Trust-Based Philanthropy in Action
A Conversation with Isabel Barrios
How is disaster grantmaking different from other grants the Foundation makes?
Disaster grantmaking is a particular kind of grantmaking that is in response to an event—a disaster. But disaster grantmaking is also very related to the work that we do year round.
The impact of disaster really is about the kind of conditions that people experience day-to-day, the infrastructure, and the quality of housing that they live in. The better-off people are, the less vulnerable they are to disasters. So any foundation that’s working on changing socially-produced conditions is really working on long-term disaster preparedness and mitigation.
How do you pick grantees during such a chaotic time?
We trust people to do the work. And we trust people to know how to best use the funds to help their community. There is a whole layer of “due diligence” that has to happen in order for us to be able to make a grant. We have to adhere to IRS rules, and so organizations that we give money to have to be in good standing with the IRS.
But our due diligence is also very relationship-driven. We confirm what organizations are doing good work from our existing relationships with nonprofits across the region. We also learn from board members, elected officials, local leaders, program officers, other foundations, and people who are doing work in the field. We look to the people who are loved, trusted, and looked up to.
We also ask our grantees, “Who’s out there doing the work?” They want to tell us. They’re really generous—they want to see other nonprofits get resourced to do aligned, collaborative work.
In addition to that, we read whatever is being reported in the papers or online. And whenever we can, we do visual verifications—we’ll drive out to the place and see what people are doing. We join the state and regional Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) calls, in which organizations share and coordinate their responses as well.
We try to do all of that very quickly. Whenever we know that a storm is barreling in, we’re on our way. We are texting, we are calling, we are checking in with people so that we can have something lined up right away.