Philanthropy can bolster society

Episodes of disaster can be times of great innovation and resourcefulness

As the pandemic has spread across Northeast Ohio, philanthropy is stepping up to address the impact, contributing to pooled funds and developing strategies to help the region emerge from this combined health and economic crisis. To devise strategies, community leaders look back to the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic to see how our region fared.

Akron responded vigorously to the Spanish influenza pandemic that hit hard in October 1918. Dr. Charles Nesbitt was at the helm of the Akron Health Department and had the foresight to see the epidemic coming, informing citizens about the strict measures required to protect their families. Through curtailment of mass gatherings, Akron weathered the storm and minimized cases better than many cities.

Neighbors pitched in to assist each other and the then-recently-completed Akron Armory was converted into a temporary hospital to care for the surge of patients. In November 1918, as the pandemic eased, restrictions were lifted and shuttered stores and churches reopened, but not without lingering economic pain resulting from closures.

In 2020, Akron has again rallied to address the health and economic impact of COVID-19 through combined efforts of health care, government, business, nonprofits and philanthropy. United Way of Summit County, Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce, the city of Akron and Summit County, along with many businesses, foundations and individual donors, pooled resources and expertise to support small businesses and nonprofits on the frontlines. It is this level of collaboration that pulls a community through a disaster and hastens recovery through different stages of restoration.
Across Northeast Ohio, philanthropy helps nonprofits be nimble in addressing community needs, including adaptation of equipment for manufacturing personal protection equipment for first-line responders and provision of no-interest loans to small businesses. The Center for Disaster Philanthropy helps donors navigate a situation “that overwhelms local capacity, necessitating a request to the national or international community for external assistance; an unforeseen and often sudden event that causes great damage, destruction and human suffering.” COVID-19 is a disaster of this magnitude. In such instances, the job of philanthropy is to find ways to fill the gaps and introduce innovative solutions to bolster health care and the economy.

Council on Foundations helps philanthropic organizations understand and analyze the best timing and manner of response to help communities recover. Best practices recommend disaster relief be delivered in three stages.

  • Immediate basic needs relief. In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, foundations, government agencies and nonprofits rally to provide for basic needs.
  • Short-term disaster recovery. Media coverage and contributions are at their zenith on the heels of a disaster. When attention wanes, serious rebuilding efforts must continue in earnest.
  • Long-term rebuilding. In many communities hit by disasters, it takes years to rebuild. Philanthropy has a responsibility to assist in rebuilding by continuing to make strategic investments that address persistent problems.

Episodes of disaster are a time for great innovation and resourcefulness. Northeast Ohio is witnessing this positive phenomenon as we together navigate the steps to move beyond this crisis to a brighter tomorrow.

Deborah D. Hoover is president and CEO of The Burton D. Morgan Foundation