How Disaster Relief Surged–and Evolved–During the Pandemic

BY Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza | May 11, 2021

Despite prudent planning and preparation, there are some things no one sees coming. Like a pandemic, of course. Fortunately, as the crises of the last year multiplied, so did the relief funding, and disaster philanthropy experienced marked changes in 2020: dollar amounts ballooned, more funds were allocated toward marginalized communities, and philanthropic funders began thinking about disaster preparedness in new ways.

Holly Welch Stubbing, who runs E4E Relief, a 501(c)3 public charity that offers need-based grants to employed individuals, said the pandemic made her organization revisit the notion of readiness as central to their work. “We decided that we really want to focus on readiness as a concept. Readiness for disaster, readiness for the next disaster, readiness to work with different kinds of populations of grantees,” she said.

In a webinar hosted by From Day One titled “Disaster Readiness, Relief & Recovery,” Stubbing was joined by Regine Webster, vice president at the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, an organization that helps philanthropic donors determine how to make the biggest impact with their dollars, to discuss new trends and opportunities in the field. The conversation was moderated by Fast Company contributing editor Lydia Dishman.

The rapid evolution of grant-making in the last year was driven by the pandemic, Stubbing and Webster asserted, much of it for the better. “Over the course of 2020, we saw philanthropic donors going to Covid-19 relief activities in the billions,” said Webster. More than $20 billion dollars, actually, an amount Webster said she hasn't seen in her 20 years working in disaster philanthropy. For comparison, in 2017, in the wake of hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, the comparable number that CDP tracked was $504 million.

Calling 2020 a time of “unprecedented need and unprecedented generosity,” Webster shared statistics from her group’s report, “Philanthropy and Covid-19 in 2020: Measuring One Year of Giving.” Of the more than $20 billion awarded globally for Covid-19 relief that CDP identified, gifts by corporations and their foundations constituted 44% of that funding. The next-highest type of donor (27%) was wealthy individuals, a category that played an outsized role last year because of the donations of a single donor, billionaire MacKenzie Scott, who donated more than $4 billion for Covid-19 relief.

Speaking on disaster relief, clockwise from upper right: Holly Welch Stubbing of E4E Relief, moderator Lydia Dishman of Fast Company, and Regine Webster of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy (Image by From Day One)

Where did the money go? Of the funding CDP was able to track, the greatest share (28%) of identifiable dollars went to human-services organizations (like YMCAs, YWCAs, food banks and United Way), 26% went to health organizations, and 20% went to educational organizations. Yet an accepted feature of disaster relief is privacy for the recipients, so there’s a lack of granular detail about where the money goes. Anonymity of grantees is common, and in 2020, about $13.5 billion went to “unknown recipients.”

Many disaster-relief donors, however, specify where their money should go. “The racial-justice movement in the U.S. in 2020 had a profound impact on Covid-19 funding for BIPOC communities,” Webster said. “Of the U.S. Covid-19 philanthropy to specified recipients, 35% of dollars were designated for communities of color.”

The shift of philanthropic funding to Covid-related support and organizations is a good and necessary change, Stubbing and Webster agreed. Noting the shift away from disaster grant-making and into pandemic grant-making, however, Webster urged corporations and donors not to neglect other worthy destinations for their dollars. “I completely understand the focus, and yet I do very much worry for communities who were affected by hurricanes Sally, Laura, Eta and Iota and [by wildfires] in California and Colorado and Oregon.” Stubbing is hopeful, and thinks funding for such events will be renewed in the future, “but it seems like it’s going to be a while before that’s the case,” she said.

Not only has the size of funding and direction of funding changed, so has thinking around allocation, specifically as it fits into companies’ environmental, social, and governance (ESG) strategies. Today, more organizations have disaster philanthropy as part of their thinking, Stubbing said. “What used to be kind of a side project or a more reactive grant-making portfolio has moved out of that realm, in my opinion, into a more strategic objective for corporate community and family foundations,” she said.

“Readiness, as a concept, hits all areas of a solid ESG plan in terms of business assets and operations and sustainability, but also labor and employment management and governance practices,” Stubbing added. “And employee relief, which is our area, essentially creates a readiness plan with an equitable distribution of those assets, so this idea of lining up grants to individuals and caring about your people seems to be a natural progression of that ESG strategic objective.”

Webster said she encourages all philanthropists to think of themselves as disaster philanthropists, even those who give to organizations that serve the unhoused, early-childhood support, or the arts. “They too–in some way, shape or form–are disaster funders because they’re preserving life or community or culture, and that always has a place in disasters.”

The Journey Forward

Webster anticipates long-term changes to her field. “What we’ve seen is a dedication to funding more nimbly and funding more general operating support.” She noted that 800 other funding entities signed a pledge initiated by the Council on Foundations to divorce the old ways of grant-making and give recipients more flexibility in how those dollars are used.

Another change sparked by the pandemic is international grant-making. “Fifty percent of CDP's dollars have gone domestically and the other 50% have gone globally,” Webster said. “And, even though our work does need board approval, I feel quite sure that the remaining dollars that we have to grant out will be much more focused globally than domestically.”

“Covid exploded the idea of grants to individuals outside the U.S.,” Stubbing said. She attributes this, at least in part, to the fact that so many companies now have employees around the world and are thinking more globally than they have in the past.

A diagram of the overlapping values in disaster relief (Graphic by E4E Relief)

During the webinar, Stubbing presented recently released research on the effect of relief grants to individuals. Her organization works with corporations to help their employees financially survive natural disasters and hardships through employee relief funds.

In 2020, nearly 57,000 E4E Relief grantees received an Impact Survey to better understand the affect of the awards. Of those who responded to the survey, 68% were from women, 59% were from people under the age of 40, 57% identified as BIPOC individuals, and 64% have a household income under $50,000.

The Misfortune Averted

One area the survey focused on was the misfortune that was likely avoided as a result of grant relief. Stubbing said half of the population surveyed said they avoided having to pay a late fee on their debts and payments, nearly 40% avoided utility shut-off or disruption, nearly 40% avoided food-choice changes, and 20% avoided eviction or foreclosure.

As part of the survey, E4E Relief asked grant recipients on ways their emotional wellbeing was affected by the funding. Seventy-five percent said the money provided breathing room to figure out their next steps, 73% said they felt less stressed, 20% said they felt less alone, and 18% said they were able to direct more of their attention to work.

The organization also funneled relief dollars to the families of health-care workers by creating The Brave of Heart Fund, a program that provides grants to families who have lost a loved one who was caring for Covid patients. So far the fund has awarded $14.6 million in grants to 425 families in 39 states, and E4E Relief is still looking for applicants. Stubbing called the creation of this fund “one of the more important things I will ever do.”

She hopes that companies’ investment in employee relief funds becomes a normal part of corporate disaster readiness–and of business as a whole. “This idea of lining up grants to individuals and caring about your people seems to be a natural progression of that ESG strategic objective,” Stubbing said. “My hope, honestly, is that there is no more ESG, it’s just the way we do business.”

Editor's note: From Day One thanks our partner who sponsored this webinar, E4E Relief. You can watch a video of the conversation here. Please visit our conference page to register for more upcoming events.


Utilizing Benefits to Attract Diverse Talent: Building the Foundation Before They Arrive

When Matthew Legere and his family faced a devastating pregnancy loss, he submitted for bereavement leave at work. He was denied. “They said because the baby wasn’t actually born, I didn't qualify for bereavement leave,” Legere said. “Now, if you asked me at that moment if I felt valued as an employee, no. No, I did not.”While this example is startling, it’s unfortunately not uncommon. Progressive employers need to account for all the nuances and complexities of an employee’s life when crafting a benefits package with care, dignity, and respect.By looking at your benefits plan through a variety of lenses and thinking about your employees’ diverse needs, you can build a plan that allows individuals and their families to feel seen, heard, and valued through the benefits that you offer. “By addressing unmet needs, we believe you can truly drive engagement with your current employees. But it also casts a vision that’s attractive to a prospective employee, making it so that your story can truly become their story,” Legere said.Legere, now SVP of Brown & Brown, the fifth largest benefits consultant in the country, shared his top tips during a thought leadership spotlight at From Day One’s November virtual conference.Building out an employee benefits package that is comprehensive and sensitive to a variety of lifestyles and situations is integral to workforce acquisition and retention. Of course, employers cannot envision those needs in a bubble. There is a difference between a vision and a shared vision, Legere says. “If we have an opportunity to get feedback from the talent market, or even our current employees on how well we’re solving for a diverse employee benefit program, that is what’s going to be most effective,” Legere said. Shared visions attract more people, sustain higher levels of motivation, and withstand more challenges.Surveying Employee ValuesLegere cites a 2023 study from MetLife of the top desired employee benefits, which include, in order of importance, health, paid leave, 401(k), dental, vision, life insurance, and disability.But importantly, Legere notes, these rankings changed from generation to generation. “You have to get a sense of who your current population is as well as who you’re trying to attract and what their needs are,” Legere said. “What they expect for benefits could vary significantly.”It’s also important to pay attention to what trends change over time. For example, from 2020 to 2023, there was a 100% increase in employees surveyed who prioritized wellness benefits like gym memberships and employee assistance programs. Your employee benefits need to change along with the cultural climate in order to stay competitive. Legere also shared that employers tend to significantly overestimate their employees’ well-being and satisfaction, and encourages them to be proactive in crafting a package that reflects their actual current circumstances.Moving from Buzzword to ActionMatthew Legere, senior vice president of Brown & Brown, led the thought leadership spotlight (company photo)Talking with employers, Legere found that while many talked about diversity, equity, and inclusion, they weren’t really taking steps to move the needle.  “Craft strategies, policies, practices, and procedures, for everybody at every aspect to feel valued,” Legere said. That means taking into consideration all aspects of life wellness and creating policies that are effective for all generations in your workplace. It’s also crucial to recognize the different steps of an employee’s life journey both in and out of the office, and account for diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.Using national statistics like Gallup polls or the U.S. census, employees can project an estimate of how their workplace population might be impacted by categories like LGBTQIA+, family planning, veteran status, working parents, and build out a benefits plan accordingly.An effective plan should be valued by all employees, encompassing all of their intersectional identities. “You want to be relevant to your employees in those key areas and offer benefits specifically for them.”Legere and his team at Brown & Brown offer assessments for organizations to see how their benefits packages address the needs of certain populations and find where there might be gaps. They can also show the cost/benefit analysis, in other words, how much an employer has to pay for a benefit vs. the positive economic impact it would potentially have on an employee.Executing the Benefits Strategy and Looking AheadAlongside benefit strategy decisions, Legere says employers have several opportunities to embed relevant DEIB themes across their HR and benefits communication. Employees and their family members receive inclusive content, DEIB culture messages, and targeted materials. It’s important to use inclusive language in these communications. Legere shares an example of using the term “chosen family” alongside “nuclear family” when talking about holiday celebrations, which is potentially more welcoming to LGBTQIA+ employees. “Having intentional and inclusive language woven into communications can be significant,” he said.Legere advises employers to identify their target employee audience, then take a look at their current benefits partners to make sure they are offering the depth, breadth, and cultural sensitivity that is best-suited to that community. If they are not, it’s time to make a change.Ultimately, it comes down to what is best for the employee when they are at their time of greatest need and vulnerability. “If you can be relevant with what your employees or prospective employees are talking about at their kitchen table,” Legere said, “you're going to help them feel so seen.”Editor’s note: From Day One thanks our partner, Brown & Brown, for sponsoring this thought leadership spotlight. Katie Chambers is a freelance writer and award-winning communications executive with a lifelong commitment to supporting artists and advocating for inclusion. Her work has been seen in HuffPost, Honeysuckle Magazine, and several printed essay collections, among others, and she has appeared on Cheddar News, iWomanTV, and CBS New York.

Katie Chambers | November 30, 2023

Look Again: How to Find Top Talent Among Those Who Didn't Make the First Cut

Delphine Carter checked all the boxes. She had a robust background in product and sales development and thought she found an opportunity that she could be successful in.But like many, Carter’s nonlinear work history caused her resume to be initially rejected. “I applied but I didn’t get an interview. A friend of mine was friends with the hiring manager though, and said that I was a great cultural fit and they ended up hiring me.”Carter called herself a “trash can hire,” a term referring to a candidate whose resume was tossed out in the initial screening but rescued in the end. Now, as the CEO and founder of Boulo Solutions, Carter speaks about her business of helping employers break out of their traditional hiring processes to adopt a more open-minded approach. Carter spoke on the subject during a thought leadership spotlight at From Day One’s November virtual conference.Avoid Looking at Titles and EducationTraditional hiring practices look primarily at linear work experience, with employers scanning resumes for key titles, education and company names. However, this method removes candidates with nontraditional resumes who may be prime candidates as well, Carter says.“Ask recruiters to ignore titles, industry and timelines and focus on what’s needed. Put these candidates in front of a panel that represents people from different areas of your organization,” Carter said. “This can help ensure a fair evaluation process and expand the type of questions that the candidate might receive.”At Boulo Solutions, clients are already embracing this change. For each candidate, Boulo Solutions creates a profile of their work experience and skills to present to employers.“We create a 360-degree profile of our candidates with the information that shows off their capabilities in a nonlinear fashion, to eliminate the bias that’s caused by hyper-focusing on titles, timelines and industry,” Carter said. “This helps the candidate stand out because it calls out hard and soft skills that they’ve gained through job and life experiences. Our customers feel like they’ve had a mini interview, and it makes it easier to compare the hard and soft skills of one candidate with another.”Grow Your Referral PipelineDelphine Carter, founder and CEO of Boulo Solutions, led the thought leadership spotlight (company photo)82% of employers rated referrals as their top source for yielding the best return on investment, showing referrals from employees can be a reliable source for employers to get top candidates.“Referrals come from people within your organization or a personal network, who are familiar with both the candidate and your company’s culture. As hiring managers, you can elevate this element of trust and credibility to identify candidates who are more likely to align with your company’s values and expectations,” Carter said.For employers, 45% of referral hires stay longer than four years, compared to only 25% of job board hires, and can cost less to hire than other hiring sources. Having a referral pipeline from employees and industry peers can diversify the hiring pool and help employers look at candidates beyond just the ones that come from the job board, Carter says.“Grow a referral pipeline from industry peers or companies with cultures similar to yours,” Carter said. “This method leverages personal and professional connections to find individuals who possess qualities that are essential beyond what’s written on their resumes and can contribute to a more robust and culturally aligned workforce.”Break Out of TraditionAs a former “trash-can hire,” Carter isn’t afraid to go dumpster diving. “The best reason for dumpster diving is that these candidates are in the dumpster because they applied and they found your company and that job interesting,” Carter said.Looking at rejected resumes with a different mindset can help change traditional hiring practices and give top candidates a second chance. When evaluating these resumes, employers should look for the value proposition that the candidate can add to the company.“Some exceptional candidates may not have the most conventional resumes but there’s a chance of uncovering those diamonds in the rough who may not have typical paper qualifications but possess the skills and potential your organization needs,” Carter said. “Look for the diverse perspectives and backgrounds that are missing from your team and find how they could add value.”Editor’s note: From Day One thanks our partner, Boulo Solutions, for sponsoring this thought leadership spotlight.Wanly Chen is a writer and poet based in New York City.

Wanly Chen | November 29, 2023

The New 401(k)? Providing Student Loan Support as an Employee Benefit

Decades ago, a clever benefits consultant spotted a provision in the federal tax code, section 401(k), that would allow employers to create a tax-friendly way for their workers to save for retirement. The rest is history. As of this year, Americans have more than $7 trillion invested in their 401(k) accounts.Today, employees are having a different kind of problem: debt. More specifically, student loan debt. They need help digging out so they can then turn to saving. Thankfully, there’s a way for employers to help. Mick MacLaverty, CEO and co-founder of Highway Benefits, discussed the topic “Providing Student Loan Support as an Employee Benefit” during a recent From Day One webinar.The Student Loan ProblemThe sad numbers: the U.S. is approaching $1.8 trillion in student loan debt. This equates to about 46 million Americans, who average have about $40,000 in loans and around $400-500 a month to pay. For employers, that means about one third of their workforce is struggling financially.This massive problem has become more severe recently. During the pandemic, loan repayment and interest was paused, but resumed on Oct. 1. That means many recent college grads are scrambling to figure out how they’re going to make payments.“It’s more or less a dam that's been built up of this pent-up student loan problem that we now have to address,” MacLaverty said. “This is a massive problem.”The government offered a way for employers to help. In March, as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, they expanded Section 127. This allows employers to pay up to $5,250 per year of an employee’s student loan, tax free. The program is voluntary, but companies are seeing the benefits.Focusing on TalentAt Highway Benefits, which helps companies offer this benefits program, MacLaverty said most of their clients want to offer student loan repayment benefits for two reasons: attracting talent or retaining talent.“On the attraction side, only 9 percent of companies currently offer student loan repayment as a benefit,” MacLaverty said. For potential employees comparing different benefits, this is a great way to stand out.“On the retention side, no two companies are alike in how they should or would want to roll out this program,” he said. Companies can choose to offer the max amount available, but may offer less to start, with more given to employees who stay.“So, if you’ve been at the company for one year, you might get $100 a month, but if you've been there for three years, you get the maximum benefit. Employers are creating an environment that encourages employees to stay and provide a financial incentive to do that in a tax-free way.”Highway Benefits is a hub for companies to get started quickly and easily, especially to ensure they comply with the laws. Highway Benefits can help companies find out who on staff is eligible, then help the company figure out the best dollar amount that makes sense for them, and ultimately make the student loan payments on their behalf.Journalist Kelly Bourdet moderated the discussion with Mick MacLaverty of Highway Benefits (photo by From Day One)Why not just offer a higher salary or a $5,000 annual bonus to help employees? One big reason is that the student loan repayment benefit dollars are tax-free. That benefits the employee, but it also reduces the taxable income of the business.“This is arguably the most effective compensation dollar you can give someone if they have student loans,” he said. “Every dollar contributed goes right into their loan account.”Value-Added BenefitsBut there is another piece to this, MacLaverty added. A company that offers this benefit to employees is showing a degree of care and humanity that employees look for and appreciate more than ever.“You are telling them, and showing them, ‘I care about your financial well-being.’” It’s not just throwing cash at them to do what they want with it, but putting in the extra effort to help solve a problem for them. “So every month, in addition to whatever your payment is, you’ll get a little bit extra, and we'll get you out of debt faster. Wow, what a story that tells prospective or current employees.”For the employees who don’t have student loans, MacLaverty said they appreciate working for a company that offers it. Not every benefits package is a one-size-fits-all. Not everyone takes advantage of the benefit but for those it does help, it makes for a better employee and a better work environment.Only 2% of companies offered this type of benefit in 2017, 4%  in 2018, and 8% in 2019. Then student loan payments were paused, but now that people are back to paying them again, MacLaverty anticipates an uptick in companies that offer this benefit.The extended Section 127 is slated to expire at the end of 2025, however, the original Section 127 was started 30+ years ago as a short-term program but kept getting extended. MacLaverty believes the same will happen with the student loan repayment benefit, and hopefully the max benefit dollar amount will increase.Highway Benefits is seeing about 40% of company clients offer $100 a month per employee, about 50% introduce tenure rules, and about ⅔ offer a multi-tier rule system. Those who are eligible for the benefit and are taking advantage of it? Ninety percent. Clearly, people want this.MacLaverty said they’ve gotten emails from employees who are ecstatic about the help they’ve received in paying their student loans.Employees are even emailing their total rewards and HR teams with testimonials like, “‘I’m out of debt. I now don't have this burden hanging over my head and I can live freely.’’Editor's note: From Day One thanks our partner, Highway Benefits, for sponsoring this webinar.Carrie Snider is a Phoenix-based journalist and marketing copywriter. 

Carrie Snider | November 27, 2023