From Response to Resilience: Our Vision for a Disaster Prepared California

Over the last several years, communities across California have experienced a whiplash of disaster impacts from catastrophic wildfires, to record snow, to extreme heat and drought, to severe flooding. The seemingly continuous cycle of climate threat in vulnerable communities, coupled with a focus by funders on immediate response, leaves communities with next to no resources to build broad long-term, equity-driven resilience to recurring natural hazards and humanitarian disasters.

Last year, Philanthropy California hosted a conversation titled: California Disaster Philanthropy Briefing: From Episodic Relief to Transformative Resilience where we uplifted the need for philanthropy to resource transformative resilience and shift away from ineffective models of funding disasters only in the immediate aftermath of a specific event. Public and private funding should move towards long-term investments in building the capacity of communities to respond, recover, and build resilience to all types of hazards. In light of recent events across the state, we are uplifting the need for immediate response and renewing our call for a significant shift in the way funders across California approach climate and disaster grantmaking. 

Current Crisis & Philanthropic Response

In early January, Governor Newsom declared a state of emergency in San Diego and Ventura counties to support recovery from winter storms in late December 2023 and January 2024. The long-term impacts of storms and flooding differ significantly from hazards like wildfire. Flooding impacts are less overt, and rapid damage assessment can be challenging (e.g., homes may only sustain partial damage, and assessments cannot be completed until the rain has stopped and debris has been removed). Vulnerable populations, including communities of color, tribes, and low income families affected by flooding are often un- or underinsured, and individuals who are eligible for aid, such as undocumented individuals or renters, may not apply for fear of exposing themselves to further economic risk. Finally, storm events often do not meet FEMA’s threshold for disaster declarations, meaning federal dollars may not be available for assistance even if local capacity is stretched thin. 

Poignant storytelling from Ventura County Community FoundationSan Diego Foundation, and local news channels  highlight both the severe impacts of this current crisis and the longer-term challenges faced by vulnerable communities during flooding. 

Philanthropy California is currently vetting and posting active funds that support relief, recovery, and resilience on its 2024 California Disaster Response Resources page. Funders, grantees, and government partners can regularly check this site for trusted funds for place-based relief and recovery. 

To close the gaps in responding to current threats, philanthropy has activated several funds to support their respective communities.

A Coordinated Disaster Resilience Strategy for Philanthropy:  

California’s current disaster response infrastructure, like these funds, is a cornerstone of our ability to support our neighbors in weathering the near-term impacts of climate change. But the growing scale and frequency of impacts call on us to think bigger and do more. 

Our goal is to support philanthropies across California in strengthening immediate disaster response and moving up-stream toward transformative investments in long-term recovery and resilience. 

We envision a Golden State where all Californians are prepared and equipped to not just survive but thrive in a future of growing climate and disaster impacts. Where no Californian loses their home, health, job, or livelihood due to a climate-driven disaster event. Where a family’s ability to survive and bounce back after a wildfire or flood doesn’t depend on their income level, their immigration status, their disabilities, or the language they speak at home. Where every community has a well-organized network of trusted organizations that neighbors can turn to for reliable information and support in a crisis. 

We look forward to sharing additional ways for you to co-realize this vision with Philanthropy California and the League of California Community Foundations in the coming months.

Kirin Kumar and Katie Oran
Climate and Disaster Resilience 
Northern California Grantmakers
Philanthropy California

Lily Bui, Ph D. 
Manager for Climate & Disaster Resilience
SoCal Grantmakers
Philanthropy California

Megan Thomas
President and CEO
Catalyst of San Diego & Imperial Counties
Philanthropy California

Laura Seaman
League of California Community Foundations 

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