Friday, September 11, 2009

Remembering 9/11 and the Importance of Charity

Just eight years ago I was standing at the window in my office watching airliners flying down the Potomac River toward Washington Ronald Reagan National Airport as I listened to the radio and the reporting of the attack on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. At this point, my initial reaction was that a small private pilot had lost his way and had flown into one of the World Trade Center Towers. In the Washington, D.C. area, traffic on the main arteries from Virginia into Washington slowed to a crawl as an American Airlines airplane appearing to be headed to National Airport, suddenly appeared to veer off course and crashed into the Pentagon. Clearly visible from the road was the ball of fire of the explosion as the plane crashed into the Pentagon, and the smoke started to billow above the building.

Now eight years later, memorial ceremonies and events in New York City at Ground Zero, in Virginia at the Pentagon, and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, with all the video showings of the events of the horrible day, remind us of the horror of it all, of the lives lost, of families grieving the loss of family members, and of a country changed by the attack.

Today has also brought reminders of the brave and generous work of charities, donors, volunteers, and governments from around the world that rushed to provide needed emergency services. This is not the place to address some of the criticisms and shortcomings alleged to have occurred in the raising of funds, the distribution of funds, and the accountability for the funds received. There are lessons we have learned from this tragedy, and I will identify some of them in my next post since these lessons apply across the board to charitable fundraising and activities in the case of many disaster situations, and, indeed, apply to much of the work of the third sector generally.

But, we also need a little perspective to better understand the amazing role that charity played in bringing some sense of unity to our country. The response of the American people was immediate and overwhelming. Police officers, firemen, and rescue workers from around the country took leaves of absences to travel to New York City to assist in the rescue of people and the recovery of bodies from the ruins of the World Trade Center. There was a surge in blood donations from people around the country during the weeks immediately following the attacks. For example, there were 36,000 units of blood donated to the New York City Blood Center alone.

It is difficult to determine the precise amount of charitable aid funds raised by charities for the relief efforts and immediate assistance to the victims’ families and survivors in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. This was due to the lack of clarity with respect to the purposes for which the funds were collected and distributed, and the difficulty in tracking information across multiple independent charitable organizations. However, the U.S. General Accounting Office reported to the U.S. Senate Finance Committee in September 2002 that over 300 charities were involved in collecting and distributing funds for September 11 relief efforts, families, and survivors.

An estimated $2.4 billion was raised by the 34 larger charities. Some examples of funds raised by a number of these charitable organizations include, $988 million by the American Red Cross, $55 million by Catholic Charities, $156 million by the International Association of Fire Fighters, $18 million by the NYC Police Foundation and New York State Fraternal Order of Police Foundation, $87.7 million by the Salvation Army, $180 million by the Twin Towers Fund, $12.5 million by World Vision.

Charities distributed these funds for a broad range of assistance. Funds were distributed in cash grants and services to families of those killed or injured, for those directly affected by the loss of their jobs or homes, and for disaster relief workers. In order to do this, charities had to make extensive efforts to identify and verify victims, and address privacy issues affecting the sharing of information among charitable organizations involved in these relief efforts. Charities also faced challenges in providing aid to non-English speaking individuals and families needing assistance.

Charities, government agencies, and charity monitoring organizations took steps to prevent fraud. Considering the amount of funds raised and distributed, it is amazing that relatively few cases of fraud were uncovered or identified.

As reported by the General Accounting Office, “overall, charitable aid made a major contribution in the nation’s response to the September 11 attacks despite very difficult circumstances.” As a result millions of people were able to contribute to the recovery efforts and meet the needs of thousands of people directly and indirectly affected by these attacks on September 11, 2001.

No comments:

Post a Comment