As Hurricane Dorian tore through the Bahamas early this month, leaving a trail of destruction like none other in the islands’ history, many companies in the U.S. scrambled to coordinate disaster relief, while preparing for the storm’s prospective landfall on their own shores as well. One nonprofit, Good360, which partners with the likes of Home Depot, Nike, UPS, Gap, CVS, and other high-profile companies, gathered items they believed would be in high demand for survivors in the Bahamas. The emergency goods included bottled water, diapers, tarps, portable phone chargers, bedding goods, and personal-care items like toothbrushes and soap.
Corporate America is increasingly stepping up to respond to natural disasters and other emergencies, supplementing the work of governmental efforts that have sometimes fallen short. When Hurricane Harvey struck Houston and Southeast Texas two years ago, causing an estimated $125 billion in damage, companies donated hundreds of millions of dollars in cash, goods and services, according to Inc., which named 25 such businesses ranging from Walmart to PetSmart. As hurricanes become more destructive, thanks to the effects of climate change, the corporate response to storms and other disasters has become even more essential.
“Our work actually began well before Hurricane Dorian even formed in the Atlantic Ocean,” Shari Rudolph, chief marketing officer of Good360 told From Day One. “This has meant pre-positioning goods in our National Distribution Center in Omaha as well as in other managed warehouses in the Southeast. This early preparation puts us in a position to efficiently respond to the needs of our nonprofit partners in the immediate wake of a disaster.”
Good360 specializes in “product philanthropy,” which means helping convey excess merchandise and other goods from major corporations to places where the items can help people in need. Besides handing out more than $300 million in goods each year, the organization also provides advice to their partners on the best ways to provide assistance, based on the type of disaster and the affected community’s needs.
“On the disaster recovery front, we take a holistic, long-term approach, ensuring that we are always delivering the right goods to the right people at the right time during all stages of disaster recovery, from early preparedness through long-term recovery,” Rudolph says.
While some companies have in-house teams that coordinate their disaster-relief efforts, others seek external nonprofits that are equipped with specific resources, pertinent information, and team members with specialized training. Why do companies devote the money and effort? According to experts in the field, corporate rescue efforts provide an emotional boost to employees who see their companies demonstrating empathy and purpose.
“I believe that that absolutely increases employee engagement, morale, connectedness to their place of work,” says Regine Webster, a vice president at the Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP), another nonprofit that helps execute disaster relief on behalf of donors. “We see that from some of our clients–that they’re invested in what we do.”
CDP provides companies with services including disaster grant-making, strategic planning, and technical assistance. CDP also conducts research and analysis with “attention to innovations in disaster management and humanitarian assistance,” the organization states, helping to adopt “new best practices from the field.” The client list at CDP includes the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Google, the Rockefeller Foundation, and Schwab Charitable, a donor-fund division of the investment firm Charles Schwab, which Webster says is facilitating relief in the Bahamas through CDP.
For many companies, the disasters hit close to home, affecting their own employees and the communities where they live and work. The number of organizations that build disaster-relief programs for affected employees and localities is multiplying—along with the number of companies investing in them.
“This idea of protecting the employee, which essentially many [companies] say is their most important asset, is a newer thing, it is a newer concept to the market,” says Holly Welch Stubbing, acting president and CEO of E4E Relief, an organization that receives and distributes charitable gifts to employees of their partnered companies when catastrophe strikes. “The billion-dollar disasters over and over and over again is hitting the C-suites kind of squarely in the face, and [they’re] trying to figure out how to protect their businesses and their people.”
When a natural disaster occurs, and an employee of a company that has an E4E Relief program needs help, they can apply for assistance over the phone, online, or even via smartphone app. Stubbing says 18 Fortune 100 companies are among the E4E Relief client base, which has collectively provided $50 million in gifts to disaster-affected employees in the past eight years. As Hurricane Dorian winds neared the Carolinas, E4E Relief not only received an uptick in employee-aid applications—mostly for help in evacuating their homes—but also calls from corporations looking to set up new programs.
“It happens every year,” says Stubbing, “where maybe you’re talking to a company for six months about [partnering], and then something like this happens and they all of a sudden are in emergency mode—maybe a CEO of a company thinks [they] can do something, and all of a sudden we’re kicked into gear.”
Companies who partner with nonprofits like the CDP, E4E Relief, Good360, and others that coordinate and execute disaster relief outreach find that there’s an intangible but important return on their investment.
“Our company believes in making a difference in the communities we are privileged to serve,” says Nancy Klock Corey, vice president of Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate’s Southeast Florida region, which partnered with the nonprofit Global Empowerment Mission to distribute needed goods to the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian. “After all, as realtors we understand that the quality of life and well-being of our communities depend on the support of all those who live and work there, and that includes us. … I am very proud of the service and commitment displayed by our support staff, sales associates and leadership team to our community and neighbors.”
That sense of pride has a lasting impact on company workers, of all departments and ranks, who contributed to the outreach effort, in small ways or large.
“The demonstration of being a responsible corporate citizen will help create positive brand awareness and good will,” says Thomas Smith, an independent public-relations consultant based in Atlanta. “It may result in garnering a greater sense of loyalty [and] commitment from its own employees over the long term.”
And science backs this up. Psychology Today, covering the neuroscience behind the providing of charity, reports that when individuals give “out of altruism [t]hey feel satisfaction from providing a public good, like assistance to the needy, and they care only about how much benefit is offered and not the process by which it occurs.”
Investing in disaster relief, then, appears to be a win-win-win. First and foremost, the individuals, families, and communities facing all the challenges a disaster brings get the vital assistance they need to recover. In turn, the nonprofit workers providing the relief continue to feel motivated by their good deeds, while the corporations investing in them can take pride in giving back to the communities and employees that helped make them a success in the first place.
Michael Stahl is a freelance journalist, writer and editor based in New York City. He’s a staff writer at Mic, and a features editor at Narratively. His work has been published by Rolling Stone, Vulture, CityLab, Vice, Huffington Post, the Brooklyn Eagle, The Bridge and elsewhere
Editor’s Note: the organizations Good360 and E4E have been sponsors at conferences hosted by From Day One.