Relief requires dollars, more sense
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.
APPROACH IT LIKE A BUSINESS, NOT A CHARITY.
“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?”
YOU CAN’T DO EVERYTHING.
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.
CONSIDER YOURSELF A VENTURE CAPITALIST.
“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.