August 21, 2012

New Nonprofit Seeks to Improve Giving for Disaster Relief

Bob Ottenhoff, chief executive of Center for Disaster Philanthropy The Center for Disaster Philanthropy has appointed Bob Ottenhoff as its first chief executive.

In just a few days, the nation will mark the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and a few weeks later, the 11th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

Those disasters posed major challenges for the philanthropic world, as donors wanted to help but weren't always sure how they could. Now a new organization plans to help such donors—and to ensure that more money goes to the projects most in need.

The new Center for Disaster Philanthropy wants to get more information to donors and help them pool their money so their gifts can make a bigger difference.

Today the organization announced that it has tapped Bob Ottenhoff, who for the last 10 years served as the chief executive of GuideStar, the nonprofit online publisher of data on charities.

“Americans—both institutional donors as well as individual donors—are enormously generous when it comes to disasters. We have got this can-do attitude that says. 'I want to do something,'” says Mr. Ottenhoff. “But often this huge outpouring of generous support isn't as well spent as it could be or as effective as it could be.” (Read more about this topic in a cover article in the latest issue of The Chronicle by my colleague Raymund Flandez.)

The new group will focus on giving for immediate and long-term emergency relief as well as to prepare for and help prevent disasters.

The center was born out of the experiences of it co-founders’ experiences in the months and years following Hurricane Katrina: Lori Bertman, now chief executive of the Irene W. and C.B. Pennington Foundation, in Baton Rouge, La.; John Davies, chief executive of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation; and Eric Kessler, a managing director at Arabella Advisors, a Washington, D.C., firm that advises philanthropists. All fielded calls from grant makers and individuals who wanted to aid residents of the Gulf Coast but weren’t sure the best way to do that.

The center hopes that by providing concrete information about effective ways to respond to disasters and giving donors the chance to work together on projects, contributors will gain confidence and increase their giving, says Mr. Ottenhoff: “That is our ultimate goal: to get more money for disaster relief.”

Send an e-mail to Nicole Wallace.