Make charity count

Help for victims needs

priority and process

The count is $1 billion and climbing. Americans' generosity in response to acute and long-term needs caused by the Sept. 11 attacks staggers some of the agencies whose bank accounts bulge with good will.

Everyone is grateful, but no overall, coordinating plan has been established for making the best use of the money.

Non-profits themselves, including familiar names like the United Way and the American Red Cross, are using extra care in dispensing funds.

However, non-profits in the Washington and New York areas, where financial aid is concentrated for dispersal, are at work on guidelines to ensure that money is applied in the right places for the right people.

The Internal Revenue Service, that agency so despised by many Americans, has set up a fast-track process for non-profits seeking tax exempt/tax deductible status as aid causes proliferate and specialize.

Accountability is essential in charitable endeavors, especially when a tragedy is as devastating as the loss of life, injuries and financial uncertainty caused by the terrorists.

The generosity of response has an unfortunate side: Some greedy people will seek to take advantage of the moment and mood to enrich themselves. Good intentions also can create a too-abundant response for some victims and a paucity for others. Needs fluctuate from family to family, and it is the intent of the major non-profit players to match money with needs, avoiding outlays generated by good intentions but with no orderly structure for ensuring that dollars given give help most needed - long-term or for right now.

Daniel Borochoff, head of the American Institute of Philanthropy, made a practical suggestion in an article written for The Orlando Sentinel: "I would let the dust settle, get an accounting of what's needed. ... The donors need to help their dollars go after the needs, and to not let it be such an emotional decision with their giving."

No one wants to discourage generosity because the needs created by Sept. 11's events may last more than the lifetimes of survivors and families of those lost.

President Bush appropriately expanded the horizon of giving in his Thursday night news conference, asking America children to give or earn $1 each to be given for food assistance to the children of Afghanistan. Many, probably most, of that nation's children are malnourished. Our war isn't against them. They are direct victims of a different kind of terror, and we Americans can help even as we seek justice for adult terrorists hiding and plotting in that country.

Local United Way organizations and the Red Cross are reliable places to begin the process of helping. They have information about greatest needs, and they are interconnected with affiliates in the Washington and New York areas.

It's also imperative to remember that "at home" charities need commitments that have been made to be kept. Their work is invaluable, and it must continue to apply assistance in situations unrelated to Sept. 11.

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