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A Call to Action for Corporate America: Change Disaster Response from Relief to Resiliency

By Common Impact
Disaster Response

By Danielle Holly, CEO, Common Impact

When Walmart announces that it will stop selling handguns in response to the increasing incidence of mass shootings, the result is a major shift in thinking about gun laws throughout the U.S. When AirBNB provides free housing to the refugees of Hurricane Dorian, companies start to think of new, creative ways they can use their assets and core business practices to make our communities safer and more resilient.

In these times of increasing national disasters, natural and man-made (the border crisis, mass shootings, water pollution), it is incumbent on the private sector to facilitate change before tragedy strikes, not as an afterthought to mitigate illness and death.

Corporations can do this by changing their current reactive approach to disaster response by deploying their workforces in advance of tragedy through skills-based volunteering. Also known as pro bono consulting, skills-based volunteerism engages business experts to support community-based nonprofits in creating risk contingency plans, business continuity programs and disaster communications protocols - all in advance of catastrophe. This preparation enables nonprofits to better respond to the acute needs brought on by crisis and supports communities in preparing for and recovering from the next disaster.

Research indicates the public is looking to the private sector for such support and employees, young and older, increasingly want to work for good corporate citizens. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is not only good for business, but it is good for our communities.

Recently, TOMS, the company known for donating a pair of shoes for each one sold, took on the gun control debate by launching its own campaign against gun violence, spurred by founder Blake Mycoskie's personal reaction to the 2018 mass shooting in Thousand Oaks, California.

Other companies have lent their strategic, marketing and project management expertise in such areas as supply chain, finance, human resources and communications when natural disasters like forest fires, hurricanes and tornadoes strike.

The key, believes Amy Smith, Chief Giving Officer at TOMS, is not being reactive but being proactive:

"At TOMS, we knew the world around us was changing, and we had already been asking ourselves 'Where else are we going to be putting our energy and focusing our impact?' When the Thousand Oaks shooting happened, it just felt like the right thing to do on every level. Blake was driving into work and his wife called him and said, "There's been a shooting. It's in our backyard. I'm not taking the kids to school today. Somebody has to do something." And he thought, "Well, if not us, who? If not now, when?"

Some ways that companies can help communities prepare for the next crisis include developing a supply management program or for communities hit by climate incidents or drafting a communications plan and creating funding streams as part of a pre-disaster plan for non-profits and municipalities.

"Private sector companies are also affected. They have people and teams on the ground during a disaster and are looking out for those people and trying to make sure their teams are safe. And so they've already done a lot of really good thinking and work around how to best respond to a disaster," said Erica Tavares, Senior Director, Institutional Advancement at International Medical Corps. "The NGO community has a lot to learn from all of the expertise, learning, and work that private sector companies have already done around the whole continuum of disaster response."

My organization, Common Impact, whose mission is to match corporate entities with nonprofits for skills-based volunteering, has just released a set of tools available to help communities and organizations as they plan for the inevitable. These tools were designed to help companies rethink their current approach to disaster response in order to develop a more strategic and proactive solution for our communities and include:

1)    A Measurement Framework for companies to quantify how a focus on community resiliency will produce social and business benefit for nonprofit partners, overall community health, consumers, employees, and shareholders.

2)    This Pro Bono Project Portfolio for initiatives that build the resiliency of community partners by leveraging common corporate skills and expertise.

3)    A Resiliency Assessment to identify gaps in an organization's ability to respond to disaster and provides insight into beneficial pro bono projects.

We also recently published a report, Insights & Impact 2019: Disaster Response, from Relief to Resiliency, that is available to all organizations and includes access to these tools as well as extensive research on why investment in disaster preparedness can yield strong results for our communities.

A report by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation finds that 70 percent of giving occurs within the first two months of a disaster's occurrence. The Center for Disaster Philanthropy reports that only 1 percent of corporate sector giving goes toward preparedness and .8 percent towards resilience, risk reduction and mitigation combined.

The current business environment and our research confirm that the business community must broaden its response to disasters from one of reactive donations to support immediate relief efforts to include a more proactive and sustained approach that allows community nonprofits to build resiliency through pro bono support in business continuity planning, risk mitigation and contingency planning. Companies must engage their most strategic asset - their people - in building stronger communities, seizing the power of skills-based volunteerism as a critical investment in community resiliency. We hope the next year sees a vast improvement to match the unfortunate rise in the need to respond to tragedy.

Image credit: Pixabay

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A purpose-driven workforce. A stronger community. Common Impact creates talent programs for engaging employees while advancing the mission of nonprofits.

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