How a foundation can help
Unusual circumstances require an unusual philanthropic response
The Ford Family Foundation was one of many organizations that stepped up to help support Umpqua Community College and the community. One small bit of good luck — if it can be called that — was that this horrific mass murder occurred in the hometown of a major foundation, and we found ourselves playing a role that went beyond traditional philanthropy. Our board of directors approved a flexible response, and they supported staff decisions to commit our resources in unusual ways.
Use your connections for first-hand advice from other communities.
Our staff immediately connected with regional and national philanthropic partners. The Center for Disaster Philanthropy shared strategies with us, and put us in touch with foundations that had responded to tragedies in their communities. An early discussion with the head of the Oklahoma City Community Foundation advised us to think about long-term recovery from Day One. Twenty years after the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, for example, therapists are still providing mental health counseling.
Help set up a mechanism for receiving funds right away.
Within hours, generous people from around the world wanted to donate to aid victims. In some communities, a local foundation can be the vehicle for receiving funds. In our case, people were seeking ways to donate directly to the college and to local charities. Our staff provided charitable-giving expertise to guide the establishment of such a fund. We advocated for a single fund, and our staff helped the college and the local United Way collaborate to establish UCC Strong. Within days, the boards of both organizations voted to give official approval for the single-donation vehicle.
Use your credibility.
Numerous GoFundMe accounts popped up quickly. While some were genuine, others were not. Our involvement in UCC Strong helped assure donors that the fund was legitimate.
Make available your physical presence in the community.
The Ford Family Foundation building became a meeting place. Initially, the college faculty and staff needed a place to meet because the campus was closed off as a crime scene. Similarly, service organizations needed a place to coordinate response strategies. Mental health professionals needed a place for drop-in crisis counseling, and our building’s private offices were perfect places for grieving and respite. We opened our building for all of those uses for three weeks, and we made sure that there was always fresh food available.
Be prepared to use financial supports flexibly.
We had ready access to financial resources that no other organization had. Our funds were used to pay for travel costs for a United Way team from Blacksburg, Va. (site of the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007) to provide peer assistance to our local United Way and for a temporary office worker at the United Way office. We kept hundreds of people well-fed as they provided and received counseling or met to plan response strategies. We covered costs for companies that produced 4,500 “I am UCC” T-shirts and 10,000 “I am UCC” decals.
Be a connector for those who want to help.
In a crisis, many people want to help but don’t know how. We were able to connect volunteers to organizations that needed help. We were able to advise our generous peer foundations about where grant funds were needed.
Deploy staff as a community resource.
Like many people in our community, our staff turned from their regular jobs to provide whatever support was needed for the first few weeks. Our administrative staff worked many overtime hours to manage the flow of people and events in our building. Our communication expert worked with the crisis team at the college to coordinate public information. Our program officers helped set up the fund for donations and helped organize several volunteer efforts. They also used their facilitation skills to help coordinate meetings where diverse groups needed to set priorities.
Establish the avenue for long-term recovery.
The immediate emergency needs are so pressing that few people have the emotional space to plan for long-term needs. We helped establish the Community Healing and Recovery Team, which has been the venue for the community to plan for the future.
Capture the story and lessons learned in real time.
People are so overwhelmed that they don’t have time to record their own stories. Talking about what happened to them is a first step to healing. We encouraged people to use their cell phones to record voice memos on a daily basis. Through our sponsorship of The Umpqua Story Project, various vehicles have been established to hear and record people’s personal stories. Community members have been trained in “compassionate listening” and are recording stories for the historical record and to help the healing process. And, we have sponsored this special edition of Community Vitality.
Remember that this affects you personally.
Though we wanted to do everything possible to help our community, we also had many personal connections that needed care and respect. We had 39 students on our scholarship programs at UCC, and our staff sent out text messages of concern to all of them right away. In the end, we heard back from all but one student, and we came to realize that Lucas Eibel had lost his life. His family reported how much it meant to them that they saw messages from us on his cell phone when they recovered it. We have stayed in close touch with the other 38 students, offering counseling, comfort food, and other supports.
In addition, our staff lost family members and friends. We tried to give them strength, went to funerals and participated in community tributes. We still grieve for all of them.