Disaster relief in the short and long term


One of the most alarming consequences of climate change is the increase in the frequency and severity of natural disasters around the globe. According to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, between 1980 and 2018, the average annual number of disasters was 6.3; however, over the past five years, the annual average number doubled to 12.6.[1] As of July 2019, the U.S. has already experienced six significant natural disasters that each resulted in losses exceeding $1 billion.[2] Last month’s Hurricane Dorian is poised to become the seventh, with estimated insurance losses estimated up to $3 billion.[3]

Extreme weather events such as Dorian can traumatize communities through displacement, injury, and loss of life. They also pose a material threat to business operations, supply chains, employees, and sales in impacted regions. Corporate investment in preparedness and resilience—long before a disaster actually occurs—can ensure that companies can continue operations following a disaster.

A majority of corporate citizenship programs address this particular risk—75% of respondents in the Community Involvement Study 2019 report having a workplace giving program dedicated to disaster relief. However, according to the Center for Disaster Preparedness, a majority of disaster-related corporate giving is dedicated to immediate response and relief, rather than resilience, preparedness, and recovery.[4] While an influx of cash and supplies in the immediate months following a disaster is invaluable for affected communities, long-term resilience strategies in disaster-prone areas are just as critical. Disaster preparedness is a long-term commitment that should be part of every company’s corporate citizenship strategy.

Short-term response and relief

To allocate resources most effectively after a natural disaster, companies should employ their business strengths. In addition to donating cash and providing employee volunteers, firms can offer in-kind products and leverage corporate assets and capabilities such as infrastructure, transportation, logistics know-how, and internet/cellular networks. These philanthropic activities demonstrate how a company’s products and services benefit society in the short-term—and result in goodwill from government and consumers in the long-term. In fact, research shows that consumers look more favorably upon companies that donate in-kind after an uncontrollable disaster such as a hurricane.[5] In this case, a clear communications strategy is paramount to ensure the donation is understood as beneficial to the disaster-affected community.

Long-term resilience, preparedness, and recovery

Companies are developing disaster response programs that are responsive to their particular operating context and communities. Microsoft Philanthropies has an established humanitarian team that evaluates disaster events to determine the scope of activities which will be supported, based on severity (the overall impact the event has had on the population and how many have been affected) and relevance (the company’s ability to positively impact the response and its overall relationship to the event).

Other firms, such as Target, have created ongoing employee relief funds into which employees can both donate or receive assistance in the event of a disaster. Local nonprofit partnerships should be an essential part of any ongoing disaster preparedness and recovery program—UPS contributes capacity and skills with disaster recovery partners all over the world. Last year, the logistics company made significant contributions to Greater Houston Community Foundation following Hurricane Harvey and more recently mobilized funding and in-kind transport to communities impacted by Dorian in partnership with UNICEF and IFRC. Partnerships like these present an opportunity for the company to be directly involved in preparedness efforts for future disasters.

To learn more about how companies are preparing for and responding to natural disasters, tune in to the Center’s October webinar, Disaster Prevention, Resilience, and Relief, featuring speakers from Insperity and Farmers Insurance.


[1] NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) U.S. Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters (2019). https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/billions/.

[2] Ibid.

[3] AIR Worldwide. (2019, September 6). AIR Worldwide Estimates Insured Losses for Hurricane Dorian in the Caribbean Will be Between USD 1.5 Billion and USD 3 Billion. Retrieved from https://www.air-worldwide.com/Press-Releases/AIR-Worldwide-Estimates-Insured-Losses-for-Hurricane-Dorian-In-the-Caribbean-Will-be-Between-USD-1-5-Billion-and-USD-3-Billion/.

[4] Center for Disaster Philanthropy. (2016). Measuring the State of Disaster Philanthropy. Retrieved from https://disasterphilanthropy.foundationcenter.org/data/source/corporategiving/data-year/2016/.

[5] Hildebrand, D., DeMotta, Y., Sen, S., & Valenzuela, A. (2017). Consumer Responses to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Contribution Type. Journal of Consumer Research.