Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Boston Strong and the 100% Model

Bostonians rushed in to help in the wake of the devastating explosion that ripped through the festivities at the finish of Boston Marathon on April 15, 2014. Bystanders aided the wounded, storekeepers offered shelter, and first responders ran toward the chaos. Others of us simply sat in front of our TVs, watching in horror as events unfolded.  As the day went on it became clear that many of the injuries were extremely serious and would require multiple surgeries and long-term rehabilitation.

The philanthropic response was a model in several ways. Boston had a 5-term mayor and Massachusetts had a 2-term governor who took quick action. The next day they announced The One Fund to aid victims. Their names lent credibility as did the involvement of large Boston firms like John Hancock. By the end of the week a simple website was up, accepting donations but warning that the organization had not yet applied for 501(c)(3) status; that is only now in process. All the publicity surrounding the fund emphasized that administrative costs would be covered by separate fundraising with all donations going directly to victim assistance—the 100% model.

Responses have been many and varied—from the Boston Strong t-shirts sold by Emerson College students to a fund-raising concert to many efforts in social media. Twenty million dollars was raised within the first week. In July 2013 the fund was able to distribute almost $61 million to victims under the direction of well-known mediator Kenneth Fineberg. Another distribution is planned for this July. In the meantime, the first Boston Marathon to be held since the bombing will include a One Fund charity team. Many private fundraising events are anticipated.

To the best of my knowledge no whiff of corruption has been attributed to the fund itself—no mean feat for a hastily assembled effort. Of course, it brought out the scammers but from an outside perspective it seemed this was expected and swiftly dealt with. The fund appears to have raised over $70 million to date.  

Writing in the Able Altruist blog Stephanie Kapera lists 5 lessons from this success:

  1. Act Quickly
  2. Leverage Online Influencers
  3. Use a Multi-Channel Approach
  4. Use Hashtags
  5. Use Visuals.

Does the success of The One Fund support both the importance of the 100% model and the speeding up of the fund-raising cycle? Probably. It also may support the difficulty of maintaining the 100% model. A recent announcement said that the salary of the new executive director of the fund would be paid from donations.

Any success has imitators and smaller charities can’t match the personal leverage of Boston’s power structure. This was recently brought home to me when I donated to a small non-profit. I was asked to add a small additional percentage to cover administrative costs. The platform was YouCaring., which says it remains free because administrative costs are covered by donations.

This was totally transparent and the extra amount was editable and optional. To me, however, it is not truly an example of the 100% model.

Thinking about it, I wonder if the lesson is that the model is best sustained by a single, often charismatic, individual not by a somewhat-faceless organization. Charity:water remains true to the model, but it is not clear that many others do.

Does anyone have direct experience with or thoughts on the subject?

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