West, Texas: Across the Philanthropic Divide

The explosions at the Boston Marathon and West, Texas, occurred within days of each other and had similar catastrophic results. But the media and fundraising response to the two tragedies shows that Boston and West are worlds apart. It’s one measurement of the philanthropic gap between rural and urban America.

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On April 15, the first of two pressure-cooker bombs, allegedly planted by two Chechen immigrant brothers, exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Three people were killed at the race (plus an MIT police officer who was killed later during the manhunt for the perpetrators). Some 264 were counted as injured, many having lost limbs due to the bombs’ shrapnel of ball-bearings and other particles meant to harm and maim.

Two days later, an ammonium nitrate plant—fertilizer for those not up on their chemistry—exploded in West, Texas, a small community north of Waco, as emergency personnel were responding to a fire at the factory. Fifteen people, including first responders, died in the explosion. Over 260 people were injured in the blast and more than 150 homes were obliterated.

Each major news network planted reporters and based their news shows in Boston to report from the bombing site around the clock, for days after one Tsarnaev brother was killed and the other captured. The explosion that flattened much of West, Texas, hardly got much attention, though President Obama mentioned West in one of his press conferences on the alleged Boston terrorism. Nonetheless, the potentially accidental nature of the West, Texas, tragedy barely registered against the press coverage of the intentional nature of the Boston incident.

The news coverage imbalance is mirrored by the disproportionate charitable response to the people killed or injured in Boston compared to the residents who lost lives and property in West, Texas. Some of this is media-market related, but that translates to a differential treatment of rural and urban in both charitable and philanthropic giving as well as societal priorities. It’s not malicious, it’s not in many ways even noticed, but in a society that increasingly relegates rural to an afterthought, it isn’t surprising.

The Charitable Response to Boston

Almost immediately after the marathon bombings, Boston Mayor Tom Menino and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick established the One Fund Boston to help the individuals and families most harmed by the incident. Menino explained that immediately after the bombing, he was contacted by business leaders and philanthropists he described as “heartbroken” by the tragedy and who “want(ed) to do everything they can to help these people physically and psychologically.” 

Kenneth Feinberg announces the mounting fundraising total of One Fund Boston. Boston Mayor Tom Menino stands behind him. Feinberg administered funds for victims of numerous high-profile disasters such as 9/11, the BP oil spill and several mass shootings.
The cornerstone of the fund was a $1 million commitment from the John Hancock insurance company, the principal sponsor of the Boston Marathon. By April 24, less than two weeks after the incident, One Fund Boston had surpassed $20 million.

As of May 12th, the One Fund Boston counted $12.18 million in “public donations” and $17.642 million in corporate donations for a total as of May 12 of $29.822 million (a current total is available here). Joining John Hancock as million dollar donors have been AT&T, Bain Capital, Partners HealthCare, New Balance and Liberty Mutual. Although some players came to the plate before Menino and Patrick had even established the fund, major Boston powerbrokers have been enlisted to make calls to moneyed interests to get them to ante up. Among the fundraising phone callers have been Jack Connors (founder of the Hill Holliday advertising agency and former board chair of Partners HealthCare, ranked by Boston Magazine as the second most influential player in the Boston region), John Fish (Suffolk Construction, ranked No. 6), Brian Moynihan (CEO of Bank of America), Paul Grogan (CEO of the Boston Foundation), Steve Pagliuca (Bain Capital and a co-owner of the Boston Celtics) and Larry Lucchino (president and CEO of the Boston Red Sox).

Despite the big players and corporate millions, plenty of everyday people are raising money to go into the One Fund Boston. Walkers and runners have been generating contributions for the One Fund by using the Charity Miles app while walking or running a 10k. This coming week, Boston Bites Back has 100 top chefs in the Boston area doing an event that they hope will raise $1 million for the fund. It took all of five minutes last week to sell out tickets for a fundraising concert to be held at the end of the month at TD Garden, with scheduled appearances by musicians with Boston roots such as James Taylor, Carole King, New Kids on the Block and the J. Geils Band.

It feels sort of crude to reduce the dimensions of a tragedy to a count of money raised to help people who were physically maimed by a horrible act. Nonetheless, the One Fund Boston has been a phenomenal fundraising success. In a comparable incident of domestic terrorism, the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City left 168 people dead and more than 680 people injured; 19 of the dead were children.  Between April 1995 and the end of 2012, the Disaster Relief Fund established to provide assistance to survivors and their children raised $14.7 million in donations and generated another $10.9 million in investment earnings. A forensic audit of the fund, conducted for the fund manager, the Oklahoma City Community Foundation, revealed that the fund paid out $11.2 million to assist more than 1,000 survivors and children and $4.4 million was “reallocated” to a “long-term needs fund” to support improvements to Oklahoma City’s future disaster preparedness ($2 million) and to fund a national memorial ($1.5 million), leaving almost $10 million still available for continuing assistance to survivors.

Amount of charitable donations made in response to selected contemporary public tragedies. Data from Mother Jones, the Oklahoma Disaster Relief Fund and news reports.

In Boston, Menino and Patrick quickly recruited attorney Kenneth Feinberg of the Feinberg Rozen law firm to administer the One Fund. His gold-plated reputation in this arena includes having been the administrator of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, the BP Deepwater Horizon fund and the money raised for victims of the Virginia Tech shootings, the Aurora theater shootings and the victims of the sexual abuse perpetrated by former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.  Feinberg is used to controversy in the administration of victims’ compensation funds, having faced plenty while overseeing the 9/11 fund and even being shut down as the administrator of the BP oil spill fund. He acknowledged as much last week when he issued a proposed protocol for distributing the funds, a three-tier structure based on the severity of victims’ injuries—death, double-amputation and brain damage at the top, single amputations next, and at the lowest compensation level, victims whose physical injuries required overnight hospitalization.

The Charitable Response to West, Texas

A compensation fund for victims of the factory explosion in West, Texas, has been created at the Waco Community Foundation. As of May 12, the West, Texas Disaster Relief Efforts Fund announced a fundraising total of $505,000 (current total here), with the largest donation from the TJX Companies, the parent corporation of TJ Maxx and Marshalls, headquartered in Boston, oddly enough, of $25,000, followed by five donations of $20,000 from family foundations.

Michelle Homer/KHOU.com
Willie Nelson performs during his 80th birthday party, which he turned into a fundraiser for West. He raised $125,000 for volunteer fire departments in West and nearby Abbott. In Boston, a May 30 fundraising concert that sold out in five minutes will include James Taylor, Aerosmith, Carole King, Jimmy Buffet, the J. Geils Band, New Kids on the Block and others.
In West, Texas, just like Boston, Oklahoma City and even New York City after September 11, the largest semi-official victims’ charity isn’t the only entity receiving charitable contributions. The Gene and Jerry Jones Families Charities gave $100,000 to the McLennan County Salvation Army, Willie Nelson turned his scheduled 80th birthday concert into a fundraiser for the West, Texas, Volunteer Fire Department, and even newly minted Texan Glenn Beck says that his Mercury One charity will be raising money to benefit West, Texas, victims and survivors. Regardless, the moneys being raised for efforts in West are dwarfed by the millions flowing into the One Fund for Boston.

Trying to explain the fundraising gap, Dan Ford of the McLennan County Salvation Army and Ashley Allison of the Waco Foundation cited the difference in press attention to the Boston bombings and the West, Texas, explosion. Press attention may be a factor in this, and Allison notes that some donors say they are contributing to the West fund because of the inadequate press attention the small town’s disaster has received. In the Waco, Texas, metropolitan area, West is located in the 194th largest media market in the U.S. Boston, by contrast, is the nation’s ninth largest media market and is really part of a conurbation stretching from Portland, Maine, to Richmond, Virginia.  

However, there is a much more powerful explanation related to a core problem in charity and philanthropy — the dearth of foundation and corporate philanthropic grantmaking for rural communities and issues. The community of West, Texas, named not for its geographic location, but for the first postmaster in the community, has a population of 2,807. The nearest large city is Waco, with 126,697 residents. The West Fertilizer Company supplied chemicals to farmers. Tiny slivers of neighborhoods in Boston contain more people than West, and few of them have ever been closer to the ammonium nitrate fertilizer in the plant than the sticks of Miracle Grow they use in their houseplants.

Only seven foundations in Waco have assets greater than $10 million, according to the Foundation Center’s online database, with four of the seven largely dedicated to religious giving. The three with more general grantmaking, including attention to disaster relief and social needs, are the Waco Foundation (a community foundation), the Bernard and Audre Rapoport Foundation (which made the lead donation to the West, Texas disaster relief fund), and the Cooper Foundation. The total cumulative giving of these foundations in their most recent fiscal years was $5.63 million.

Contrast that with philanthropic assets in Boston. Among the more notable foundation grantmakers in the Boston metropolitan area are the Barr Foundation with $1.17 billion in assets and $54.5 million in annual grants; the Boston Foundation, one of the nation’s strongest community foundations, with $804.2 million in assets and $98.4 million in grantmaking in its most recent year; and the Yawkey Foundation, capitalized from Boston Red Sox assets, worth $404.1 million and making grants of $20.9 million. There are also smaller but well respected foundations such as the Paul and Phyllis Fireman Charitable Foundation, the Hyams Foundation and the John Merck Fund. Corporations headquartered in the Boston metropolitan area include Staples, Hancock Financial (John Hancock), Liberty Mutual, Raytheon, the Bose Corporation and the aforementioned TJX.

In their access to philanthropic assets, Boston and West (or Waco, for that matter) live on different sides of the proverbial philanthropic divide.

Increasingly, disaster relief and victims’ compensation funding draw on crowdfunding techniques, with individuals and groups establishing funds for various causes, including a number of Boston bombing funds at GoFundMe, GiveForward and other Internet-based crowdfunding sites. A week after the Boston Marathon incident, GoFundMe claimed to have raised $1.3 million through its “Believe in Boston” campaign.

When the mayor pro tem of West, Texas, announced his community’s endorsement of the Waco Foundation’s management of its fund for victims compensation, Steve Vanek explained that fundraising for these needs was new for the local government, thus his decision to go to the professionals.

AP
West Mayor Pro Tem Steve Vanek
For Boston, private fundraising by Mayor Tom Menino is second nature. Power player Jack Connors, involved in leaning on moneyed people to contribute to the One Fund, is on the mayor’s good side for having raised a mere $45 million for what Boston Magazine called Menino’s “pet project,” the Camp Harbor View summer camp for at-risk kids.

Foundation attention to the needs of small towns like West and other rural communities barely registers in philanthropic circles. The proportion of the $46.9 billion in foundation grants in 2011 that went to rural is negligible. While individual givers in rural areas are generous in responding to West, they possess nothing to counterbalance the six- and seven-figure donations flowing into the One Fund Boston and other charities established for the marathon-bombing victims and survivors. The amount of money that has gone to the One Fund in two weeks doubles the total donations received by the Oklahoma City victims fund in nearly two decades. It is hard to imagine that donations to the West fund, serving a population of injured and dead just as large or larger than Boston’s, but without the population, press, wealth, corporate or philanthropic concentrations, will make much additional headway, even with the noteworthy attention of the likes of Willie Nelson, born in nearby Abbott, Texas, population 356.

There is a philanthropic divide in the United States that leaves small town and rural America increasingly isolated from the charitable and philanthropic wealth of this country. The fundraising challenges that will continue to face the West Disaster Relief Efforts Fund constitute empirical evidence of how charitable and philanthropic giving goes to where the crowds are, where the money is, and not necessarily fairly and proportionately to where the needs might be.

Rick Cohen is the national correspondent for Nonprofit Quarterly and editor of the weekly Cohen Report.

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Key Institutional Contributions to Various West, Texas, Relief Efforts

Funder

Amount

Cooper Foundation

$20,000

Fentress Foundation

$20,000

Harley Davidson of Waco, TX

$13,000

Gene and Jerry Jones Family Charities

$100,000

Meadows Foundation

$20,000

Paul and Jane Meyer Family Foundation

$20,000

Bernard & Audre Rapoport Foundation,

$20,000

Harold Simmons Foundation

$15,000

The TJX Companies

$25,000

Estimated Total of All Gifts as of May 12, 2013

$505,000

 

Key Institutional Contributions to the One Fund Boston

Funder

Amount

Adidas

$750,000

AT&T

$1,000,000

Affiliated Managers Group

$100,000

AT&T

$1,000,000

Bain Capital

$1,000,000

Bank of America

$250,000

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts

$100,000

BMO Financial

$25,000

BNY Mellon

$150,000

Boston Business Journal

$76,000

Boston Athletic Association

$250,000

Boston Bar Association

$25,000

Boston Bruins

$100,000

Boston Celtics

$100,000

Boston Red Sox

$146,500

RBS Citizens Financial (Citizens Bank)

$100,000

Coldwell Residential Brokerage

$25,000

Combined Jewish Philanthropies

$100,000

CVS Caremark

$100,000

Dunkin Donuts and Baskin Robbins Community Foundation

$200,000

Entercom

$25,000

JC Decaux

$50,000

John Hancock

$1,000,000

JP Morgan Chase

$500,000

Liberty Mutual Insurance

$1,000,000

Major League Baseball

$500,000

Mastercard Worldwide

$50,000

Metlife Foundation

$100,000

National Hockey League and NHL Players Association

$100,000

New Balance Athletic Shoe

$1,000,000

New England Patriots

$100,000

New York Life Insurance

$100,000

NFL Charities

$100,000

The Obsidian Group

$100,000

Partners Healthcare

$1,000,000

Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation

$53,000

PricewaterhouseCoopers

$500,000

RBC Foundation

$50,000

Shaw’s/Star Market

$100,000

Simon Property Group

$100,000

Sovereign Bank

$100,000

State Street Corporation

$500,000

Stop & Shop/Ahold

$500,000

Sully’s Brand T-Shirts

$50,000

TD Bank Garden

$50,000

TD Bank Group

$50,000

TJX Companies

$500,000

Trip Advisor

$100,000

Verizon

$100,000

Estimated Total of All Gifts as of May 12, 2013

$29.822 million

 

 

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