In the immediate wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick proposed the idea of creating a single fund with all proceeds going to survivors and families of those killed in the attack. The idea was quick to gain traction among business and community leaders and less than 24 hours later organizers had tapped Goodwin Procter Trusts & Estates/Tax-Exempt Organization partner Susan Abbott to take the lead forming the charitable fund that quickly become known as The One Fund Boston.
Mayor Menino, speaking at a recent panel discussion, Building The One Fund, hosted by Goodwin and moderated by Abbott, remarked that he received a call at 2:50pm on Marathon Monday telling him a bomb had gone off near the finish line. He knew immediately that something had to be done for the survivors. His idea was simple: create a single fund with 100% of all proceeds going to the survivors.
On Tuesday morning, one day after the bombing, Hill Holliday Chairman Michael Sheehan asked veteran fund administrator Ken Feinberg to administer the fund. At 1pm, the One Fund had its first $1 million commitment from John Hancock. By 3pm, Abbott was working on incorporating the fund and applying for 501(c)(3) status with the IRS. Within 48 hours of the attack, the fund had more than $10 million in contributions. The pace was set.
“In my 20 years as mayor, I’ve never seen the business community come together so quickly,” said Mayor Menino.
Abbott commented later, “I certainly have never seen a charitable entity created and funded so quickly…The level of support at all levels has been inspiring – everything from million dollar contributions from corporate donors to school children sending pennies to businesses and professionals offering in-kind support so that all of the funds can go to benefit the victims.”
Facing mounting pressure to move quickly, Abbott and her team worked closely with the IRS to successfully show that the One Fund met the criteria for a charitable organization. Abbott noted after the panel that obtaining 501(c)(3) status was “more difficult than one might think” due to limitations placed on charitable organizations regarding the types of distributions they can make to individuals in the context of disaster relief. By focusing on the organization’s relationship with the city, the One Fund was able to qualify for charitable status and on May 14 received 501(c)(3) certification from the IRS.
“We hope that this will be a model for other cities and states to use in the event of similar tragedies,” she said.
Feinberg, who managed the distribution of disaster funds for 9/11, Virginia Tech, Aurora and Newtown, noted a unique set of distribution challenges in Boston while speaking at the Building The One Fund panel discussion.
“[The Marathon bombing] is different because you have horrific injuries that I’ve never seen before. With 9/11, you either made it out, or you didn’t. Here, you have double amputees…,” Feinberg said.
Fund distribution will be based on the money available on June 15, with a goal of distributing all of those funds by June 30. Eligibility is determined based on four categories:
1. Death, double amputee, or brain damage
2. Single amputee
3. Physical injury involving overnight hospitalization
4. Outpatient emergency treatment
When asked about the difficulty in determining how to allocate funds, Feinberg indicated that identifying the criteria for compensation wasn’t the biggest hurdle to climb. “The biggest problem we’ll have is that eligible people don’t file. Paralyzed by grief and uncertainty, they don’t file.”
Feinberg emphasized that filers only need a simple record of hospitalization – a letter from the hospital – to accompany the claim form. Detailed medical records are not required.
Feinberg thanked Abbott and Goodwin Procter for critical pro bono assistance with the fund’s formation. “Talk about a lawyer under pressure. We needed 501(c)(3) status. Susan was under tremendous pressure from me, the Mayor. You talk about an example of a lawyer working in the public interest, talk about commitment!”
Abbott asked the panelists about the future of the One Fund, and what will happen after the June 30 distribution deadline. Feinberg commented that while his involvement will end, there is a continued need for financial support from the community. Not only will new diagnoses be made after June 30, but survivors will require additional services such as job training for those who must find new careers due to their injuries.
Mayor Menino remarked, “This is only the beginning for these survivors. That’s why it’s important for the One Fund to continue after June 30.”
The panel discussion, Building The One Fund, was held in conjunction with Goodwin’s 7th Annual Directors Forum and focused on the public/private efforts that emerged in the wake of the bombings. Panelists included:
• The Honorable Thomas M. Menino, Mayor, City of Boston;
• Jack Connors, Co-founder, Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopoulos, Inc. and Director, The One Fund;
• Kenneth Feinberg, Fund Administrator, The One Fund;
• James Gallagher, Executive Vice President, John Hancock and Director, The One Fund; and
• Michael Sheehan, Chairman, Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopoulos, Inc. and Director, The One Fund.
Please visit The One Fund for more information on how you can help.