It all started, as these things often do, with a phone call.
More than a week ago, Marty Walsh and Jeff Leiden each knew the situation would get much worse in Boston, with countless schools and businesses about to close to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The financial harm would be unlike anything we have seen here in our lifetimes. They realized some sort of stimulus package would be cooked up in Washington, but they didn’t want to wait. The need was too urgent.
So the mayor and Leiden, who’s chief executive of Vertex Pharmaceuticals, hatched a plan during a phone call on Saturday, March 14. Walsh’s office had heard suggestions about creating another One Fund, the initiative that raised millions for Boston Marathon bombing victims in 2013. Leiden agreed to put together a new effort. Maybe they could find $10 million to help families in the city affected by the coronavirus crisis.
Within two days, the Boston Resiliency Fund was launched. By Friday night, it had more than $16 million in donations. Its overnight success offers a roadmap for other cities and civic leaders. Everyone has had their lives turned upside down. But that’s not stopping many executives from looking beyond their own organizations and figuring out what they can do to help.
Leiden quickly called for reinforcements that weekend, including from adman-turned-philanthropist Jack Connors, probably the city’s most plugged-in fund-raiser. Connors and Anne Klibanski, the chief executive of Partners HealthCare, agreed to be cochairs with Leiden for this new initiative. The three will ultimately decide which social service organizations will channel the donations to recipients.
The dialing for dollars started that Sunday. By the time Walsh announced the fund at a press conference on Monday, the organizers had surpassed the original target of $10 million, and the goal was bumped up to $20 million. With more than 1,150 donations pledged or contributed so far, they’re almost there.
The One Fund generated a similar amount of money in its first week. As in 2013, hefty financial gifts built a crucial foundation this time around. Many big corporate names stepped up to make donations. The $1 million category included Vertex, John Hancock, Bain Capital, Liberty Mutual, Partners, Bank of America, the Gross Family Foundation, Paul and Sandy Edgerley, Michelle and Bob Atchinson, and John and Cyndy Fish. Amos and Barbara Hostetter also kicked in $1 million, half through their charity, the Barr Foundation. Berkshire Partners, the Boston private equity firm, gave $2 million. (John Henry, Boston Globe owner and Red Sox principal owner, donated in two ways: $250,000 from his family foundation, and $250,000 from the Red Sox Foundation to pay for Chromebooks.) The law firm Goodwin Procter reprised its One Fund role as pro bono legal adviser.
As with the One Fund, organizers want donations of all sizes, not just from the big employers and foundations. Gifts of $20 add up quickly when thousands of people make them.
There have been differences, too. City officials didn’t want to create a new nonprofit this time around. To speed things up, they revived a dormant one under the city’s control called the Boston Charitable Trust to act as a repository. The parameters are still being hashed out, as are the causes. The hope, at least at first, is to help pay for meals as well as technology for remote learning, and to support first responders and hospital workers as well as people facing housing problems.
Leiden wants some money to hit the streets by the end of the month.
Boston’s tight-knit circle of power brokers moved quickly to get the Resiliency Fund going. But they’re not the only ones. For example, Boston Beer Co. is working with several chefs and radio host and restaurateur Greg Hill’s foundation to raise funds for displaced restaurant and bar workers; the first checks went out on Friday. And six law firms joined together to print nearly 6,000 academic packets for Boston Public Schools students, after the school system’s printing vendor was overwhelmed with the volume.
Of course, every community is suffering. That’s why regional fund-raising efforts are also under way, including by the United Way and the Boston Foundation. Another example: Boston-based Eastern Bank’s chief executive, Robert Rivers, said his institution will give to initiatives to help those in need in other cities and towns where it does business, as well as to the Resiliency Fund.
MassMutual agreed to donate $500,000 to the Boston effort. But chief executive Roger Crandall took it one step further: He quickly sparked the launch of a similar effort in MassMutual’s hometown of Springfield, and seeded it with a $1 million donation from the insurer to help needy people in the Pioneer Valley. By Friday, a number of other local companies had chipped in.
Leiden, who’s scheduled to shift from CEO to executive chairman at Vertex on April 1, welcomes all these efforts. Kindness, after all, can be contagious. The need is already so great here that not one program or project can come close to meeting it.
In Boston, Leiden has marveled over the years at how quickly the city comes together behind a cause. Everyone, it seems, is just a phone call away.
Note: The story was updated on March 27, after the $20 million goal was reached, to include other million-dollar donations that became public.
Jon Chesto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.