AE Profile: Sowing the Seeds of Outreach

Norman Morris, RCE, CAE, on the intersection of advocacy and disaster relief.

Immediately after strong storms in ­August sent record-high floodwater through ­communities in southern Louisiana, the disaster relief program from the state REALTOR® association went into action. At first, the Louisiana REALTORS® worked with four local REALTOR® associations to get gift cards out to affected members and home owners for immediate necessities such as toiletries and food. Next were $500 grants to help with repairs to homes and property, and after that came funding of up to $1,000 to pay the mortgages or rents of members and others whose homes were severely damaged or destroyed. Providing aid to flood­affected citizens was a quick and streamlined process.

Louisiana REALTORS® Relief Foundation is a model for the rest of the country. Here, association CEO Norman Morris, who has been with the organization for 20 years, talks about what he has learned to do during a natural disaster, plus how being active in the community politically and legislatively benefits relief activities.

Q. Since your relief foundation was established after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, what have you learned that has made the process run more smoothly?

First, we learned to not underestimate the severity of disasters. We try to act fast and get out ahead of the disaster to make things happen quicker. Another key is to promote the fund, what it’s used for, and the resources available, both financial and informational. We created a disaster relief page on our website that’s a huge resource for members and the public on issues like how to get their homes rebuilt, how to handle issues such as flood insurance, FEMA, SBA loans, and mold remediation. After the most recent flooding, we held a webinar with experts to give advice on tax issues as they relate to the flooding and advice on insurance claims, and attorneys talked about how to deal with property sale contracts affected by the flooding.

Over the years, we learned that we need to continuously raise dollars for the fund so that we’re equipped financially. We’ve learned that we need to have a simple and streamlined grant application process and flexible and transparent decision-making. When a disaster occurs, it has to be very simple for REALTORS® and the public to apply for relief funds.

Lastly, we realized that success comes through a clear and supportive relationship between all levels of the organization. We try to be the center point for coordinating resources and funding, but if someone does something better, whether it’s national or local, then we defer to them. We’re not worried about who gets credit as we go through the process of helping people in need.

Q. How has your association’s active role in politics been a benefit when it comes to disaster relief?

Politics and outreach go hand in hand. We’ve built a strong volunteer culture as far as advocating, investing, voting, and community outreach. We’ve used REALTOR® Party resources from NAR, and that’s enabled us to do more. We have great working relationships with some of the state agencies and their leaders—as well as with elected officials and their staff—so we’re able to get timely and accurate information out to members.

Elected officials really do appreciate our efforts and they look to us as a resource when it comes to helping out with disaster relief, especially with information for home owners. They see REALTORS® out there doing great work in the community all the time with various outreach efforts and I think that only solidifies—along with our grassroots and legislative activities—that we are the voice for real estate. Officials count on us to be a key player in the event of a disaster.

Q. What advice do you have for associations that do not yet have a relief fund?

Disasters occur everywhere, so I would tell them to take a hard look at creating some type of program where they could provide resources, either financial or nonfinancial, to help people in a time of need. It’s the right thing to do. It’s important to show that REALTORS® not only support each other but also give back to help their neighbors.

Unfortunately, we’ve had our share of disasters, and they’re not easy to go through, but our members are very resilient. The great thing I’ve seen through all the disasters is the kind, caring, and giving nature of REALTORS®. They are out there helping people get back on their feet. It’s a rewarding thing to be a part of.

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