Key Findings

Two young girls walk through the flooded streets of Downtown Hampton in North Carolina. Aileen Devlin / Virginia Sea Grant / CC BY-ND 2.0

Disasters and humanitarian crises affected millions of people globally in 2018. Hurricane Florence’s torrential rain and flooding caused catastrophic damage within the Carolinas in the United States, only to be followed by Hurricane Michael, which caused devastation in the U.S. and parts of Central America. In September, a 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi province, triggering a tsunami and landslides that caused widespread destruction and loss of life. Famines in Africa and civil unrest in Syria and Yemen continued, further increasing the number of refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced people.

In 2018, we saw not one but three volcanic eruptions take place, one in Hawaii followed by one in Guatemala and one in Indonesia. California experienced its most devastating wildfire event in terms of loss of life with the Camp Fire, and Typhoon Mangkhut caused extensive damage in Guam, the Philippines, and southern China. The Rohingya crisis worsened as millions of refugees escaped to Bangladesh, only to be stuck in overcrowded camps in Cox’s Bazar.

Each year, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) and Candid examine global disaster-related funding from foundations, bilateral and multilateral donors, the U.S. federal government, and corporations and donations through donor-advised funds and online platforms. We analyze funding according to a taxonomy that classifies giving by type of disaster and disaster assistance strategy.

As the world continues to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic while addressing record-breaking wildfires in California and other parts of the U.S., Siberia, and the Amazon as well as another devastating hurricane season, what lessons can we take from the philanthropic response to disasters in 2018?

Key findings from our 2018 analysis:

  • Drawing upon 13 data sources, we documented almost $76 billion in disaster-related giving in 2018.
  • We specifically identified $468 million in funding by foundations and public charities for disasters and humanitarian crises, based on Candid’s database; this figure includes transactions by U.S. and non-U.S. donors.
    • Natural disasters accounted for 52 percent of this disaster funding. Support continued for those impacted by 2017 hurricanes and addressed 2018 Hurricanes Florence and Michael.
    • Among disaster assistance strategies, 50 percent of dollars were for response and relief efforts. Twelve percent went toward reconstruction and recovery, a majority of which was focused on storm recovery. A mere 2 percent was allocated for resilience measures and 4 percent for disaster preparedness measures.
    • Disaster-related funding in 2018 decreased by around $50 million from 2017, based on a year-over-year analysis of grantmaking by 1,000 of the largest U.S. foundations.
  • Official development assistance by 30 government members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC) totaled $21 billion for disasters and humanitarian crises in 2018. Non-DAC government donors and multilateral organizations contributed an additional $5.6 billion, a nearly $3.7 billion increase from the prior year.
  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) distributed $11.2 billion for U.S. disasters in 2018, a $4.4 billion decrease from 2017, which was a record-breaking year for natural disasters in the United States. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) allocated $34.5 billion in recovery efforts in 2018 for disasters that took place in 2016 and 2017, a substantial $31.8 billion increase from 2017. In 2018, the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA, our newest data contributor) invested approximately $125.6 million in 67 projects for disasters that took place in 2017. This is just a sampling of U.S. government contributions that make up the bulk of disaster funds.
  • Based on available data, corporate giving programs committed approximately $206 million to disasters and humanitarian crises, through both cash and in-kind donations.
  • Among individual donors:
    • Data from a survey of U.S. households, conducted by Candid, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, and the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, indicates that 29 percent of U.S. households made a disaster-related donation in 2018, averaging $83. We can infer from this amount that U.S. households may have donated roughly $3 billion to disaster aid efforts in 2018.
    • Individual donors contributed $25.2 million through donor-advised funds managed by Fidelity Charitable and $9.2 million through donor-advised funds managed by Vanguard Charitable. These numbers provide only a small snapshot of contributions made through donor-advised funds, as Fidelity Charitable and Vanguard Charitable are just two of many donor-advised fund management companies.
    • Many individual donors also gave through online platforms, including Network for Good and GlobalGiving. Network for Good helped direct $10.3 million in donations to disaster-specific nonprofits in 2018. GlobalGiving raised $9 million for disasters, supporting 276 projects in 2018.

Disaster philanthropy in 2018 continues to offer benefits today. The Community Organized Relief Effort (CORE) used a 2018 CDP grant to work with the Lumbee tribe to retrofit buildings and prepare emergency evacuation plans. These measures enabled the tribe to withstand Tropical Storm Isaias with far less damage this year.

In California, a 2018 CDP California Wildfires Recovery Fund grant after the Camp Fire has allowed the North Valley Community Foundation to provide on-going school-based counselors to support trauma recovery for children in Paradise and other districts. Philanthropy plays a crucial role in supporting long-term recovery of individuals and communities impacted by disasters. Local community foundations, in particular, are positioned to assist their communities during the many ongoing years of recovery after a disaster has passed. Philanthropy can also support preparedness and mitigation to help reduce the overall impact of disasters.

We hope this analysis assists donors as they consider how to maximize the impact of their disaster-related giving.

Measuring the State of Disaster Philanthropy 2020: Data to Drive Decisions

Report cover: Measuring the State of Disaster Philanthropy 2020: Data to Drive Decisions

With the generous support of The Irene W. and C.B. Pennington Foundation and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy and Candid produce this annual analysis of funding for disasters and humanitarian crises.

Download Report