that perhaps a potentially comparable situation to September 11 was the Oklahoma City bombing, when intense fundraising also took place. “Those charity groups, however, all sat around the table to decide how to approach the situation. I guess they couldn’t find a big enough table in New York.
“They were so concerned about raising money and boasting, they weren’t doing enough to educate the donors about the kinds of help and the layers of help that would be needed. The accent should be on the people,” Cohen suggests. It clearly was not.
Consumer watchdog groups, New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer, and members of Congress have questioned the fund-raising ethics, spending, disbursements, and application procedures of charities that solicited funds for victims of the September 11 attacks. One very vocal critic is Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy (www.charitywatch.org). “Money came in so quickly, charities didn’t have a budget or plan to best handle it,” he explains. “But there has been such poor management and a lack of public accountability, some of which I believe was also self-serving.”
Borochoff’s ire is largely intended for the United Way, whose September 11th Fund and September 11 Telethon raised $337 million in pledges; and the American Red Cross Liberty Fund, whose coffers held more than $604 million. He believes these organizations diverted funds to other relief concerns and had no real budget or plan for disbursement. The Red Cross was one of several charities that came under heavy fire from Congress, which charged that it misled the American public about how donations would be used. In October, the Red Cross announced it would not accept any more donations on behalf of the September 11 tragedy, instead it would direct additional monies collected toward general relief. But many feel the organization’s credibility has been damaged.
“They were not forthright,” asserts Borochoff. “They should not have accepted funds after $300 million. They clearly intended not to use the [additional $304 million] for these families.” Borochoff is referring to Red Cross’ intention to only use $320 million for victims’ families of September 11, but continued petitioning and advertising for money after they had met their fund-raising goal.
Cohen concurs, but says many other charities failed the public, too. “Too much of their efforts focused on fund-raising, instead of the mechanism of service delivery,” he says. “In charitable activity, people get carried away with big numbers and the attitude is, ‘Look how much money we’ve raised.’ The boast should be, ‘We’ve helped this many families.’”
AIDING THOSE WHO NEED IT
Yuvonka Peters delayed applying for aid. Had she followed her instincts, Peters would have stayed home on September 11. “I didn’t plan to go to work,” she recalls. “I woke up late and had a terrible stomachache. And when I did get up, I couldn’t find my clothes.” But at her mother’s urging, she hustled to get out of the house in time to board the 7:20 a.m. Staten Island ferry she caught every morning to Manhattan. She worked as