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Navigating Crisis Response in Otsego County

Nearly one month after a devastating tornado touched down in Gaylord, we’re learning more about the Otsego Community Foundation’s crisis response and how fellow CMF members have supported immediate relief efforts.

Nearly one month after a devastating tornado touched down in Gaylord, the Otsego Community Foundation (OCF) is leading through crisis response efforts providing immediate relief and recovery for the community it serves.

Dana Bensinger, executive director of OCF shared that their efforts have been propelled by the CMF community of philanthropy. Within the first few hours after the tornado, she connected with CMF along with CMF member the Midland Area Community Foundation which provided immediate support and resources to help navigate the crisis.  

“Less than an hour after touchdown I received a text from Chip Hansen, president of the Charlevoix County Community Foundation asking if I was ok and if I needed anything,” Bensinger said.  

With power lines down and sporadic internet Bensinger asked Hansen to help get in contact with Kyle Caldwell, president and CEO of CMF and Sharon Mortensen, president and CEO of the Midland Area Community Foundation. 

“Within the next hour, my disaster philanthropy career was launched with a phone call from Caldwell, followed by a bulleted list from Mortensen, including starting a fund,” Bensinger said.

One of the resources Caldwell shared is a new Ask CMF publication, Frequently Asked Questions About Disasters, now available in the Knowledge Center, which addresses topics ranging from granting to crowdfunding campaigns to launching a relief fund.

The Tornado Response Fund (TRF) of OCF was established to provide a centralized opportunity for donors to invest in disaster relief efforts and a support mechanism for nonprofit organizations responding to the crisis. 

The goal, Bensinger shared, is to work collaboratively with the nonprofit, government, philanthropic and private sectors to accelerate recovery for a thriving, resilient and even stronger Gaylord. 

“Our hope is that the TRF will plant some seeds for sustainable solutions for the most vulnerable in the community,” Bensinger said.

The TRF awards grants to organizations that are addressing immediate relief, short-term recovery, and long-term rebuilding. 

“Our local nonprofits continue to demonstrate incredible resilience, ingenuity and tenacity and as they increase and adapt their programs to meet the needs heightened from the tornado,” Bensinger said.  

The community foundation has seen an outpouring of generosity and support from surrounding communities as well as from CMF’s community of philanthropy.

“We’ve received so many gifts from other community foundations expressing their support for disaster efforts.  Our neighbors at the Community Foundation for Northeast Michigan provided us with support just for our capacity and that means so much,” Bensinger said.

The community foundation focused initial response efforts on housing, searching for immediate and safe shelter options for the community and receiving a motion from its executive committee to reserve rooms at a hotel in the area.

“By Sunday, we were really reminded of the housing crisis. We convened human service organizations as well as landlords and property owners to discuss possible solutions,” Bensinger said.

The group knew they had to get creative to ensure they could designate space for shelter for at least 90 days. The community foundation awarded support to the Refuge, a local organization that provides emergency shelter to cover the cost of hotels.

Bensinger shared that being a small organization and having limited capacity across its nonprofit partners has been a challenge amidst a devastating local disaster.

“One thing that would have made us more prepared is if we had more flexible dollars. We’re a small foundation and so much of our dollars are designated. Investing in the capacity of your nonprofits and having people to do the work to have these systems in place is important,” Bensinger said.

The community foundation has spent a lot of time connecting with other communities that have systems in place that work in day-to-day operations as well as in disasters.

“To prepare for disaster, if you can educate your community in peaceful times about the importance of nonprofit infrastructure and capacity. Without people to help the people, there’s no help and we need the right people in place,” Bensinger said.

Bensinger shared that the community foundation is aware that this recovery will be long-term.

“We’re looking at more collaborative and systematic structures for relief efforts which include building strategies to leverage federal and state dollars as well as get on the radar for private foundations,” Bensinger said.

Want more?

Learn more about the Otsego Community Foundation’s Tornado Response Fund.

Read Ask CMF’s new resource, Frequently Asked Questions About Disasters, in the Knowledge Center. This resource is intended to explore frequently asked questions involved in managing disaster funds, specifically issues of concern to private foundations, community foundations, corporate foundation/giving programs and other public charities that manage grantmaking.