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The Podium

One Fund should be a model for the nation

The following column has been signed by 69 family members of those murdered at Columbine High School; the terrorist attacks of 9/11; Virginia Tech University; Northern Illinois University; Aurora Movie Theater; Oak Creek Sikh Temple; and Sandy Hook Elementary School.

In times of tragedy, the American people open their wallets and give generously to help those who are suffering the most — the victims. In most every instance, an established nonprofit 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.

Donor intent couldn’t be clearer in the aftermath of a national tragedy.

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Sadly, the victims rarely see any of the multimillions raised. Unless a donor specifically says the money is for the victims, the non-profits siphon off what they call “undesignated funds” for future disasters, overhead, and salaries, or they give it to other non-profits for the “long term needs of the community.”

But in Boston, for the first time ever, it’s different.

Less than 24 hours after the Boston bombing, Mayor Tom Menino and Governor Deval Patrick set up The One Fund Boston 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.

A month ago, families and parents of victims from the worst mass murders in US 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. One centralized, trusted fund that would be activated immediately after a tragedy with the sole intent being that 100 percent of public and private donations be tax exempt and go directly to the victims without restriction.

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 the terrorist attacks. He had seen it all and warned the Aurora families about what to expect and how to protect themselves.

After Sandy Hook, the 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 re-victimized.

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? The One Fund has collected $28 million for the victims.

Compare that to:

•$5 million the United Way said was raised after Columbine. However each family of a deceased victim received 1 percent of the monies raised and each seriously injured 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 2½ months following Aurora. The first disbursement of funds went to 10 area non-profits. While they were grieving, victims had to fight to get money raised for them to them.

•$8 million the University said it raised after almost a year for Virginia Tech. Again victims were forced to fight for equitable distribution.

•$11 million the United Way said it raised in Newtown after 4½ 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 this 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 re-granting 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 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.

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