In donating to Marathon victims, take care

From Malden sixth-graders who sold homemade earrings and origami flowers to a Wayland Islamic center’s appeal to members and a town-sponsored road race in Plymouth, residents and organizations across the region are raising money to help the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings.

The ways to donate are numerous, from the One Fund Boston set up by Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino to crowd-funding sites like GoFundMe and GiveForward, where friends and families of individual victims are collecting money, and to golf tournaments and shopping events.

But experts on nonprofits and officials from the Massachusetts attorney general’s office also warn that donors should be careful and informed about where their money is going, and how it will be used.


“We want the public to be smart,” said Brad Puffer, a spokesman for Attorney General Martha Coakley. “Most fund-raising efforts are honest efforts to help.”

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After other national tragedies, however, fraudulent fund-raisers have cropped up, Puffer said. Investigators from Coakley’s office have been monitoring the various appeals and websites set up to raise money for the Marathon bombing victims. They have contacted some of the online fund-raisers to make sure they are legitimate. Officials haven’t discovered any problems thus far, Puffer said.

The flood of fund-raisers comes as Kenneth Feinberg, administrator of the One Fund Boston, said he is planning to distribute the more than $30 million raised by the fund to victims next month.

The outpouring of small gestures and large donations reflects a desire by people to help, show their support, and take action after an event that left the region in shock and then frustrated, event organizers said.

“People were thinking about the runners and they couldn’t do anything,” said Gary Maestas, superintendent of Plymouth’s school system and an organizer of We Run for 1, a 5K run and walk planned for Saturday morning. “It’s difficult for people to express themselves. This gives people a chance to say they’re doing something.”


The money raised through the road race, which Maestas expects will be $22 of every $25 entry fee, will go to the One Fund Boston.

That’s where Salemwood School in Malden also planned to send the $1,400 it raised through the sixth-grade crafts sale, said Penny Gordon, a social studies teacher at the school.

“I wanted to make sure their efforts were going to something reputable,” Gordon said. And the involvement of both Patrick and Menino in the One Fund Boston helped sway her, she added.

The students can also turn on the news and find out about the progress of the One Fund Boston’s fund-raising efforts, Gordon said.

For the students, the craft sale was a way to address an event that touched them deeply. When the sixth-graders returned after April vacation they wanted to talk about the bombings, which had happened while they were on break, and to do something, Gordon said.


“Instead of being a bystander, I think they’ve been able to deal with it better,” Gordon said.

‘We want the public to be smart. Most fund-raising efforts are honest efforts to help.’

Many fund-raisers have said they plan to donate to the One Fund Boston. Coakley’s office has recommended that donors ask event organizers how much of the money raised is going to the charity, and how much pays for overhead costs of putting together the benefit event.

Several businesses in the region, from hair salons to bagel shops, are also showing their support for the bombing victims by donating a portion of their profits to various charities.

Sandra Miniutti, the vice president for Charity Navigator, a national nonprofit evaluator, said those types of appeals are fairly common. Miniutti recommends only giving to the crowd-funding sites if you know who set up the fund and are confident that the money will get to the right place.

“That is fine, if you were going to make that purchase anyway,” Miniutti said. “But that’s not a substitute for writing a check.”

Miniutti said she is more concerned about the crowd-funding efforts online. Several of the individual victims have raised tens of thousands of dollars through the sites, which charge a fee of about 5 percent for credit card transactions, which is like the overhead cost of any charitable organization, Miniutti said.

More troubling is the limited vetting of the appeals, she said.

Some sites require the fund-raiser to link to a legitimate Face­book page, and others say they will investigate any appeals that look suspicious, or if donors raise red flags about an individual page.

“It’s really the Wild West, and donors have to be suspicious,” she said.

The appeal of the crowd-funding sites, which became popular after Hurricane Sandy last year, is that the money reaches those in need quickly.

“There’s this instant gratification,” Miniutti said. “It can be pretty risky. . .  There’s no assurance that once the money is delivered to the person, they’ll spend it the way you want.”

The Islamic Center of Boston, which is based in Wayland, received an e-mailed request to donate money directly to a bank account for an individual victim, said president Aijaz Baloch.

But the center didn’t have time to investigate the account and determine whether it was legitimate, Baloch said, so it donated the $2,500 it raised through member collections to the One Fund Boston.

“It could have been authentic,” Baloch said. “We were wary. . . All of us wanted to express our sadness and sorrow about the events.”

Still, some fund-raisers say there are reasons to give to individuals, instead of a big fund.

For the Canton Police Association, which will donate the profits of an annual golf tournament in August to MBTA Officer Richard Donohue, it’s the appeal of helping a fellow law enforcement official.

Donohue was shot in Watertown during an intense gun battle involving the Boston Marathon bombing suspects.

Last year, the golf tournament, which cost about $12,000 to organize, raised about $4,000 for charity, said Scott Connor, president of the association.

He hopes this year’s event will be able to raise more money.

“It was more kind of a thing from us to him,” Connor said. “We know what’s it like not working, missing overtime and having a small child.”

In Stoneham, former classmates and friends of the six victims from the town injured in the bombings created a local fund-raiser. Donations to the Stoneham Strong Marathon Fund, which had reached almost $18,000 last week, will go specifically to help pay for the medical bills of the local victims, said Matt Trakimas, one of the fund’s organizers.

The fund organized charity soccer games last week, and is selling wristbands to raise money, both efforts involving Stoneham High School students and staff.

While a small percentage of the donations have paid for PayPal fees and $500 was used to purchase some of the wristbands, the majority of the money will go to the victims, Trakimas said.

The organizers are volunteers and donated the first $1,000 of wristbands, he said. They will also be evaluating the medical bills and be responsible for distributing the money on an as-needed basis, Trakimas said.

“It’s been a Stoneham effort,” Trakimas said.

Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@ globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @fernandesglobe.