THE ONE FUND Boston carries an enormous responsibility. As the officially designated charity for contributions to Marathon bombing victims, it received millions of dollars last year from thousands of supporters across the world. Donors big and small trusted the fund because it had the endorsement of state and civic leaders, and because it promised to pass every dime to bombing victims. It more than lived up to those expectations: With an all-volunteer staff, the fund distributed almost $61 million to 232 individuals and families, an astonishing feat. At the same time, the fund’s very existence helped Boston avoid the kind of charity scams that often follow tragic events.
After the successful distribution, the fund could have called it quits. But, with donations continuing to pour in, it remained open, becoming virtually the city’s default charity, alongside the Jimmy Fund. Now, the One Fund plans to make a second distribution to victims later this year. And the Legislature has authorized a “Boston Strong” license plate, the proceeds of which will go to the fund, potentially extending its lifespan longer.
Victims still have plenty of medical needs, and nobody who chooses to donate to the One Fund should be discouraged from doing so. Yet, it’s important for the fund to communicate that it has changed, and will change in the future. Unlike the first round of donations last year, not every dollar goes to the victims. The fund has hired an executive director, and an administrator. Its spokeswoman, Dot Joyce, says the amount spent on overhead only amounts to a small percentage of its proceeds. Still, as the fund morphs from an ad hoc all-volunteer organization to a semi-permanent presence in the city, it’s vitally important that it maintain public confidence by explaining how it spends donations. But the fund’s website, with some artful language, still gives the impression that 100 percent of proceeds go to victims.
Joyce says the fund doesn’t envision closing on any particular date, but that it doesn’t expect to last forever, either. Unlike with the Jimmy Fund, a childhood cancer charity whose needs are sadly indefinite, a point will come when all bombing victims are sufficiently cared for. When that happens, it will be the fund’s responsibility to say so, in the same way Newtown, Conn., officials eventually asked donors to direct their giving elsewhere after the elementary school shooting there.
Some Bostonians have argued that when that point comes, the fund should transition to a more general citywide fund for all crime victims. That may be a worthy idea, but if the fund does alter its mission, it must say so loud and clear, so nobody gives money under false expectations. The One Fund is the custodian not just of donors’ money, but of the goodwill and trust that inspired those donations. As long as the fund continues to act accordingly, it will remain a symbol of Boston’s inspired response to last year’s tragedy.