Nonprofits play critical role in disaster relief and recovery

Study of Alaska rivers flood recovery effort in 2009 reveals dramatic contributions made by nonprofit community

January 7, 2011

While the Federal Emergency Management Agency performed important work in responding to flooding of the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers that destroyed much of three remote Alaskan villages in June 2009, the direct contributions to the successful community recovery by nonprofit, nongovernmental organizations was far greater than previously thought, according to a recently released study.

Several members of National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, along with other nonprofits in Alaska, provided disaster relief and helped rebuild and repair homes damaged by the flood waters in the brief two-month window available before winter endangered residents in the villages. Exceptional collaboration with FEMA, which altered its protocols to expedite provision of building materials and to support the volunteer labor, was a key factor in the success, the report found.

The value of services provided by the nonprofits was calculated by the researchers to be $3,818,865— 92 percent greater than a traditional approach to accounting for volunteer contributions which originally estimated the value at $1,992,000.

The research was done by Warren S. Eller, PhD, associate professor at the Department of Public Administration, University of North Carolina – Pembroke, and Brian J. Gerber, PhD, executive director of the Buechner Institute of Governance and associate professor at the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver.

“What our assessment work demonstrates is that cooperative partnerships between the government — at all levels — and the nonprofit sector can be a highly effective element of community disaster recovery,” said Gerber. “By all participant accounts, government officials and their nonprofit counterparts worked together extremely well under very difficult circumstances in the remote interior of Alaska.

“The affected communities benefited tremendously from that collaborative effort,” Gerber said. “This case is important because it is a potential model for future disaster incidents.”

Eller pointed out that “the value of this assessment work lies in the fact that we show the significance of the direct contributions made by the voluntary nonprofits. An exact accounting of those contributions is often lacking following disasters so we often don’t really know how much that really is in any given case,” Eller said.

“Our report also shows how the nonprofits groups make other important contributions to community recovery that are real but that we couldn’t measure in this study. We plan on doing more work to produce an even more comprehensive picture of how much the nonprofit sector contributes to post-disaster recovery,” Eller said.

Eller and Gerber’s research efforts were requested by National VOAD to produce a better understanding and more precise estimates of the value of contributions made by member organizations through an evaluation conducted by unaffiliated third-party researchers. The report can be found at