Emerging Philanthropy: NOW Funding, not SOON Funding

Sometimes, you need NOW funding to assist an emergency situation. When an earthquake hits, people need resources immediately. They have no house and only the clothes on their back. If its cold, their families will freeze. Rescue workers need to be fed or they will stop shifting bricks and more people will die.

Fundraising takes time and you need the funds NOW and not SOON, not even THEN, and forget about LATER.

$1000 in the first week of an earthquake is like $10,000 in the second week.

In Turkey this month, we badly needed NOW funding to assist the earthquake relief in the first week.

Earthquake zone arriving philanthropy

But unfortunately, most foundations and trusts cannot act that fast. There is paperwork and permissions and the presentation of proposals and the estimate of expenses and the signing of papers, etc.  Most foundations can help with SOON funding but very few can help with NOW funding.

In fact, after the second week, as the need for rescue turns into the need for relief, and as relief turns to rebuilding, there might even be a surplus of THEN funding as large organizations and countries start acting independently and without knowledge of the big picture

Case in point: Haiti, where too much SOON funding and LATER funding was raised . . .

“Of course Haiti needed help after the earthquake, but $11 billion was far too much for the fragile and damaged economy to bear. It’s a lesson worth remembering, the next time a natural disaster triggers another wave of appeals for financial aid.” Felix Salmon, Where Haiti’s money has gone.

and not even spent . . .

In the midst of such suffering, only a fraction of the money devoted to Haitian relief has actually been spent” Janet Reitman, Beyond Relief: How the World Failed Haiti, Rolling Stone

But back to NOW FUNDING. Twice this year we have turned up in the first week of an earthquake, once in Christchurch, NZ and the other time this month in Van, Turkey where we delivered vital supplies to homeless families in the first week. And we did the Turkey trip for less than US$3000. This was achieved by depending on local contacts to gather local resources that could be delivered quickly within the country. Nobody flew in from anywhere.

But there was another factor. We secured some NOW funding to help us turn up on time. In fact, we got there so fast, even beat the national church efforts to deliver supplies.

How do you get NOW FUNDING?

Quite simply, you build a trust relationship with a donor. This idea is played out in Bill Somerville’s excellent book “Grassroots Philanthropy” and in fact I just told Bill about what we did in Turkey. Basically, a donor trusts you enough that you form a pre-arranged agreement that if an emergency situation occurs and funding is needed NOW, you spend the funds using your own debit card, up to an agreed amount, and the donor will cover your back and reimburse you.

Its great for the embedded worker because she gets the funding immediately, and its great for the Foundation because they get to see their investment get there faster and work harder. We get to act quickly and they give smart, in a way that leverages their giving.

There is one faith-based Foundation in the USA that I can do this with. This is the W Charitable Foundation, founded by Scott and Kelli Walchek, and directed by Elbert Paul. We talked about this concept a long time ago, before I read Grassroots Philanthropy actually, and Scott thought it was a great way to leverage their giving .

Philanthropy leveraging scott

The W Foundation knows me well enough to trust my judgement, and I know the W Foundation well enough to know which opportunity they would prefer to have their funding go towards.  So when the earthquake in Turkey hit, and I committed myself to collect and transport the blankets, I knew there was $US1000 that I could use to pump diesel into the truck and it would be returned with pleasure.

Actually, when I told the W Foundation what I was doing and what I had already spent their money on, they were thrilled to partner with me and told me to double the amount.

Thats NOW funding and its a win-win situation. But it can only work with a trust relationship and that takes effort and risk from both parties.

UPDATE: Dec 1. Bill Somerville just emailed and said

“Andrew, Congratulations on your work in Turkey.  Your example of spending rescue money and later getting reimbursed is exactly what I proposed years ago when I wrote a handbook Preparing For and Responding to Emergencies and Natural Disasters: Recommendations for Philanthropic Foundations. [PDF]


Andrew Jones launched his first internet space in 1997 and has been teaching on related issues for the past 20 years. He travels all the time but lives between Wellington, San Francisco and a hobbit home in Prague.


  • Joanna says:

    That is fantastic to be able to draw on that kind of help and it also shows where funding is totally up the creek without a paddle. The issue is not just short term funding but also long term funding. People want medium term results from things they finance and it puts pressure on charities and aid giving agencies to produce something, anything that looks like a result. In truth changing inequalities and building up the poor takes a long time, maybe even generations – but who will fund that? Who will pay for the administration to do that? People will pay for projects, send out teams to do things but they won’t fund week on week payments that keep the project going – it’s just not sexy enough. People will not fund risky ventures that may not work, they want results. Projects will fail, time and time again until something gets going, until a tipping point is reached and it reaches a sustainable level. Projects may not reach huge numbers and not change many lives despite the inputs, but are people prepared to give if one life is changed?
    We desperately need to re-think our giving, give extravagantly without expecting results all the time that are tangible. On the other hand we have to learn from our mistakes. Giving has to come with the criteria, was the best that was possible done in that situation? If that was the case then even if it failed then it is okay. Believe it or not, success is not guaranteed.

  • Andrew says:

    Joanna, good point. Many micro-businesses need 5 years to be sustainable and no body wants to wait that long.
    Ministries should also be evaluated in the long term to see long term effect. not easy with quick turnaround solutions.

  • Joanna says:

    I think we also need a different measure of failure. Not all things that fail by the world’s standards are failures in God’s eyes

Leave a Reply