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Orlando Tragedy Sparks Multiple Fundraising Sites

What’s a Donor to Do?

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Jorene Jameson
June 28, 2016

“This tragedy will not define us, but will bring us together. Because we are ONE Orlando.”

Thus, spoke Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer in announcing a fund to raise funds for the Orlando community and its victims after the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub.

When tragedy strikes a community, people want to help. The 9/11 terrorist attacks resulted in over $7 billion being raised in support of victims. But 15 years later, post 9/11, the world of charitable contributions has changed. Online giving sites like Gofundme.com and others offer victims’ families a way to raise money for their loved ones in a very personal way.

What role should government play in fundraising efforts for victims of violent mass shootings or terrorist attacks?  Is the nonprofit sector the logical sector to take up this challenge or should the marketplace and its new online funding mechanisms (like gofundme.com) be relied on to help victims?  What’s the best community response and how should donors channel their charitable contributions?

As a Florida resident, I was impacted by the “too close to home” feeling when Orlando was hit by three tragedies in a row: the murder of a popular singer, the Pulse nightclub massacre and a deadly alligator attack. In the face of tragedy, communities respond with their hearts and their checkbooks; they want to help. How can our institutions help facilitate the community response to tragedy?

money-652560_640While websites like gofundme.com offer an instant funding source for victims, they also can harbor deceptive and/or completely phony sites. (I should note that gofundme.com is actively monitoring sites that emerge in the wake of tragedy to try to verify their status and is waiving its transaction fees). I personally donated to the fund established on gofundme.com that was set up by a legitimate nonprofit, Equality Florida, because they acted immediately to establish themselves as the one site where people might go to steer their donations to victims (over $2 million was raised in just 24 hours). Later, the City of Orlando announced “One Orlando” with its own website. They initially said they would fund other nonprofits that support victims but after pushback from victims’ families, announced that all donations would go directly to victims.

Hopefully, Orlando can learn from another community’s experience raising funds for victims. The June 2015 shooting in the Emmanuel Church in Charleston is instructive. While smaller in scope, this tragedy offers important lessons for communities like Orlando trying to sort out charitable fundraising for shooting victims and how those funds should be distributed.

In the aftermath of the Charleston shootings, two major fundraising efforts emerged from the community—one offered by the church itself and one founded by the City of Charleston. Not only were these funds competing for donor dollars to support victims, they had different objectives.

The church decided to direct a substantial amount of the donations received by its fundraising for church projects including capital development. The families of the victims are enraged. In an article in a May 6, 2015 article in the Post & Courier, Jennifer Hawes wrote, “Many family members were angered that the church kept more of the donations than it divided up among the nine families and five survivors.” It’s unfortunate when the generosity of thousands of donors from around the world ends up mired in controversy about fund distribution and purposes. In contrast, the city’s fundraising effort, Mother Emanuel Hope Fund, worked for several months to develop a rational plan for distributing all of its funds toward the victims and their families. The detailed plan with full transparency was announced by the Mayor just three months after the incident.

I’m not a fan of competing websites for fundraising in situations like this. Can’t the community work together and make donations simple for people who want to help by offering one fund that is supported by both public, private and nonprofit institutions, has longstanding presence in the community and the credibility to do the right thing?

Gofundme.com reports that over 300 funds have been established on their website to support the Orlando victims, including the largest set up by Equality Florida. Each victim’s family and friends have the right to do their own fundraising. However, from a community perspective, let’s make it simple for the public to express its grief and support by offering one major funding site that will help all of the victims and have a fair process for distribution.

A lot of hard feelings can be avoided with full disclosure about how funds will be collected, how they will ultimately be distributed and streamlining the process for the donor. In the words of Mayor Dyer, let’s be “one” Orlando and have one major funding mechanism to help all the victims.

Author: Jorene Jameson, MPA, is a doctoral candidate in public administration at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida. She previously held leadership positions in the nonprofit and government sectors and is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE). Email: [email protected].

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