In the Wake of Terror
Charity: A distinctly American response to a most un-American act. People from all across the country lined up to donate blood, money, goods, and their time to help victims of September 11th’s terrorist attack. Nonprofits that sprang into action to help the victims say they were immediately “flooded” with calls from people asking how they could help. As one first-time volunteer told the Los Angeles Times, “I’d rather help than sit at home and cry.” The response, from individuals, corporations, and foundations, was without precedent. “We are seeing one of the most incredible outpourings of generosity I can ever imagine,” marveled the vice president of the Red Cross. Within two days of the attack, the “September 11th Fund,” set up by the United Way and the New York Community Trust, had collected over $40 million in pledges. “We are absolutely overwhelmed. It’s been amazing,” said a spokesman. Despite heartfelt offers to volunteer in the rescue effort, authorities on the ground at the World Trade Center advised people that it was more helpful to stay home and send money or supplies. (“You can’t have people stumbling over each other,” one relief expert said.)
According to the Times: “Major corporations are stepping forward. The Lilly Endowment and DaimlerChrysler both gave $10 million. IBM and Microsoft gave $5 million each. American Red Cross in Las Vegas said it got its largest corporate gift ever—$1 million, from the Las Vegas MGM Mirage—earmarked for New York City relief. Beer maker Anheuser-Busch donated $1 million to the Red Cross, along with 9,500 cases of canned water. Food, plus $100,000 in cash, was donated by H. J. Heinz. The AT&T Foundation contributed $1 million, set aside another $300,000 to match employee donations, and donated $10 million in prepaid long-distance calling cards for use by relief workers. The Michelin Group donated $250,000 in free tires for emergency vehicles being used for rescue work and dispatched workers to New York to help change tires. It also pledged $1 million. New York Life has pledged to pay out on every life insurance claim and donated $4 million to the relief effort. The 5,100-store Ace Hardware sent two tractor-trailers loaded with dust masks, safety goggles, lanterns, work gloves, and batteries to rescue workers. The National Association of Realtors earmarked $1 million to launch a fund that will help pay the mortgage and rents of families devastated by the terrorists’ attacks.”
While most donors seeking to help victims of the terrorist attack directed their donations to charitable organizations, German Internet millionaire Kim Schmitz took an unusual approach. He has offered a $10 million reward for information leading to the capture of the perpetrators. According to Reuters, “Schmitz said in the first 24 hours he had received 10,000 emails, nearly 1,545,000 visitors to his Web page, and that 4,500 other Web pages had been linked to the section of his page describing the reward.”
The Vultures Circle
Hard as this may be to believe, charity hustlers and email spammers got to work right away trying to take advantage of the World Trade Center tragedy. Some “donation” sites turned out to be nothing more than email address and personal information collection traps, if not outright scams. Wired magazine reports that one group has “sent out a spam urging people to help the Red Cross, with all the proper info for where to call and send money. But they direct people to the Red Cross donations page by way of their Web server, presumably to log the hits and make sure the users’ email addresses are still good.” The idea was to track users who could then be hit up for future donations and promotions. Other emails purporting to link users to donation sites actually took them to pornographic sites. But as appalling as those commercial gestures might have been, they pale in comparison to the outright theft attempted by other Internet bandits. The Kansas City Star reports that a number of “suspicious” Web sites popped up in the hours following the attack. One “charity” site that vanished shortly after authorities began to make inquiries was traced back to a mysterious Chinese owner. The site told visitors: “To the victims and families of this National tragedy are [sic] heartfelt thoughts and prayers go out to you.” It then encouraged visitors to donate $25, $50, $100, or $250 to either the Red Cross or the “victims survivor fund.” All this, it pledged, for a low “administrative fee of 10 percent.” The Red Cross reported receiving no donations or contacts from the site.
We Are the World?
Does it really “take a village”? That’s apparently what a group of altruistic Minnesotans believe, and they’re putting their money (and their muscles) to work to build a brand-new village for poor Guatemalans. According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, “that means roads, houses, sewer systems, a health clinic, and school. It means selecting the first village residents, and forging a sense of community among a group of strangers.” The founders of New Hope Village concluded that tinkering with existing structures wasn’t enough—to end the cycle and culture of poverty, the well-meaning Minnesotans decided to start from scratch. As the leader of the charitable project admits, “Just the thought of building a village posed so many questions. Where should the roads be built? What about removing garbage? What about a cemetery? Who would be the village leaders? And, ‘Are we crazy?’”
Irrational Charitable Exuberance
The St. Petersburg Times reports that “Garrett Herberg is good at what he does for charity. Apparently, too good. Hooting and hollering, Herberg was trying to get more people to come to a Teen Challenge car wash one Saturday afternoon. Singing, dancing, jumping, the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Herberg was quite the sight.” A sheriff’s deputy driving by apparently thought so, too, characterizing Herberg’s act as “a traffic hazard.” Herberg disagreed. You can guess what happened next. After Herberg was bailed out of jail by the director of the charity, the two chose to view the incident as a learning opportunity. “We’re not bitter,” he said. “We’re not upset.”
Mutual Fund Theology
What’s a conscientious investor to do these days—when one man’s socially responsible fund manager is a “saint” while another man’s is a “sinner”? As the number of mutual funds that are tailored to a specific set of social tenets keeps multiplying, individuals can ever more finely hone their portfolios to reflect their belief systems. There are funds for Muslims (no stocks in firms that lend at interest), evangelical firms (no booze or pornography), and now even competing funds within the same religion. The Aquinas Fund is tailored more toward liberal Catholics (no investing in worker-abusing, cross-border polluters), while the Ave Maria Fund attracts conservative Catholics. According to the Wall Street Journal, “the doctrinal disputes endemic to organized religion are reflected in the funds. The PAX funds, for example, like to invest in companies with ‘a well-cared-for workforce.’ But if that care includes offering spousal benefits to cohabitating couples, then Ave Maria scratches that company from its list.”
Not Child’s Play
Children’s Express, a venerable charity dedicated to inserting children’s voices into public policy discussions, has closed its doors. According to the New York Times, “the collapse of Children’s Express has left the foundations that financed the group, and the staff and children involved, trying to figure out just how the group ran through millions of dollars of grant money.” Whatever the underlying causes of the group’s demise, one of its staff is pretty sure she knows whom to blame. “Some incompetent adults in Washington were doing stuff that wasn’t in the best interests of the program,” asserts Amanda Thieroff, 16, a Children’s Express reporter in New York.
Not Monkeying Around
PBS science documentaries don’t usually generate much controversy, but this fall’s special on evolution threatened to become a mini-Scopes trial at a recent PBS press event. The problem wasn’t so much the show’s content, but its unusual—critics say unprecedented—funding: the entire budget was underwritten by quirky billionaire philanthropist Paul Allen. According to the Seattle Times, a reporter asked a PBS executive whether Allen’s money would be “funding cadres of teachers who are going out into the public school systems to counter student questions about evolution.” The Times asserts that it’s “a good thing too” that Allen is picking up the whole tab for the series, since PBS has been exhibiting an (apparently disturbing) “dependence on corporate donors.”
It just might be the Next Big Thing in nonprofit activism. Direct mail is nice, but direct movies are better. Dozens of nonprofits are now posting promotional movies and short films on their Web sites. Enthusiasts can view the clips by visiting their sites, or—even better from a marketing and fund raising perspective—email them to friends and colleagues. Needless to say, the more outrageous the clip the better; thus, according to Wired, “the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence joined the club, sending an original Flash movie to about 14,000 email subscribers. The South Park-esque cartoon features NRA president Charlton Heston taking a plane full of multi-racial passengers hostage at gunpoint to the tune of ‘America the Beautiful.’” Nice. Said the group’s communications director, “We do a lot of direct mail. We thought, let’s try to do something different, with an edge to it.”
And finally, we are pleased (and puzzled, really) to report a real-life international intrigue involving the Turkish military, the CIA, the MacArthur Foundation, and Philanthropy contributing editor Martin Morse Wooster. According to the Chicago Tribune, all Turkey is abuzz with the tale of “Nadire Mater, an award-winning journalist, [who] is accused of accepting a payment to produce a book critical of the Turkish military at the behest of the CIA, funneled through one of the most respected philanthropic organizations in the United States—the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.” Mater, who received a MacArthur Foundation grant in 1997 for a book that is critical of Turkey’s military actions against the Kurds, claimed that she was the victim of “a psychological lynching.” The entire controversy seems to have stemmed from a misreading of an American article that quotes Mr. Wooster on an unrelated topic. “I would never say that the MacArthur Foundation is a front for the CIA,” deadpans Wooster.