Philanthropy’s Role in Disaster Response

Despite widespread power outages and limited internet access, the Community Foundation was able to establish the Disaster Recovery Fund just three days after the derecho hit Linn County.

“It was definitely a challenge,” said Michelle Beisker, Senior Vice President of Development at the Community Foundation. “Fortunately, the real challenge became processing all of the donations that started coming in with staff impacted by the storm and limited access to internet.  The gift processing team stepped up to accomplish this sizeable task.”

A lead gift of $100,000 from TaxAct helped establish the fund, and a number of other businesses with ties to the Cedar Rapids area made significant contributions shortly thereafter. Theisen’s contributed $100,000 to the fund as well.

“As a family, we have been very fortunate to have the Cedar Rapids community support us with not one, but two store locations,” said Chris Theisen, President and CEO of Theisen’s. “We knew it was important to lend our assistance where we could to the broader community. This donation is a way to give back to a community that has been so good to our company.”

As word spread about the derecho and the devastation it caused, donations also started coming in from farther away.  To date, 40 donors are lead contributors with a gift of $5,000 or greater to help our communities recover.

“Within two weeks of the storm we had received gifts from nearly a thousand donors in 48 states and three countries,” Michelle said. “The devastation to our communities is heartbreaking, but the support coming in has been truly inspirational.”

To date, the fund has grown to over $1.0 million with donations received from all fifty states. Initial grants from the fund helped meet basic needs for those impacted by the storm, and the fund will continue to work toward long-term recovery.

“Unfortunately, our community is growing accustomed to disaster recovery,” said Les Garner, President & CEO.. “We know from previous experiences that the road to recovery is long and costly. It’s going to take patience, generosity and resilience. We are lucky to have those qualities in abundance here.”

Moving forward, much of the philanthropic support for recovery will come from local donors, as other parts of the nation face their own disasters. The Center for Disaster Philanthropy has found that media coverage drives donations, and about 80% of gifts arrive within 60-90 days of a disaster.

Keeping this in mind, the Community Foundation has been working to bring local donors together with an eye toward long-term recovery. “The people of Linn County are committed to their neighbors and their communities,” Michelle said. “By bringing these donors together, we can build momentum for this cause and maximize the impact.”

Click here to view messages from donors across the United States.

To give to the COVID-19 Response Fund or the Disaster Recovery Fund for the derecho, click here.