Panel Paper: Effective Faith Based Organizations in Disasters: The Case of Mormon Helping Hands

Saturday, April 8, 2017 : 10:35 AM
Founders Hall Room 311 (George Mason University Schar School of Policy)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Anne Zobell, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Effective Faith Based Organizations in Disasters: The Case of Mormon Helping Hands

 Faith-based organizations are particularly important in disaster response because of their ability to reach victims with low resources and low social capital.  This paper examines how Mormon Helping Hands (MHH) responded to the 2016 Louisiana flooding.  Mormon Helping Hands is a program that brings together members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to provide community service.  Projects conducted by MHH are planned and coordinated by local church leaders and receive resources through the Church’s humanitarian services.  The hierarchical institutional structure of the LDS Church stands in contrast to many other churches and influences the amount of volunteers across a large geographic area that MHH can summon in a short period of time.  To illustrate this point, this paper compares the institutional structure and response of MHH with that of the Assemblies of God Disaster Relief (AGDR) organization. 

During the response to the Louisiana Flooding, MHH summoned 6,500 volunteers while AGDR summoned 500.  This paper explores explanations for why such a difference in volunteer numbers exists.  First, AGDR partners with a faith-based, nonprofit organizational named Convoy of Hope.  In contrast to how MHH operates, Convoy of Hope and the Assemblies of God are two separate organizations with separate leaders.  MHH can be considered an overlay on the structure of the LDS Church.  MHH operates completely through the existing ecclesiastical leadership.

            The second difference between MHH and AGDR is found in the differing institutional structures of the Assemblies of God and the LDS Church.  While the LDS Church is considered one unified body, AG follows a more Congregationalist approach.  While the different congregations follow the same religious principles, as autonomous organizations, there is not as much vertical or horizontal coordination as is seen in the LDS Church.  In disaster relief situations, this leads to a more subdued voluntary response to disasters.

Lastly, Mormon Helping Hands differs from many other faith-based disaster response organizations because it is independently funded.  As a program of the LDS Church, the church provides all program funding through money collected through tithing and other humanitarian donations from church members.  MHH does not apply for government funding through local governments or FEMA as many other disaster response organizations do.  By taking this approach, MHH avoids some of the pitfalls that can accompany combining government funding with voluntary organizations.