Atlantic funders dialing in, we also were able to help inform foundation colleagues from across the country, from San Francisco to Boston, and Arizona, who listened in and learned.

Keeping funders informed, understanding best practice, and hearing lessons learned from colleagues across the country became our focus at the Council. And we know it made a difference.

From Hans Dekker of the Community Foundation of New Jersey  and the Dodge Foundation’s Chris Daggett, we heard how “the briefings were particularly helpful to our work with the New Jersey Recovery Fund, an approximately seven million dollar fund we raised from New Jersey and out-of-state foundations for intermediate and long term recovery efforts. While others were focused initially on the immediate needs of food, clothing and shelter, we intentionally took a longer view. Through the CNJG calls, we were able to build on the strategies and lessons learned from our peers around the country who had faced catastrophic disasters. That focus on collaboration and shared learning is what made the New Jersey Recovery Fund – and the efforts of many other groups in New Jersey – so successful.”

Held weekly through March 2013 (Series I) and then again for eight weeks leading up to the first anniversary of Sandy in September and October 2013 (Series II) the calls and webinars were open to all funders, regardless of where they were based or if they were members of the Council. Recordings of each call have been available on the Council’s website for some time.

And now the written summaries for both Series I and Series II offer readers the ability to access this information even more efficiently.

Each funder briefing provided a wealth of information and an illuminating view into the impact of the disaster.  In addition to being a valuable resource for anyone trying to address critical and long-term needs after a disaster strikes – from grantmakers to nonprofits to policymakers, researchers and academics – now our collective consciousness can be accompanied by a collective knowledge – giving us all the opportunity to respond to the next storm a little wiser and a hopefully little faster.

Nina Stack is President of the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers, a statewide association with more than 125 member organizations.  The Council is the center for philanthropy in New Jersey, serving the leading independent, corporate, family and community foundations as well as public grantmakers of our state. It supports its members by strengthening their capacity to address New Jersey and society’s most difficult problems.  Nina is also a former board member and the past Chair of the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers, a 34-member network serving more than 5,000 foundations, corporations and other donors across the country.