Boston Marathon Tragedy — Support Considerations

On Monday, April 15, 2013 two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, impacting runners, spectators, residents and visitors to Boston, and leaving many wondering how to help those affected by the tragedy.

As in any disaster, it may take weeks or months for effective long-term support programs to develop. The sudden and dramatic nature of this situation is understandably filled with emotion and a desire to help. However, as with any response, it is prudent to carefully consider how and to whom you want to give.

While every situation is unique, you may want to use the following general framework in your evaluation:

  • Identify the type of event, such as natural disaster, industrial accident, or in this case, terrorist activity. The type can help define the most urgent short- and long-term needs for recovery.
  • Define the phase of recovery, which tends to follow four main phases from early-to long-term recovery as well as for preparedness or prevention of the next event. Learn more about the four phases of disaster relief.
  • Identify necessary services and which ones you want to support. This can be a good time to give to existing areas of interest, such as medical or mental health, but there may also be opportunities to give more broadly.
  • Evaluate the nonprofit organization's criteria including its 501(c)(3) public charity status, mission, and operations:
  • Does the organization have a track record of collaboration and partnership?
  • Does it provide relevant services and programs?
  • Does it have any emergency-related experience?
  • How does the organization measure and report on its mission, effectiveness, and efficiency?

Type: Terrorist Activity

The bombings and subsequent events in Boston were the actions of terrorists in which innocent people were killed and severely injured. This violence had a direct impact on those physically harmed, their families, and their communities at large.

Phase: Recovery and Stabilization

Given how these events unfolded, the triage and create order phase moved quickly to the recovery and stabilization phase. These early phases focus on trying to obtain and understand the facts, assess the immediate needs, and acknowledge the emotional impact. Much of this work is conducted by first responders trained in these situations and supporting them can be an effective way to give — during any phase.

Services to Support: Consider Relief Providers

In the early phases of a tragedy, it is helpful to look to established organizations whose missions are to provide immediate aid. Consider recommending an unrestricted grant to allow relief organizations the flexibility to respond based on the areas of need. These organizations may include:

  • First Responders
    Organizations such as the local chapters of the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army are trained to be on the frontlines in the immediate aftermath of any disaster, providing assistance to individuals, families, and other first responders, such as fire and police.

    The trauma centers of local hospitals provide lifesaving medical assistance as well as long term support to victims; examples involved in Boston include Massachusetts General Hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, or Boston's Children's Hospital.

  • Mental Health and Related Support Services
    If you have an interest in mental health services, this may be a good time to support charitable organizations providing effective programs and services to children and families, including organizations that provide counseling in tragedies as well as those that address broad-based mental health services.
  • Faith-Based Giving
    Local, faith-based organizations such as houses of worship, or their denomination's related relief agency, are often at the forefront of a local response. Contact these local organizations to learn more about their role in rebuilding their communities before recommending a grant for this purpose.

Criteria: Selecting Nonprofit Organizations

Take a few minutes to learn about where you might give. The websites of nonprofit organizations can provide information about its programs, staff, and financials. Online tools such as Charity Navigator and GuideStar can help you research topics such as the nonprofit organization's goals, how they use funds, and progress toward their mission.

Another resource is the activity of organizations such as local community foundations, United Way, or private foundations that regularly give in their communities. Information about where and when they grant, often found on their websites, allows you to leverage the knowledge of their experienced grantmakers.

Many funds have been started to support the victims and families of the Boston Marathon tragedy. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Tom Menino have announced the formation of The One Fund Boston. We understand that Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Boston University are establishing funds in memory of the victims from their communities. We will update this information as we have it.

If you are interested in supporting a charity or fund within a charity that has been established to support the Boston Marathon Tragedy, you should seek to understand the following:

  • How will grants be allocated and overseen?
  • What type of reporting will be provided to donors? How frequently?
  • Does the sponsoring organization have a track record of successfully administering funds and grantmaking programs in the relevant service areas?

Be Aware of Fraud

Unfortunately, there are people that take advantage of well-meaning donors in the face of a tragedy. When recommending a grant, be sure to do so with full information — support only charities that you recognize, confirm that the organization has 501(c)(3) status, and do not respond to unsolicited inquiries or provide personal information. Fidelity Charitable always performs due diligence to ensure that the organization is a qualified charity.

Learn more: IRS Warns Donors about Charity Scams Following Recent Tragedies in Boston and Texas

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