By Kris Putnam-Walkerly
The church shootings that took place in Charleston, S.C., were horrific, especially for those directly touched by the violence and hatred that spawned the attack. The same is true for Baltimore, Ferguson, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and every other place where the emotions of residents overflow into protests or violence. Perhaps the most frightening thing of all is that what happened in Charleston, or Baltimore, or Ferguson could happen just about anywhere, which means that every philanthropist — corporations, foundations, and individual donors — should think about ways to respond in the event of a community crisis.
Here are three steps to follow when a crisis arises in your community:
- Stop. As soon as word of a crisis breaks, stop what you’re doing, acknowledge the issue, and share your words of support. That’s the decent thing and the right thing to do. However, don’t stop there, because words of sympathy are not enough. Charge some of your staff to drop everything else, even if just for an hour, and reach out to relevant organizations – such as grantees, your local community foundation or your regional association of grantmakers – to ask, What can we do to help? Who else is involved that we might support? What news and resources can we share with our networks? The gathering and sharing of information among your community’s philanthropic network is one of the most important roles you can play in the wake of a crisis.
- Look. Watch what is going on in your community and observe how it aligns with your current grantmaking strategy. This is as “real-world” as learning opportunities get. Are people in your community talking about the need for better mental health supports? Is race a factor? Are residents feeling threatened by police or extremist groups or one another? Were there government or societal systems that failed? What was the flashpoint? Take a look at what you’re funding vs. what you see. How does (or could) your grantmaking intersect?
- Listen. This is where your most unique — and perhaps most powerful — role as a funder comes into play: the role of convenor. Tragedy and crisis leave people confused, angry, traumatized, sad, and more. The healthiest way to deal with those emotions and channel the momentum toward a positive outcome is to allow people to talk. Open your doors, bring people together. Hire professional facilitators or even counselors if that’s what is needed. When the time is right, take a leadership role on bringing people together around the issue and framing a constructive way forward.
Will all of this have an impact on your day-to-day grantmaking? It better. If there are people in extreme need, issues that your work has overlooked, and people who are willing to come together and address them, what more important role could you play?
Better yet, why not plan now for ways to prevent potential community crises? Increasingly, I see or hear of funders that are doing just that. In doing so, they are positioning themselves as community leaders above and beyond the checkbook, and potentially saving their communities considerable damage and heartache in the process.
Kris Putnam-Walkerly, the president of Putnam Consulting Group, is a recognized expert and leader in philanthropic strategy development, implementation, evaluation, and communication. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.