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Developing Resiliency Through Skilled Corporate Volunteers

The Common Impact Disaster Response Program helps corporate donors develop skilled volunteer teams that are ready to volunteer their expertise in the event of a disaster, providing a form of community resiliency.

The private sector is increasingly interested in lending their resources to communities when natural disasters strike and have the resources and skills to really make a positive impact. But corporate entities mostly contribute money and do so in reaction to the disaster, not prior to for preparedness and response purposes.

Common Impact is a national nonprofit that helps connect skilled professionals to nonprofits enabling companies to contribute to local communities in various ways, including disaster relief with its Disaster Response Program. This program leverages companies’ myriad resources and expertise to develop resilience within communities. “We got a lot of demand from companies that said, ‘How can we do this with disaster relief?’” said Common Impact CEO Danielle Holly. “We essentially said, ‘Don’t.’”

What the company does encourage is specific to resilience. Since many private-sector organizations are eager to help in disasters and have designated teams, Common Impact helps facilitate the building of those skilled-volunteer teams to be ready to respond during a disaster.

The corporations have teams of skilled volunteers ready to respond if there is a need on the ground from a nonprofit that may have either an acute rise in the need for services or an acute deficit in resources.

“If, for example, a food bank is suddenly needing to service far more customers because the community that they’re operating in has been hit by disaster and there are food scarcities that come up so there is a rise in client need,” Holly said.

Common Impact issued a report this year that highlights its mission: the need for developing resiliency in communities.

About 98.2 percent of corporate dollars go to disaster relief or recovery and the remaining 1.8 percent goes to mitigation. “The more resilient organizations are at the moment of disaster, the less recovery it takes in terms of resources and time,” Holly said. “There’s a big gap in preparedness, response and mitigation that is not being filled right now.”

The gaps fall chiefly under the vulnerable organizations and vulnerable populations areas.

A survey conducted by The Nonprofit Association of Oregon in 2018 revealed that 90 percent of Oregon’s nonprofits understood the high likelihood of the chances of disaster striking but half lacked a continuity of operations plan for that eventuality. The results are similar across the country, according to the Common Impact report.

Also in the report, vulnerable populations — which are economically vulnerable or disenfranchised — are disproportionately impacted by disasters, and those populations can be aided by the private sector. Corporations can target organizations in those areas where vulnerable populations are and donate resources and skilled volunteers.

Skilled volunteers are professionals trained with some sort of skill that could be transferred to another organization that may need help during a disaster, and this is what Common Impact helps provide with its Disaster Response Program.

“We did interviews with about 50 organizations that are expert in this across the public, corporate, nonprofit sectors and essentially asked them questions related to what would have been helpful to have, was the private sector engaged and how engaged were they in the recovery process,” Holly said.

What they found, Holly said, was that there is a lack of alignment between resources and real needs on the ground and that companies make their decisions based on how much money they can give and how much money the competition is giving, because there is brand recognition when companies respond.

But there is also often a lack of expertise on the ground where the needs are. Companies aren’t experts on disaster response, but they also don’t realize the lack of expertise they bring, so working with partners in the area to get resources where they need to be is critical.

“There’s also a focus on the epicenter of a disaster, the city or areas and locations hit hardest, but often there’s quite a large radius around that has been impacted by the disaster and those organizations that are either not the brand name or right in the epicenter of the disaster often get forgotten and the ones that are in the epicenter are flooded with donations,” Holly said.