Hurricane Relief Put Puerto Rico on Philanthropic Map, Study Finds

Hurricane Relief Put Puerto Rico on Philanthropic Map, Study Finds

In the two years since hurricanes Irma and María caused more than forty-six hundred deaths and an estimated $138 billion in damages in Puerto Rico, the island has seen an unprecedented influx of private philanthropic funds in support of disaster relief, recovery, and/or rebuilding efforts there, a report from Red de Fundaciones de Puerto Rico (Network of Puerto Rico Foundations) finds.

Based on data from a sample of forty-one grantmakers and in-depth interviews with thirty-three of them, the report, Philanthropy and Puerto Rico After Hurricane Maria: How a Natural Disaster Put Puerto Rico on the Philanthropic Map and Implications for the Future (24 pages, PDF), estimates that funders have provided more than $375 million for relief, recovery, and rebuilding efforts to date — more than sixty times, according to Foundation Center, the $6 million in philanthropy Puerto Rico received annually in previous years. Of the total, $310 million was committed through twenty-six newly created funds; two-thirds of the money pledged to those funds was raised outside Puerto Rico; and the majority of the funding was designated for sub-granting to local nonprofits.

The report also found that individuals and organizations of the Puerto Rican diaspora contributed the lion's share of support, some $211.5 million. Among the funders in the sample, the largest institutional contributor was the Hispanic Federation in New York City, which raised $43 million, while the largest individual donor was the entrepreneur Ric Elias, CEO of Red Ventures in North Carolina, who created the $100 million Forward 787 Fund. In addition, Orlando Bravo, the founder of a private equity firm in San Francisco, created the Bravo Family Foundation with a $25 million endowment, while a Puerto Rican family in New York established the Fundación Colibrí with a $10 million endowment.

According to the report, the eight national foundations in the sample — the Open Society, Robert Wood Johnson, Ford, Rockefeller, JPB, Walmart, W.K. Kellogg, and Knight foundations — have committed a total of $37.6 million to relief, recovery, and rebuilding efforts in Puerto Rico. The report also found that individual donors numbered in the hundreds of thousands — including more than two hundred thousand who gave through the Hispanic Federation — spurred in part by appeals circulated via social media and on crowdfunding platforms.

"We will never be able to calculate how much private aid came to Puerto Rico, but we observed particular giving trends," writes report author Janice Petrovich, executive director and vice president of Red de Fundaciones de Puerto Rico. "Among them were the activation of the Puerto Rican diaspora, the pervasiveness of crowdfunding mechanisms, the return of national foundations that had long been absent from the island, the surge in individual giving, and the arrival of philanthropic entities that were new to the island."

The report concludes with three observations — that "Puerto Ricans possess a great degree of solidarity...expressed in the goodwill demonstrated between neighbors, in the generosity of the Puerto Rican diaspora, in the commitment of local organizations to their communities"; that "[m]any philanthropists have recognized that effective recovery and rebuilding strategies require a shift from a focus on disaster philanthropy toward a strategy of social justice philanthropy"; and that "the priority for Puerto Rico is to continue to engage and retain the commitment of organizations whose primary purpose is grantmaking."