Re­lief re­quires dol­lars, more sense

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - Josh Peter jpeter@us­ato­ USA TO­DAY Sports FOL­LOW RE­PORTER JOSH PETER @joshlpeter11 for break­ing news and com­men­tary on sports.

J.J. Watt now faces a task more chal­leng­ing than hav­ing raised $20 mil­lion for vic­tims of Hur­ri­cane Har­vey in Hous­ton. The all-pro de­fen­sive end for the Hous­ton Tex­ans has to fig­ure out how best to spend it.

“There’s al­ways a ton of pres­sure if you’re a char­i­ta­ble en­tity and you’re hold­ing cash,” said Reese May, na­tional direc­tor of re­cov­ery for St. Bernard Project, highly re­garded for its work re­build­ing homes de­stroyed by nat­u­ral dis­as­ters. “Like peo­ple are hurt­ing, get rid of the money, get rid of the money.”

Which would be Watt’s first big mis­take.

He seems to un­der­stand that, too. He has con­sulted with mem­bers of St. Bernard Project and Team Ru­bi­con, an­other or­ga­ni­za­tion lauded for its re­cov­ery work after nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, in try­ing to de­ter­mine how best to spend a frac­tion of what is needed.

The full re­cov­ery from Hur­ri­cane Har­vey is ex­pected to cost about $160 bil­lion. That makes it even more vital that Watt spend the $20 mil­lion wisely, and here are a few things re­cov­ery ex­perts say to keep in mind.


“Strate­gic phi­lan­thropy, or busi­ness-minded phi­lan­thropy that fo­cuses on clear out­comes and goals, is just like any for-profit busi­ness,” May said. “It’s just that in­stead of re­turn­ing value to share­hold­ers, you re­store peo­ple’s lives.

“I think most en­ter­prises, the rule of thumb is not ‘lose cash as fast as pos­si­ble.’ It’s eval­u­ate, do your due dili­gence, fig­ure out what your re­turn on in­vest­ment is. How do you turn $2 worth of cash into $20 worth of im­pact?”


Mov­ing peo­ple back into homes is crit­i­cal, and Jake Wood, co­founder of Team Ru­bi­con, said $20 mil­lion is prob­a­bly enough for Watt to re­build a city block.

“You’d be a hero for 100 peo­ple?” Wood said. “And that’s great.”

And that’s un­likely to sat­isfy the more than 180,000 who have do­nated to Watt’s fund with YouCar­ing, the com­pany tak­ing the dona­tions.

There are other pri­or­i­ties, too. For ex­am­ple, St. Bernard Project’s May said en­sur­ing the gov­ern­ment col­lects valid data — used to de­ter­mine how much money is needed for re­cov­ery and where it goes — is as im­por­tant as any­thing. Yet May couldn’t im­me­di­ately think of how Watt’s $20 mil­lion could support that vital cause.


“I would make a bunch of in­vest­ments,” Wood said, “in great or- ga­ni­za­tions that have great lead­er­ship with good ideas.”

This ap­pears to be the best idea of all and one that ap­peals to Watt.

On Sun­day, he said, “I’m go­ing to take my time, make sure that I work with lo­cal or­ga­ni­za­tions, that we do it right here in the city so that money goes straight to the peo­ple here of Hous­ton who need it the most so we can help re­build.”

To do that, Watt’s next task is iden­ti­fy­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions in Hous­ton that serve those in the most need — such as peo­ple with low in­comes, dis­abil­i­ties and the el­derly.

Of course, Watt could al­ways give the $20 mil­lion to one charity and at­tach his name to the cause.

“I don’t think J.J. wants to take that ap­proach,” Wood said. “He wants to be very de­lib­er­ate; he wants to find groups who are maybe a lit­tle out­side the norm and be a lit­tle in­no­va­tive with the money.

“I think he also re­al­izes that $20 mil­lion isn’t go­ing to change Hous­ton. But if he finds groups that can pro­vide lever­age for him, the money will go much fur­ther.”

That’s not just some­thing for Watt to keep in mind.

That’s some­thing to heed.


The Tex­ans’ J.J. Watt raised $20 mil­lion for hur­ri­cane re­lief.

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