In times of tragedy, the American people open their wallets and give generously to help those who are suffering the most—the victims and their families. In almost every instance, an established nonprofit then swoops in, sets itself up as the go-to trusted fund, and starts collecting those donations. And the public feels good, believing that the nonprofit will make sure these donations reach the victims.
Sadly, the victims rarely see any of the multimillions of dollars raised. Unless a donor specifically says the money is for the victims, the nonprofits siphon off what they call “undesignated funds” for future disasters, overhead, and salaries, or they give it to other nonprofits for the “long-term needs of the community.”
But in Boston, for the first time ever, it’s different.
Fewer than 24 hours after the Boston bombing, the mayor of Boston and the governor of Massachusetts set up The One Fund and applied for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status. This created one centralized, trusted fund for individuals and corporations to donate to the victims. The tax-exempt status ensures that donors get a tax benefit and the victims do not have any tax penalties for having received additional income.
So far, so good. This is exactly what we’ve been pushing for with our recommendation to establish a National Compassion Fund.
One month ago, families and parents of victims from the worst mass murders in U.S. history—Columbine, 9/11, Virginia Tech, Northern Illinois University, Aurora, the Oak Creek Sikh Temple, and Sandy Hook—called upon the White House and other elected officials to create a National Compassion Fund. We wanted one centralized, trusted fund that would be activated immediately after a tragedy with the sole purpose of ensuring that 100 percent of public and private donations be tax exempt and go directly to the victims.
We presented a protocol based on victim-compensation specialist Ken Feinberg’s model from Virginia Tech and Aurora, plus best practices learned from other tragedies like Columbine. We suggested that someone with Feinberg’s expertise—or Feinberg himself—help distribute the fund.
In the aftermath of Aurora, a father whose son was killed on 9/11 helped behind the scenes to educate the victims about the relatively unknown nonprofit shell game. After 9/11, the Red Cross was found to have siphoned off $200 million from victims of terrorist attacks. He warned the Aurora families about what to expect and how to protect themselves.
After Sandy Hook, Aurora families worked behind the scenes to help the victims of Newtown. After the Boston bombing, the Sandy Hook families did the same.
You see, we are all one family, and family protects family. No one in grief and pain deserves to be revictimized.
The One Fund let it be known immediately in both word and action that donations to this fund would go directly to the victims. Checks will be cut by June 30 and the Fund will be kept open until Labor Day.
The result? In one week, The One Fund has collected more than $20 million, which will be directed solely to victims and their families.
Let’s compare that to:
- $5 million the United Way said was raised after Columbine. Each family of a deceased victim received 1 percent of the total raised and each seriously injured person received 3 percent. Victims' families were left with long-term needs as money was distributed elsewhere in the community.
- $5.9 million Community First raised in the two and a half months following the Aurora shootings. The first disbursement of funds went to 10 area nonprofits. While they were grieving, victims had to fight for access to money raised for them.
- $8 million Virginia Tech said it raised. Again victims were forced to fight for equitable distribution.
- $11 million the United Way said it raised for Newtown after four and a half months. Pressure from both the governor and the vast majority of the victims prompted United Way to allocate $4 million for the victims. Admitting that was a mistake, United Way announced last week that $7.7 million will be distributed to the victims, instead of the original $4 million.
What’s wrong with this picture?
All donations except for The One Fund were collected by old-school nonprofits where salaries, overhead, and regranting to other nonprofits are more important than the victims they are supposedly collecting for.
We are optimistic about The One Fund. It appears this time that public intent will be fulfilled and donations will reach the victims who are suffering so horribly with loss of life and unimaginable injuries—funeral costs, lost wages, home modifications, prosthetics, medical bills, physical therapy, and trauma counseling, to name just a few of the mounting costs.
There is no doubt that the public will remember each year on Patriot’s Day, and they will demonstrate their generosity yet again. So we say to Boston: keep The One Fund open for a couple of years to collect donations for the victims. Our family members in Boston are going to need it.
And we say to Washington: look to Boston as a model for establishing a National Compassion Fund. Before another unfortunate community becomes a part of our family.
This piece was submitted by 69 parents and family members of those murdered at Columbine High School, on September 11, at Virginia Tech University, Northern Illinois University, the Aurora movie theater, Oak Creek Sikh Temple, and Sandy Hook Elementary School.