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date: 20 November 2019

Non-Profit Sector Organizational Actions on Risk Reduction Practices, Policymaking Participation, Community and Social Contributions, and Recovery

Summary and Keywords

Non-profit organizations make significant contributions to society in a number of ways. In addition to providing services to underrepresented, marginalized, and vulnerable populations in our communities, they also play important advocacy, expressive and leadership development, community building and democratization, and innovation-oriented roles. The sector is thus regarded as “critical civic infrastructure,” civic capacity, or a social safety net. As such, through collaborative engagement in disaster or emergency management, non-profits can be even more instrumental in helping communities become disaster resilient.

Disaster management can be understood as a four-stage cycle that includes mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery functions. Past disasters demonstrate that non-profits engage with this cycle in diverse ways. A few types of non-profit organizations explicitly include, as part of their mission, one or more of these stages of disaster management. These include traditional disaster relief organizations, organizations dedicated to preparedness, or those responsible for supporting risk reduction or mitigation efforts. Another set of organizations is typified by non-profits that shift their mission during times of disaster to fill unmet needs. These non-profits shift existing resources or skills from their pre-disaster use to new disaster relief functions. The other type of non-profit to respond or support disaster management is the emergent organization. These emergent non-profits or associations are formed during an event to respond to specific needs. They can endure past the disaster recovery period and become new permanent organizations.

It is important to remember that nonprofits and more broadly, civil society—represent a unique sphere of voluntary human organization and activity separate from the family, the state, and the market. In some cases, these organizations are embedded in communities, a position that grants them local presence, knowledge, and trust. As such, they are well positioned to play important advocacy roles that can elevate the needs of underrepresented communities, as well as instigate disaster management policies that can serve to protect these communities. Furthermore, their voluntary nature—and the public benefit they confer—also position them to attract much-needed resources from various individuals and entities in order to augment or supplement governments’ often limited capacity. In all, civil society in general, is a sphere well positioned to execute the full spectrum of emergency management functions alongside traditional state responses.

Keywords: non-profits, NGOs, civic capacity, emergency or disaster management systems, mitigation, Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), disaster preparedness, response, and recovery, advocacy and lobbying, page/page design


The highest natural disaster–related fatalities between 1980 and 2018 were caused by six natural hazards. These include the 2004 Indonesia Tsunami, which resulted in an estimated death toll of 222,060; the 2010 Haiti earthquake, which resulted in 316,000 fatalities, injuring 300,000, damaging 188,383 homes and displacing 1.3 million people; the 2008 Myanmar Cyclone Nargis and the 1991 Bangladesh Tropical Cyclone, which caused 140,000 and 139,000 fatalities, respectively; and the earthquakes in China (2008) and Japan (2011), which left 87,149 and 15,880 people dead, respectively (Munich Reinsurance Company, 2018; also see Duffin, 2019). Less extreme yet insidious are “everyday disasters, [that is,] small, local events triggered by natural hazards” (Twigg, 2004, p. 12). These do not make headlines because they fall below the disaster threshold, nor do they attract or require humanitarian assistance; although they can have devastating cumulative impacts on the livelihoods of individuals, families, and communities (Twigg, 2004). In light of this backdrop, this article reviews the roles that non-profit organizations (i.e., voluntary associations, faith-based organizations (FBOs), churches, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), community-based organizations (CBOs), and philanthropic organizations or foundations) can play within the disaster management system (i.e., in disaster mitigation, preparedness, response and relief, and recovery).

All organizations seek to solve a particular set of problems (Dynes, 1968). These can range from basic day-to-day problems to larger social challenges related to education, health, and welfare. Non-profit organizations are uniquely and strategically positioned outside of markets and states and are broadly understood to take many forms, serving varying public purposes and communities (Salamon et al., 1999; Salamon, Hems, & Chinnock, 2000). Some non-profits may only offer a specific set of services (e.g., The National Wild Turkey Federation), others have sweeping social goals such as ending poverty, with national or international scopes (see Salamon et al., 1999).

non-profits are often praised for “their generally smaller scale, their connections to citizens, their flexibility, their capacity to tap private initiative in support of public purposes, and their . . . rediscovered contributions to building social capital” (Salamon, et al., 1999, p. 4). They constitute a “critical civic infrastructure,” civic capacity, or social safety net (Ritchie, Tierney, & Gilbert, 2010). These characterizations are based on the numerous civic roles non-profits play in society, which include service provision, generating innovative ideas, fostering the expression of diverse values, expressive and leadership development, advocacy, shaping public policy through lobbying, giving voice to the underrepresented and marginalized, and community building and democratization (Salamon et al., 2000). Of key interest are the roles non-profits play or can potentially play within the disaster management system.

For Dynes (1968), organizations can be classified as community-oriented or more privately oriented and can have emergency resources or not. Dedicated relief agencies possess both a community orientation and emergency resource capacity (Dynes, 1968). Most social service non-profits can be understood as having a community orientation but with limited to no emergency resource capacity (Smith, 1978). Emergency resource capacity is a quality that can be understood at different levels. Some organizations possess emergency resource capacity but only for smaller disaster events (e.g., household crises), versus organizations that have the resources to respond to national disasters. In the case of non-profit organizations, they possess a “demands-capability balance” that functions differently under normal and disaster contexts (Smith, 1978). This balance reflects how an organization prioritizes its actions or outreach to the community, under normal conditions. In a disaster context, new demands are identified or re-prioritized. Capabilities then shift to meet these needs (or are exhausted) leading to a new set of actions or functions for an organization.

Often emerging from post-disaster events are praises of non-profit organizations’ agility in responding to disaster victims (Gajewski, Bell, Lein, & Angel, 2011; Kapucu, 2007). A review of the relief and response efforts to various disasters across the globe (e.g., the Haiti earthquake; Hurricane Katrina; Indian Ocean Tsunami, Gujarati earthquake, etc.), demonstrates that unless disaster management is a part of an organization’s mission, many non-profits and philanthropic organizations are often “thrust into or voluntarily” play (un)anticipated disaster response roles within the emergency management system (Simo & Bies, 2007). Specifically, non-profits play (or can play) key roles in all stages of the disaster planning cycle: Mitigation or disaster risk reduction, preparedness, response, and recovery—as well as in influencing public opinion and the public policy environment—around disaster management. Hence, any considerations of community disaster resilience should include a focus on non-profits and community-based organizations’ resilience and participation (Ritchie, Tierney, & Gilbert, 2010).

Typology of Organizations in Relation to Disasters

Based on an analysis of a large number of disaster case studies, researchers from the Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware created a four-part typology of organizations in relation to disasters (Dynes, 1968; Dynes, 1970; Warheit & Dynes, 1968). These case studies examined all types of organizations involved in disasters, from public agencies, to private firms, and non-profit organizations, resulting in a four-organization taxonomy based on two factors, (1) whether the organizational structure was old or new, and (2) whether the organization performed regular or non-regular tasks. An old (existing before the event), or new organization (formed in response to the disaster), can respond to a disaster by accomplishing regular tasks, or it may have to adapt and conduct non-regular tasks, that is outside of its mission or regular offering.

According to this taxonomy, established organizations are those that pre-date the event and their response is a routine (or at least regular) task. Police, fire, and other first responders are examples of established organizations. New organizations responding with routine tasks are considered expanding organizations. Such organizations have a structure in advance of an event but are not active or functioning until an event requires them. Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs), and volunteer groups that assist in search and rescue, reconstruction, or recovery work are examples of organizations that are dormant during normal conditions but are activated for disasters. Expanding organizations are considered new because, in some cases, they may not have had a chance to be active outside of a practice or drilling scenario (Dynes, 1968).

Like established organizations, extending organizations also exist prior to an event; however, they respond with new or non-regular tasks they did not normally perform. Such organizations extend themselves by putting their resources to new uses, in response to an event. For example, a non-profit organization that normally uses its resources for casework for a particular population might extend its services to serve a different population. It can do this by providing a different set of services in response to the event.

Finally, emergent organizations are new and conduct non-regular tasks in response to an event. Emergent organizations did not exist even in concept prior to an event. As such, they are often the groups that convene around a problem-specific set of tasks functioning as gap fillers. Over time, emergent organizations may later extend or become established, depending on circumstances, or they may dissolve altogether. Note that existing groups can also become emergent if they fundamentally shift the nature of their work and resources, similar to extending organizations (Scanlon, 1999). In such cases, the boundary between existing and emergent organizations can be muddied, suggesting that some organizations can change from within during a disaster.

Quarantelli (1994) further refined these concepts in an effort to understand the nature of the emergence itself, from more basic behavioral or task emergence, to more structural or fundamental emergence. Quarantelli (1994) noted that emergence is driven by the presence of three characteristics: “supportive social climate, existing pre-crisis social relationships, and particular necessary resources” (p. 14). These typologies also presume a somewhat single local scale or site for organizations. However, organizations can be multilevel, existing at local, regional, and even international scales. An international non-profit with local chapters is an example of this structure. Subsequent research finds that tensions between emergent and established organizations within a setting may be influenced by where the organizations emerge from, that is, locally, versus extra-locally (Scanlon, 1999).

Non-Profits’ Roles Within the Emergency Management Framework

non-profits have historically been thrust into unanticipated disaster response roles, thus emerging to offer basic necessities in response the needs of disaster victims, culminating in some opting to linger to assist with the recovery efforts. Their history in disaster response or humanitarian assistance dates back to the 5th century bc, with Ancient Greece’s humanization of war (Grossrieder, 2003). It was also influenced by religious notions of respect for human beings, which highlighted “notions of love, compassion, and charity,” thus, regarding disasters as opportunities to extend a helping hand (Grossrieder, 2003). The premises of modern humanitarianism include the 17th-century Daughters of Charity and St. Vincent de Paul’s work to eradicate poverty in France. However, the first recorded “humanitarian” operations, albeit conducted by governments, took place in the late 18th to the early 19th centuries (Grossrieder, 2003). These included relief efforts sent to French aristocrats fleeing the slave uprisings in Santo Domingo in 1793, the United States’ Caracas earthquake response in 1812, and the aid sent to the Greeks during the Greek–Turkish war in 1821 (Grossrieder, 2003; Stoddard, 2006).

In terms of non-profits’ participation in humanitarian assistance, it was not until 1859, during Henry Dunant’s (and subsequently, the Red Cross’ and the International Committee of the Red Cross’ [ICRC]) response to the Italian unification war, that a decisive turning point for the modern concept of humanitarianism occurred (Grossrieder, 2003; also see Lassa, 2018). This subsequently resulted in Dunant’s ideas of universal space, the neutrality of the victims of war, and the space for humanity to allow humanitarian agents to help disaster victims.

Disaster Response and Relief Roles

Disaster response involves many organizations and groups, ranging from those integrated into national response plans or systems to emergent non-profits. In the United States, there are at least three groups of non-profits linked to its National Response Framework (NRF): The American Red Cross (ARC), the National Volunteers Organizations Active in Disasters (NVOADs), and The Salvation Army. These groups are involved in all phases of emergency management, unlike those outside this response framework. Though their formalized role has tended to structure their efforts around more localized or smaller disaster events, large catastrophic events can overwhelm them and even invite international responses (Comfort, Birkland, Cigler, & Nance, 2010). However, this is not to say that these non-profits did not respond. Joshi (2010) provides an excellent list of NVOADs members and the emergency support functions they executed in response to Katrina.

Outside the non-profits integrated into national response systems, responses to the 2010 Haiti earthquake, and 2005 Hurricane Katrina, for example, reveal extensive involvement by extending and emergent non-profits, CBOs, FBOs, and churches (Pant et al., 2008; Joshi, 2010). Outside of local individuals and community members, the initial disaster responses were conducted by old non-profits providing new or non-routine services that were originally outside their missions, as well as by emergent non-profits, both new to the scene and old non-profits fundamentally shifting the nature of their work and resources (Dynes, 1968; Dynes, 1970; Warheit & Dynes, 1968). Responses generally consisted of meeting basic human needs such as food, water, medical services, temporary shelter, personal hygiene (laundry and showers), distributing supplies, and clothing. Additional services later provided included, children’s services such as child care and education, transportation for evacuees and volunteers, financial assistance, and case management in terms of providing information and referrals (Kligerman, Walmer, & Merrell, 2015; BondGraham, 2011; Gajewski et al., 2011; Joshi, 2010; Simo & Bies, 2007).

It is a well-known fact that U.S. state and federal governments’ response activation in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita was sluggish (Gajewski et al., 2011; Koenig, 2006; Pipa, 2006, cited with permission; Simo & Bies, 2007). In response, local non-profits, FBOs, and churches in Louisiana and Mississippi, acted as gap fillers playing critical roles to safeguard the safety and well-being of disaster victims. For many of these extending non-profits “this was the first time they had provided shelter and disaster relief in this way” (Pipa, 2006, p. 4). Corroborating this observation, a comprehensive survey of FBOs and CBOs that responded to Hurricane Katrina revealed that about 67% of these organizations “had not previously participated in disaster relief” prior to Katrina (Joshi, 2010, p. 2), consistent with extending and emergent organizations (Dynes, 1968; Dynes, 1970; Warheit & Dynes, 1968).

Pipa (2006) added that some of these non-profits were sheltering as many evacuees as the ARC. At the time, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimated that national disaster relief organizations such as the ARC did not have sufficient feeding and sheltering capacity to sufficiently address the surge of service needs that large-scale disasters create (Comfort et al., 2010; Joshi, 2010). For example, of the 195 shelters identified by the ARC in Mississippi in the first week after Katrina made landfall, 66 were operated by FBOs (Pant et al., 2008). Of the 17 FBOs shelters interviewed by the authors, all “used their church facilities, the church, and affiliated schools and/or auditoriums for sheltering” the general population, with one catering to the disabled and another to medically complex patients (Pant et al., 2008, p. 49). Noteworthy is that not all 17 shelters were ARC affiliated. Eventually, only 12 shelters became ARC affiliates after going through the approval process, which culminated in their ability to then request and receive financial and nonfinancial resources from the ARC. Overall, in addition to providing shelter, these FBOs also provided food, water, access to nurses and telephones, job services, child services, transportation, and assistance with welfare and Medicare/Medicaid forms. Consequently, the “actions of the local charitable sector constitute[d] one particularly bright spot in the midst of the criticism regarding the response to the storms that devastated the Gulf Coast” (Pipa, 2006, p. 9).

non-profits in and outside of New Orleans and Louisiana in general also responded by providing food, water, clothing, financial assistance, and temporary shelter to those affected and displaced by the flooding (BondGraham, 2011; Gajewski et al., 2011; Pipa, 2006). Compared to significant non-profit closures in New Orleans, the 80% to 90% of non-profits in the rural and nonmetro parishes that remained operational found themselves extending to serve more clients, providing food, shelter, and cash assistance—services that were not previously part of their missions (Auer & Lampkin, 2006). And in anticipation of the unmet health-care needs of Katrina victims, Excel Partner Healthcare Clinic staff, for example, provided medical services at smaller churches that spontaneously opened shelters in Baton Rouge, Louisiana (Pipa, 2006). This non-profit clinic also dispatched a mobile unit to circulate among a network of shelters and served people through a home-visit program (Pipa, 2006). Another example, Providence House, was a program that provided housing for the homeless; it quickly secured and prepared 50 apartments as shelters and trained volunteers to mentor families one-on-one through a family advocates program in Shreveport, Louisiana (Pipa, 2006).

Similar response efforts were also activated by non-profits, FBOs, and churches in Texas (Gajewski et al., 2011). non-profits, especially FBOs, were key players in responding to the needs of the 250,000 Gulf Coast residents that evacuated to Texas (Gajewski et al., 2011). While the city of Austin, Texas, provided emergency shelter to nearly 7,000 survivors, local chapters of national and international non-profits such as the Red Cross, United Way, and FBOs “provided furniture to 800 households and housed 50 families in private homes through an interfaith housing program” (Gajewski et al., 2011, p. 390). In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, one church provided meals to feed 16,000 people, another sent 18 semi-trucks with shelter-related supplies the week after the storm (Koenig, 2006). In fact, these various FBOs served survivors for nearly a week before FEMA and other government agencies arrived (Gajewski et al., 2011; Koenig, 2006).

Churches and FBOs also provided spiritual support or religious coping services to victims that turned to religious services for understanding disasters (Cain & Barthelemy, 2008; Chester, 2005; Hutton & Haque, 2003; Kroll-Smith & Couch, 1987; Pant et al., 2008). For example, religious coping activities such as prayers and “good deeds” were found to have positive effects on psychological well-being of people affected by the 1993 Midwest flood (Smith, Pargament, Brant, & Oliver, 2000). Individuals that find refuge in religion can positively reinterpret disasters as opportunities for spiritual growth or increased religious meaning (Smith et al., 2000). Religion also encouraged collective response to the post-disaster situation, with religious leaders providing spiritual leadership in relief efforts (Chester, 2005; Kroll-Smith & Couch, 1987). Similar spiritual support was provided to Katrina victims in Mississippi and to evacuees that relocated to Texas and Louisiana (Joshi, 2010; Pant et al., 2008).

Another advantage of religious congregations, churches, or houses of worship, CBOs, and FBOs, particularly within urban settings is that they are generally more accessible to and trusted by residents of high-poverty neighborhoods (Allard, 2008; Joshi, 2010). Such non-profits possess local knowledge and are already playing active and vital roles in helping the poor, vulnerable, and marginalized in the communities they serve; therefore, they are more responsive to community needs than government agencies (Allard, 2008; Joshi, 2010). For instance, in the response to Katrina and Rita, and to the Haiti earthquake, CBOs and local churches responded and served the disenfranchised and hard-to-reach communities missed by the formal response efforts and national non-profits (BondGraham, 2011; GAO, 2005; IASC, 2010; Joshi, 2010).

In Haiti, Kligerman et al. (2015) observed international relief agencies (NGOs) stepping up to provide essential medical services, since hospitals and medical infrastructure were damaged by the earthquake. In fact, health-care providers in Haiti “unanimously identified acute medical relief as one the greatest contributions of aid” (Kligerman et al., 2015, p. 4). The medical services provided by aid agencies were so critical that local Haitian health-care providers were able to refer their own patients to NGOs that had surgical capabilities and were in a position to provide more advanced care. This kind of response resembles what established organizations would do following an event: That is, old organizations taking on routine tasks (Dynes, 1968; Dynes, 1970; Warheit & Dynes, 1968)—Médecins Sans Frontières, is a great example.

Consistent with Dynes and associates’ structure and tasks typology, Haiti in particular, also witnessed the emergence of voluntary “ventures” or response groups stepping up to any fill any gaps they deemed critical (Williams & Shepherd, 2016). Such emergent response groups consist of a collection of individuals who are members of civil society (Aguirre et al., 2016) “with no pre-existing structures such as, group membership, tasks, roles, or expertise that can be specified ex ante” who are simply motivated by “a sense of urgency and high levels of interdependence” (Majchrzak, Jarvenpaa, & Hollingshead, 2007, p. 147). This represented an “arrangement of resources and organizational structures in novel ways, by those within the disaster zone, to alleviate the suffering of victims” (Williams & Shepherd, 2016, p. 2070). Earthquake survivors organized themselves to obtain the necessary “resources such as, food, water, and housing,” and the desire to survive gave them impetus “to engage in more organized efforts to attend to [fellow Haitian] victims’ needs” (Williams & Shepherd, 2016, p. 2078).

Some of these ventures eventually “transitioned from providing basic needs [to offering] long-term solutions to victims,” which often resulted in victims’ substantial improvement from their pre-earthquake circumstances—as part of disaster recovery (Williams & Shepherd, 2016, p. 2079). Such ventures represent new local emergent structures that did not exist prior to the earthquake but arose to address unmet needs, even when they possessed no emergency resource capacity other than those resources that are often overlooked in international humanitarian assistance and development—their ideas, local knowledge, and sweat equity (see Ashman, 2000).

Finally, an important resource capacity came in the instrumentality of philanthropic and corporate organizations in raising financial resources to support non-profit response to (and recovery from) disasters. Although some of the extending and emergent non-profits groups used their own wherewithal to meet unmet needs, sustained response transitioning to recovery, and rebuilding required extensive resources they did not have (BondGraham, 2011). Foundations and corporate organizations stepped up in response to Hurricane Katrina and the Haiti earthquake to provide the much needed financial and nonfinancial resources (BondGraham, 2011; IASC, 2010; Joshi, 2010; Koenig, 2006; Simo & Bies, 2007). Exactly how much money philanthropic and non-profit organizations are generally able to raise for relief and recovery efforts is difficult to discern in any disaster. However, foundations and non-profits generally receive praise for the immense outpouring of donations they are able to provide and raise (see BondGraham, 2011; Cosgrave, 2008; IASC, 2010).

In summary, it is a foregone conclusion that non-profits, particularly extending and emergent health and human services–focused non-profits and churches, tend to be among the first responders, often this is well before formal state responders arrive: This demonstrates a capacity for rapid response. Immediately following disasters, non-profits can organize quickly to mobilize resources needed to address unmet needs. non-profits were able to rapidly adapt to post-disaster situations because of their level of community involvement, tradition of benevolent giving, and less hindrance from bureaucratic red tape (Cain & Barthelemy, 2008; Gajewski et al., 2011; Grossrieder, 2003; IASC, 2010; Simo & Bies, 2007; Smith, 2012). non-profits also have access to much-needed resources and funding. Many of them—particularly established and expanding non-profits and those already within the formal disaster management systems—can tap into the already established networks for disaster support and coordination. All these characteristics enable rapid response to disaster events (Salamon et al., 1999; Salamon & Anheier, 2006).

Lastly, churches (and FBOs in particular) are able to provide religious coping services to disaster victims, especially when people turn to religious services for understanding disasters; this is something that government agencies cannot do (Chester, 2005; Hutton & Haque, 2003; Kroll-Smith & Couch, 1987; Cain & Barthelemy, 2008; Pant et al., 2008). A key takeaway is that non-profits are well positioned to engage in disaster relief efforts, since they are largely embedded in the community (Monsma, 2011). This means they are more likely to have the best local knowledge and to have established trust, and to be culturally sensitive in their response efforts (BondGraham, 2011; Cosgrave, 2008; IASC, 2010; Joshi, 2010; Luu & Henry, 2012).

Recovery Role

In a more idealized model, disaster recovery is the final period after disaster response where a community returns to a condition that is either the pre-event state or a new desired future state (Waugh, 1999). Early research on recovery cycles initially noted that various waves of recovery and reconstruction occurred and often on long-term scales (Haas, Kates, & Bowden, 1977). These earlier ideas of recovery often had a focus on returning to pre-event conditions and suggested a linear progression toward recovery. This initial research provided a model of sequential waves of recovery efforts that spanned short- to long-term recovery. Defining recovery has also had a tendency to focus on the infrastructural components of a community, failing to include the sociocultural aspects of recovery (Smith & Wenger, 2007). Research has also focused on the shorter periods, leaving less knowledge about long-term recovery (Rubin, 2009). This can in part be attributed to the long cycles that recovery requires.

Subsequent research has raised new questions about the diverse ways in which recovery unfolds, including the multiple spatial and temporal scales that it can occur at, the role of planning in recovery, and challenges of inequalities in recovery (Blanco et al., 2009; BondGraham, 2011). As researchers have since further engaged disasters, the concept of recovery has become more complex. A key idea for recovery is that it is an interdependent process across jurisdictions, non-profits, private business, and households—and that it often occurs at different rates across these groups (Rubin, 2009’; Berke, Kartez, & Wenger, 1993). Smith and Wenger (2007) defined recovery as “the differential process of restoring, recovering, and reshaping the physical, social, economic, and natural environment through pre-event planning and post-event actions” (p. 237). This definition includes concepts of sustainability and recognizes the diverse elements of recovery and how it spans time both before and after an event.

Even with this recognition of a need to plan in advance for recovery, it is not a common practice. The resources and efforts allocated to planning and preparing for recovery do not match those put into planning for response or mitigation, and this creates post-disaster events where recovery planning is quickly deployed in real time (Olshansky, Hopkins, & Johnson, 2012). Planning for recovery after an event results involves conducting an entire planning process in a short period and potentially with less resources: This creates “time compression” (Olshansky et al., 2012). In this period of compressed time, the entire planning process must be activated and mobilized faster than in normal conditions. Competition for resources in this period of compression can also exacerbate inequalities as various groups compete for access.

Another challenge in this period is that recovery planning after the event can become expert driven, and even if efforts are made to include the public, the very foundations of democratic engagement may not be present (Simo & Bies, 2007; Cosgrave, 2008; IASC, 2010; Tironi, 2015). These observations have resulted in many recommendations for planning and preparation for recovery to be conducted prior to the event. Studies of communities that have planned for recovery in advance show quicker recovery times and with decreases in losses (Burby, 2005). Despite these concerns, it is important to also note that recovery may present an opportunity for developing a new future that addresses past decisions or conditions. When planning can be made in advance and roles are understood in a community, reconstruction can provide a path toward improvement (Berke et al., 1993). This effort to “build back better” requires coordination among the various organizations and agencies that play a role (Kim & Olshansky, 2014).

However, there can be a dark side this, especially when those that provide and control recovery funding for recovery have alternative self-serving agendas. For instance, the most important pool of funding for supporting the long-term reconstruction of the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina, came from foundations (BondGraham, 2011). This funding strategically targeted policy decisions governing multiyear rebuilding efforts and initiatives. This by default, positioned foundations to influence and shape state policies and capital investments (BondGraham, 2011). Such wherewithal and power can be abused. And in this case, moral issues arose in that a few powerful foundations sought to play “instrumental roles as instigators of drastic social experimentation and restructuring across many sectors of society,” while simultaneously preventing other public benefit-centered initiatives (BondGraham, 2011, pp. 281–283). These foundations, sought to influence state policies and facilitate “new forms of capitalist accumulation around newly enclosed land by generating higher rents,” attracting particular industries (e.g., biotech), privatizing housing and education, thus dismantling public goods through privatization, and by creating “private-parallel governance” structures designed to service business interests (p. 282). All this was at the expense of disaster victims who were disproportionately African American and of low socioeconomic status (BondGraham, 2011; Gajewski et al., 2011; Muro & Sohmer, 2005).

To understand the role of non-profits in disaster recovery, it also helps to examine the different forms of organizations in a disaster context. As noted in the discussion of organizational types, organizations can be understood as one of four types that respond to disasters. These differ on whether they are new or existing organizations and whether they are using routine or new tasks. Existing organizations normally include traditional disaster response groups. In the non-profit realm, the most notable are non-profits active in disasters (VOAD). These organizations fit either the existing or expanding model of organizations that are using established tasks to respond but may be existing or new organizations (Quarantelli, 1994). Typically, in the United States, VOADs are more formally integrated into disaster planning and management. They include state and local organizations that represent the diverse set of VOADs and liaise with state and federal emergency managers. VOADs also include many FBOs that include disaster response and recovery into their mission (Egan & Tischler, 2010; Smith, 2012). Another recent unique experience was the appearance of international relief organizations in U.S. disaster events, notable the response to Hurricane Katrina (Jenkins, Lambeth, Mosby, & Van Brown, 2015).

A common theme in disaster recovery is the role of extending or emergent organization types. These new or expanded organizations can take a variety of forms, and often seek to fill a need created by the retreat or damage to normal institutions in a community. These new or expanded organization often represent a shift in how households or individuals are represented in the recovery process. In some cases, committees or ad hoc groups form as informal representatives, at times even challenging the governmental response to the crisis (Chandrasekhar, Zhang, & Xiao, 2014). These emergent groups can be powerful forces in a disaster, driven by a shared experience and interactions that allow them to quickly create an identity and organize. This was found in the experience of student volunteer groups that organized via social media after the 2010 and 2011 New Zealand Christchurch earthquakes (Lewis, 2013).

Emergent organizations are also notably problem focused; they seek to fill gaps and address needs that are unmet (Jenkins et al., 2015). In this way it can be expected that despite efforts to plan for all needs, those needs that go unserved may result in new organizational responses. Formal recovery efforts will need to anticipate these developments.

These lessons from recovery provide important insights for non-profit organizations and their partners. These ideas have been captured in the United States in the National Disaster Recovery Framework (NRDF). The NRDF was created after Hurricane Katrina to better guide coordination with organizations in the recovery context (FEMA, 2010). This framework has structured planning for recovery over several functional areas led by different federal agencies (for a more in-depth discussion see Kapucu, 2014). Though despite this codification of roles in the framework, recent experiences in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria show Congress may change the structure after the event.

First, non-profit organizations provide key roles in recovery, often connecting more quickly with local needs and concerns. These can be provided by existing organizations that either play a formal role in recovery or that expand into the role because of resources or relationships they possess. Second, non-profit organizations will have different motivations and definitions of success based on the communities they are focused on or due to the events that result in their emergence. Next, planning for recovery must occur prior to an event, even if it is partial planning. While full information about disaster impacts may not be available, pre-event planning allows for determining appropriate recovery roles within an organization and with other partners. By understanding the groups and organizations that may participate in recovery, coordination can help address the time compression challenge by having a predeveloped basis to prioritize requests for resources. Finally, it is important to remember that despite any level of planning, disasters by definition represent a sudden shock that can reorder relationships, resources, and organizations (Comfort et al., 2010). Coordinating in the post-disaster period will require reassessing these interactions and assessing how the response must adapt to new conditions, without sacrificing equity and subjugating the poor.

Disaster Risk Reduction, Mitigation, and Preparedness Roles

One of the 2005 World Conference on Disaster’s Hyogo Framework for Action’s (2005–2015) expected outcome was to work toward the “substantial reduction of disaster losses, in lives and in the social, economic and environmental assets of communities and countries” (International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), 2007). Accomplishing this goal required full commitment and involvement from multi-actors, including civil society organizations, volunteers, and associations (ISDR, 2007) reflecting a disaster risk governance framework that demonstrates shared responsibilities among, public, private, and civil society actors to reduce global and local disaster risk (Lassa, 2018).

Nonetheless, NGOs have historically been a “part of the global disaster risk reduction ecosystem,” credited with shaping humanitarian response and relief actions, as well as the disaster risk reduction (DRR) agenda across the multiple local and international levels and arenas they operate in (Lassa, 2018). In fact, NGOs played a critical “role in advocating for better DRR policies and practices at the international level” at the 2005 World Conference on Disaster Reduction (ISDR, 2007, p. 3). Prior to the 2005 Hyogo Framework Actions, many NGOs had already been playing key roles in educating local the communities they served about potential impact of natural hazards, as well as providing assistance with finding ways to prevent and minimize disaster impacts (ISDR, 2007).

Generally, mitigation pertains to actions taken before, during, and after a disaster to minimize its potential or extent, although the term largely refers to those actions taken to minimize potential disasters (Twigg, 2004). Disaster risk reduction refers to “the broad development and application of policies, strategies, and practices to minimize vulnerabilities and disaster risks throughout society, through prevention, mitigation, and preparedness” (Twigg, 2004, p. 13). It also has a noticeable advocacy feel. Examples of mitigation actions include structural or physical actions such as retrofitting buildings and nonstructural measures such as disaster management training, public education, and land-use regulations (Twigg, 2004).

Pioneering community-based disaster mitigation and preparedness were developed in the 1980s (ISDR, 2007; Twigg, 2004). But the general trend at the time was more conceptual, with a limited focus on the actual implementation of “concrete disaster reduction and development measures,” and more attention focused on advocacy, public awareness, and disaster response (p. 7). More than a century ago, community disaster mitigation, preparedness, and response predated the existence of most states, wherein people in communities took collective actions during disasters (Shaw, 2012). So, the return to community-based disaster risk reduction activities is nothing new. As a result, a culture of coping with crises or of disaster risk reduction, one that is anchored in repositories of local knowledge on vulnerabilities and capacities, exist within communities (Shaw, 2012). As Shaw rightly points out, by virtue of exposure and proximity to the disaster, it is after all locals that are the first responders. Hence, engaging locals in disaster risk reduction is a key to minimizing disaster impact and to disaster response both for headlining disasters and for the “everyday disasters” that fall below the disaster threshold and thus not needing humanitarian assistance.

Community-based disaster risk reduction (CBDRR) is, therefore, an alternative to the top-down approach to building community resilience (Shaw, 2012). It was initially implemented by NGOs working in the developing world before it was adopted by international organizations such as the International Federations of Red Cross and Red Crescent. Shaw’s (2012) book documents multiple case studies of CBDRR from across the globe. In these examples, all types of non-profits are key players in risk reduction. In the Philippines and India, disaster risk reductions have been taking place within more formal and legislated relationships, compared to more informal arrangements as seen in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Nepal, and the Philippines. Some disaster risk reduction projects have focused on the accumulation of physical and economic assets that can be used to reduce vulnerability, such as creating village contingency funds, small-to-medium infrastructure projects to reduce hazards impact, and the purchase of key equipment and materials that become a necessity in disaster response (e.g., water supply, latrines, rescue and evacuation facilities, and warning or communication systems) (Shaw, 2012).

More recently, following the 2010 Haiti earthquake, and the cholera outbreak, hurricane, and the civil unrest that ensued, many NGOs responded by helping the Haitian government improve its disaster preparedness. For instance, Christian Aid established connections with local governments to disseminate warning messages and identify emergency shelters, World Vision conducted hazard mapping, ActionAid reviewed and built local partners’ capacities through its Emergency Alert, Review, and Response Mechanism tool, and Save the Children helped schools develop or improve child-friendly emergency response plans and supported youth-led emergency response teams (Clermont et al., 2011). Other agencies equipped local groups with knowledge on how to prepare for future disasters. In terms of mitigation or long-run risk reduction measures, CARE, a global NGO for poverty reduction, helped some 1,000 families install hurricane straps to their shelters in Port au Prince, after the 2010 earthquake (Clermont et al., 2011). CARE also made such mitigation elements visible in the houses they built so that others could replicate their practice.

However, the sustainability of disaster risk reduction projects remains a concern. Across the six countries mentioned above, Shaw (2012) identified at least eight factors that non-profits— especially churches, FBOs, and CBOs—can help enhance the sustainability of community-based disaster risk reduction investments. These include promoting and strengthening a “culture of coping with crisis”; enhancing people’s perception on vulnerability, while recognizing community initiative motivation, increasing community participation and empowerment through some form of institutionalization (e.g., setting up community response teams and assigning roles); focusing on need-based training approaches; involving and engaging “diverse stakeholders based on the needs and objectives in both formal and/or informal ways”; promoting “tangible and intangible accumulation of physical, technological, and economic assets as the project outputs”; and finally, promoting and advocating for “the integration of community initiatives into regular development [local] planning and budgeting to ensure sustainability” (p. 11, see Shaw, 2012).

Finally, regarding whether non-profit organizations themselves are prepared for disasters, a handful of U.S.-centered research documents limited disaster preparedness (see Chikoto, Sadiq, & Fordyce, 2013; Ritchie, Tierney, & Gilbert, 2010). Before non-profits can effectively contribute to community disaster readiness, they need to examine and address their own resilience. Both non-profits and philanthropic organizations need to recognize disaster preparedness as a type of capacity building, one that is worth investing.

Disaster-Related Policy Participation and Advocacy Roles

Drawing from thirty years of humanitarian responses to earthquakes, the international humanitarian sector-wide Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance (ALNAP), concluded that advocacy and public policy engagement by non-profits and NGOs are vital tools for humanitarian response (Cosgrave, 2008). non-profits involved in disaster response need to advocate for good policies, based on dialogue with the community, to promote rapid recovery. This calls for engaging fully with different levels of government (host governments included) to promote policy coherence, and with coordination mechanisms to promote inclusiveness (Cosgrave, 2008).

Since non-profit organizations operate distinctly in the public realm, their work tends to intersect, supplement, complement, and at times challenge that of government (Najam, 2000; Young, 2006). Therefore, they are “joined at the hip of the public policy decisions” and actions and inactions of governments (Kaplan, 2014). According to ALNAP, to effectively advocate for better policies, non-profits need to have a “good understanding of the situations of affected people, and the likely impact of different policies on them” (Cosgrave, 2008, p. 7). This requires trust and dialogue with the affected communities. non-profits work with diverse populations, covering diverse issues, granting them expertise on issues that affect the populations and communities they serve (e.g., the homeless, immigrants, people with disabilities, women, etc.) (Bolder Advocacy, n.d.). This positions them to not only participate in the public policy process to instigate policies and decisions but to also be social advocates by providing information, training, and resources around disaster risk reduction and mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery.

Examples of advocacy work that non-profits and humanitarian agencies can undertake include advocating for (a) better policies when existing, proposed, or newly adopted policies “have strong negative implications for the affected population,” (b) speedy considered decisions in order to allow timely recovery processes, (c) flexible policies to allow the needs of a larger proportion of the affected population to be met, (d) “greater policy coherence between different layers of government, and through the practical measure of supporting the proponents of the best policies with the resources to implement them” (Cosgrave, 2008, p. 7).

Our review revealed a few examples of non-profit advocacy within the disaster response and recovery context. As part of assisting evacuees make “longer-term transition to life in Austin, [Texas]” FBOs advocated with “FEMA for more long-term assistance” (Gajewski et al., 2011, p. 392). Prior to Katrina, some evacuees “lived in tight communities in New Orleans where a car was not a necessity”; however, relocation to parts of Austin with a limited to public transportation system created challenges (Gajewski et al., 2011, p. 398). Advocacy efforts by non-profit directors and case managers resulted in a new bus line to meet the needs of evacuees, as well as “a limited period of presumptive eligibility for special transit” (p. 398). There were also examples of non-profit advocacy in the rebuilding stage. For instance, FBOs advocated for better public policy by bearing “witness to ongoing needs to help Gulf Coast residents,” thus serving as examples and catalysts for effective governmental actions (Joshi, 2010, p. 65).

In Haiti, Haitian-led “ventures engaged in extensive government, NGO, and foreign national lobbying,” as well as “lobbying anyone and everyone” to secure resources for Haitians (Williams & Shepherd, 2016, p. 2087). They also lobbied for resource delivery to where they were needed by bringing NGOs, governments agencies, and other actors to campsites. Other “ventures ‘took a stand’ on property rights by occupying land while lobbying for fundamental changes in Haiti’s ongoing housing and property situation” (Williams & Shepherd, 2016, p. 2091). In Pakistan, following the 2005 earthquake, the Norwegian Refugee Council established the Information, Counselling, and Legal Aid (ICLA) project to assist earthquake victims with legal aid regarding their land entitlement claims and compensation for loss of shelter (Cosgrave & Nam, 2007; Strand & Borchgrevink, 2006). ActionAid also played a similar role in the aftermath of the 2011 Gujarati earthquake by helping victims obtain their entitlements (Cosgrave, 2008).

Overall, legal disputes over land ownership following natural disasters are not new. The British parliament, for instance, had to set up a special hearing, “Fire Court,” for the purpose of expediting arbitration between landlords and tenants in the aftermath of the Great Fire of London in 1666 (Tinniswood, 2003). Legal disputes over land ownership also arose in the aftermath of the 2004 Tsunami and the 2008 Hurricane Katrina. Land tenure and ownership disputes arose due to loss of documentation, death of property owners, and the need to reestablish and formalize pre-disaster arrangements (Cosgrave, 2008). ALNAP calls voluntary agencies to not only be aware of the land ownership and land rights challenges the poor often face, which often intensify post-disasters, but to also advocate and lobby for accelerated procedures and fair rules for addressing property disputes (Cosgrave, 2008).

In addition to influencing public policy, non-profits can also play the role of social advocates by providing information, training, and resources around disaster risk reduction and mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery in the communities they serve. For example, non-profits could work to raise awareness around risk identification and assessment, disaster prevention, and mitigation at the local level within the communities they serve (Corsellis et al., 2008; Telford et al., 2004). They can also provide education and training on life-safety measures applicable across a wide range of hazards, as well as help at-risk communities develop disaster plans, evacuation plans, and contingency action plans to safeguard their lives and assets (Battista & Baas, 2004, Humanitarian Initiatives, Disaster Mitigation Institute, & Mango, 2001; ISDR, 2007).

Finally, non-profits can also provide opportunities and space for community members and vulnerable populations who are likely to be excluded, to engage in discussions on future city or community planning (Humanitarian Initiatives, Disaster Mitigation Institute, & Mango, 2001; Nakagawa & Shaw, 2004), as well as work to protect key infrastructure such as water plants and hospitals) (Tearfund, 2005).

Within the U.S. context, public and private foundations can also advocate by financially supporting non-profits that engage in advocacy, in addition to taking advocacy initiatives of their own such as, community organizing, research, and engaging in regulatory affairs such as submitting comments on proposed rulemaking that impacts their work or the communities they serve (Bolder Advocacy, n.d.; Council on Foundations, 2019). Foundations do, however, face prohibitive taxes on any lobbying expenditure. According to the Council on Foundations website (2019), there are variations in the legal parameters governing what community and public foundations can do in terms of lobbying, that is, seeking to instigate or influence policy or a specific legislation, compared to private foundations. However, all three types of foundations can engage in advocacy—that is, focusing on educating various groups about specific issues that affect the communities and groups they serve (Bolder Advocacy, n.d.).

Given that foundations can advocate, they occupy a unique position to use some of their advocacy capacity to support non-profit programs geared toward assisting communities with risk identification and assessment, promoting risk reduction and household disaster preparedness, particularly for marginalized and vulnerable subgroups. After all, not only do disasters disproportionately affect the poor and marginalized, they also deepen and entrench poverty, as well as wipe out any development gains or investments (Cosgrave, 2010; Humanitarian Initiatives et al., 2001).

The Challenges and Limitations of non-profit Organizations

non-profits are well capable of executing all the functions of emergency management, they also have the capacity to attract and generate the resources needed to support these functions, and some are the only ones able to provide spiritual support. However, non-profits also face unique challenges or limitations that can affect their involvement. First, a number of active non-profits usually become victims themselves after a disaster hits an area, resulting in reduced capacity from “leaders and employees sustaining personal losses, as well as significant damage to their offices and operations” (Pipa, 2006). In the case of the Haiti earthquake for example, many NGOs lost their staff, leaving surviving staff members facing their own personal injuries and the loss of family members and homes (Clermont et al., 2011). To add to the confusion was that many of those providing humanitarian assistance to earthquake victims, were still in shock themselves (Levie, Burke, & Lannon, 2017).

Furthermore, many surviving non-profit staff members and potential volunteers also opt to seek safer places, preferring to leave the area altogether (Clermont et al., 2011; Simo & Bies, 2007). Consequently, the use of volunteers became important in New Orleans, because finding and maintaining FBO staff became a challenge (Joshi, 2010; Smith, 2012). However, the use of volunteers also presented the challenge of housing, feeding, supervising, and debriefing them (Clermont et al., 2011; Hackworth & Akers, 2011; Joshi, 2010; Pant et al., 2008).

Second, in spite of reduced capacity, non-profits face increased demands for their services, not only from their existing clients but also from the emerging needs of disaster victims. After Katrina, half of the providers outside Greater New Orleans were serving more clients than they did before the storms. This was due to many New Orleans non-profits sustaining damage (Auer & Lampkin, 2006; Pipa, 2006). Yet, the people they assisted in quieter times still required those services, even more than before (Pipa, 2006).

Third, while the increased involvement of voluntary agencies in the response means an influx of resources (e.g., money, in-kind donations, volunteers, etc.) flowing into a disaster-impacted community (Hackworth & Akers, 2011); however, this strength if not managed well, can also generates considerable complexities for responding non-profits (Gajewski et al., 2011). One complexity had to do with how to manage and account for the large influxes of monetary donations and the volume of in-kind donations that often flood a disaster-impacted community (Hackworth & Akers, 2011; IASC, 2010). This raised donation management challenges, especially among non-profits with limited experience and systems that are not developed to manage the high volumes of donations (and volunteers) during disaster events (Joshi, 2010).

Another related challenge faced by non-profits is that philanthropic agencies and donors often restrict their funding more for immediate relief efforts, rather than long-term recovery or may donate resources those non-profits that may not necessarily need additional resources, resulting in resource distribution inequities (BondGraham, 2011; Gajewski et al., 2011; Joshi, 2010; Levie et al., 2017). Even when donors provide funding for long-term recovery and reconstruction, some may provide resources that promote donors’ neoliberal agendas, thus undercutting public goods and further marginalizing the poor and minorities (BondGraham, 2011).

Fifth, the number of non-profit entities involved in a disaster response does not necessarily equate to quality. non-profits need to be concerned about the quality of care they provide, as well as the unintended consequences of their response actions on the communities they seek to assist. For one, not all voluntary agencies rushing to the scene of a disaster event have the necessary skills, training, and expertise to perform disaster response work (Clermont et al., 2011). In the case of Haiti, there were reports of poor-quality care due to the fact that many incoming NGOs were experiencing field disaster response for the first time, with some involved in health care lacking the medical skills required by the circumstances (Kligerman et al., 2015).

In response to Katrina, volunteers were not always equipped with the expertise needed, particularly with providing complex services such as mental health counselling, case management, or job training, and their actions were at times misguided (Smith, 2006). In some cases, volunteers were not trained to use databases that had been developed to assist with coordination and communication issues (GAO, 2005). One complexity, therefore, had to do with how to process, vet, and manage the influx of volunteers, which for one non-profit amounted to receiving over 15,000 volunteer applications from those wishing to assist Katrina and Rita survivors. In Louisiana, emergent response by FBOs was also hampered by a “lack prior emergency response experience, training, and credentialing” (GAO, 2005, p. 23). A majority of FBOs responding to Katrina (two thirds, according in Hackworth & Akers’ estimates), had no experience with disaster relief before the storm (Auer & Lampkin, 2006; Hackworth & Akers, 2011; Pipa, 2006).

Finally, non-profits now play key roles in providing social services in partnership with governmental agencies, rendering collaboration and coordination important (Agranoff & McGuire, 2004; Boris & Steurle, 2006; Lipsky & Smith, 1989). These collaborative or network models of governance shift the relationship between non-profits and agencies from a more vertical model to a horizontal one. In a horizontal model, all organizations work in partnerships to deliver public services (Kapucu, 2006a; 2006b; also see Goldsmith & Eggers, 2004; Salamon, 1987). This form of horizontal arrangements has increasingly been understood in normal times, but new research emerged in the 2000s about public and non-profit partnerships in disaster contexts (Simo & Bies, 2007; Kapucu, 2006a). Initial findings from studying these partnerships during a disaster suggest they can be successful as they can connect more agile resources in a broader network (Simo & Bies, 2007; Kapucu, 2006a). A persistent issue that voluntary agencies frequently face in disaster response is that of poor coordination (e.g., Comfort, 2007; Comfort, Ko, & Zagorecki, 2004; IASC, 2010; Kapucu, 2006b; Simo & Bies, 2007; Tierney, 1985), which can be broken down into four disaster partnering challenges of communication, cooperation, coordination, and collaboration (see Martin, Nolte, & Vitolo, 2016).

As observed in many disaster responses, non-profits often work independently of local governments in an effort to fill gaps in services or remedy the inattention to vulnerable populations (see Kligerman et al., 2015; Gajewski et al. 2011; IASC, 2010; Joshi, 2010; Pant et al., 2008; Pipa, 2006; Simo & Bies, 2007). That is, non-profits may organize in spite of governmental inattention, and thus invitations to collaborate are either viewed with concern or could represent a limiting of non-profit independence. This tension can also play out within larger non-profits and national and local chapters where national staff might be seen as “outsiders” responding without understanding local needs (Adams, 1970). In such cases, coordination and collaboration can be contradictory to the initial motivation to organize (see Najam, 2000; Young, 2006).

Being unaffiliated from national non-profits or formal response networks may offer some flexibility and foster resourcefulness. However, operating within “informal networks” also means being disconnected from “routine means of monetary support, communication, supply lines, or access to the affected area” (Pant et al., 2008, p. 52), access that formal networks can offer for emergent non-profits. This means cutting non-profits off from reimbursements by formal response organizations such as FEMA and the ARC (Joshi, 2010; Pipa, 2006). For example, 12 of the 17 Mississippi FBOs providing shelter to Katrina victims ended up being grafted into the ARC folds after they had already been operating their shelters, in order to receive (non)financial resources (Pant et al., 2008). According to Pipa (2006), out of the 765 Louisiana non-profits that applied for public assistance from FEMA, for Katrina reimbursements, only 344 were potentially eligible for reimbursements, with 421 being deemed ineligible. However, even if approved, the 344 non-profits organizations were likely to receive reimbursements mainly for damages to their facilities, not for any sheltering expenses.

With a lack of coordination also comes misinformation, an inability to meet some needs or gaps in service, and service duplication (Auer & Lampkin, 2006; Comfort, 2007; IASC, 2010; Kapucu, 2006b; Joshi, 2010; Simo & Bies, 2007). For example, in the Haiti earthquake response, Levie et al. (2017) observed significant confusion regarding the roles and responsibilities of NGOs and emergency response team. Furthermore, different response teams had different perspectives on certain aspects of the relief effort, which created coordination challenges in the early weeks of the response (Levie et al., 2017). Regarding the response to Katrina, it was unclear where responsibility for coordinating the multitude of organizations lay, with both FEMA and state officials assuming it was the ARC’s duty (Pipa, 2006).

Discussion and Conclusions

Based on the preceding, non-profits play indispensable roles across all four phases of emergency management. They also have the capacity to advocate for better disaster-related policies. Oftentimes, a significant number operate as emergent and extending non-profits, and they do so outside of formal disaster response systems. As such, they tend to be agile, responding rapidly to address unmet needs. Churches in particular, provide spiritual support or religious coping services that formal response capacities cannot provide. What enables non-profits to rise up to the occasion emanates from their community orientation, as well as their unique capacity to not only channel existing resources toward recovery but to motivate the donor and philanthropic community to provide additional resources for disaster response and recovery.

A dominant theme rising from this review is the importance of the involvement of CBOs in all phases of emergency management because of their local knowledge, ties, and connections. Most disaster management systems tend to be top-down, command-control systems. Top-down programs that do not involve the community often fail to tend to those most affected by disasters—usually the socially marginalized—and this makes them even more vulnerable (BondGraham, 2011; IASC, 2010). In response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita for example, it was the churches, FBOs, and CBOs in particular, that were better able to reach marginalized groups. CBOs and local churches responded and served the disenfranchised and hard-to-reach communities missed by the formal response efforts and national non-profits (BondGraham, 2011; GAO, 2005; IASC, 2010; Joshi, 2010). It is “because community-based activities are deeply rooted in the society and culture of an area” (Shaw, 2012), based on local knowledge and ties. The “existence of [CBOs] allows people to respond to emergencies rapidly, efficiently, and fairly, and therefore available community resources” will be utilized more economically (Twigg, 1999, p. 51).

While disaster response and recovery are important, two roles are also of particular importance: Advocacy and lobbying. Disaster mitigation and risk reduction also help bolster community disaster readiness. These roles are important for two main reasons. First, many nations are failing to utilize this civic capacity to its full potential and bolster community disaster readiness. Second, beyond headlining disasters, communities (especially poor ones) often face “everyday disasters” that can have enduring cumulative adverse impacts on the lives and livelihoods of the individuals, families, and communities that experience them (Twigg, 2004). In other words, everyday disasters can be insidious in the long run, especially since such disasters fall below the threshold of the kinds of disasters that attract media attention and humanitarian assistance. Advocating for better mitigation and risk reduction policies, community involvement, and improving local community’s capacity to prevent, mitigate, prepare, and respond to different natural hazards will empower them to act. Furthermore, doing so will also empower and equip communities to manage and respond to everyday disasters on their own, particularly in developing nations.

Before moving on from this discussion, there are some notable critiques of NGOs operating in developing nations. NGOs can be helpful to local communities; however, if their operations are not carried out correctly, they often leave a place worse off. First, failing to acknowledge and engage local capacity can be damaging to local initiative. According to IASC (2010), the response to the Haiti earthquake saw local NGOs being “pushed out” of the response efforts as they could not compete with large, well-funded international NGOs. Even though many had never been to Haiti prior to the earthquake, these foreign NGOs and their experts failed to consult, let alone involve, the Haitians in their decisions (IASC, 2010; Pyle, n.d.). This misjudgment led to an inability to effectively serve local communities and saw resources being used in the wrong places (Kligerman et al., 2015; Clermont et al., 2011; Joshi, 2010).

The failure of international relief agencies to engage local communities and capacities, in turn, results in disenfranchisement and erosion of existing local capacity and services, thus undermining the hope of sustainable recovery. For example, in the case of Haiti, agencies providing free health care caused a rift between health-care providers, wherein local private practitioners were displaced and excluded in the response and recovery efforts, to the point where they could no longer compete with free health care (Kligerman et al., 2015).

Similarly, local services, such as local water vendors and medical providers cannot compete with the large amount of free goods and services brought into the community by foreign NGOs (Clermont et al., 2011; IASC, 2010; Kligerman et al., 2015). In the case of Haiti, one local government informant felt that the influx of NGOs had weakened Haiti’s state capacity because many NGOs failed to work with and through national authorities (Birkland & Warnement, 2014; Clermont et al., 2011). Because NGOs coming from outside of the disaster area have limited local knowledge, they need to collaborate with local stakeholders to strengthen local structures instead of reducing the local capacity (Clermont et al., 2011). In Haiti, there were initiatives for supporting local merchants, such as the Haiti Market Place set up by the Peace Dividend Trust whose slogan is “buy local, build Haiti”; however, NGOs’ collaborations with the local private sectors in Haiti were weak in general (Clermont et al., 2011). International NGOs that sought to work with traders and through markets—and who chose to work in neighborhoods with locally based organizations—provided better responses (Clermont et al., 2011).

A third critique is that oftentimes NGOs contribute to the brain drain of local labor markets. NGOs struggled to hire and/or retain Haitian staff after the earthquake because many existing staff were traumatized and occupied with family recovery issues. And those who were well educated took the opportunity to move outside the country (Clermont et al., 2011; Kilgerman et al., 2015). To respond to this capacity reduction caused by death, injury, and relocations, some NGOs offered lucrative pay raises to recruit and keep good staff members, thus creating large discrepancies between NGO salaries and the salaries paid by Haitian agencies (Clermont et al., 2011). Consequently, some Haitian teachers quit their teaching jobs to work as drivers for NGOs (Clermont et al., 2011). Overall, NGOs can and do compete with local agencies for human resources, creating problems with lasting consequences on local labor markets.

Finally, while it is laudable that foreign NGOs are generous with their resources, this generosity, however, can create dependencies on social welfare. And later this creates a burden on aid-receiving governments, long after the NGOs have exited. For instance, after the Haiti earthquake, Age UK piloted a cash transfer program to provide US$20 per month to 4,000 seniors in Haiti; they also used this as an opportunity to lobby the Haitian government to establish a universal pension system. The struggling Haitian government had to find a way to finance this system (Clermont et al., 2011). Another example is that many NGOs favored a cash for work (CFW) program, seeing it as a way to provide money to people in a dignified manner. However, some CFW programs paid people for simply being in the program and not for doing meaningful work (Clermont et al., 2011), which distorted market mechanisms in setting labor payments and caused morale decline (Clermont et al., 2011).

In closing, as critical civic infrastructure, non-profits have the capacity to participate in the whole spectrum of emergency management, from response to recovery. While non-profits can be lauded for this broad set of roles, they also must remain conscious of the quality and ethics of their practice within this framework. Non-profits ought to be concerned about bringing about equitable public benefits as they perform emergency management functions. Further, they must remain aware of and seek to minimize the negative impacts their actions can create for local communities. This calls for seeking out and valuing local knowledge and local capacity and actors, in addition to honest self-evaluations to ensure that blind spots such as philanthropic paternalism, particularism, and elitism (see Salamon, 1987), and even professionalism, are not undermining their contributions to community disaster resilience.


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