Broadening the Bounty

Americans can be heartened by the fact that 7 of 10 of their fellow citizens have stepped in to provide much-needed aid, comfort, support, and an astonishing amount of monetary assistance to the victims of the Sept. 11 tragedy.

Some $934 million has been collected so far by about 140 charities, notably the Red Cross, Salvation Army, and United Way. Behind the money lies a lively spirit of public service, seen in the flood of volunteers who rushed to New York and Washington to help, and in an array of inspiring heroic acts.

And the fundraising events and efforts related to the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks continue. But relief efforts have been such a mishmash that the state attorney general for New York had to step in to help provide coordination.

Some charity officials say donations and gifts already have more than met immediate needs, and greater efforts now can focus on a proper distribution of such a large amount of money. Now questions such as "How much is enough?" and "When should the outpouring end?" are rightly being asked.

Already, other venerable charities and nonprofits are worried about big drops in giving during the traditionally busy fall fundraising period. A weaker economy also has played to their concern. They can take heart in this statistic: According to the American Association Fundraising Council, financial charity in the US has increased every year but one (1987) for the past 40 years, including times of war, recession, and other crises.

Now, civic-minded individuals and grantmakers can incorporate giving what they can, over time, to help shore up vital educational, cultural, health, and other civic organizations. Maintaining a steady flow of income to these charities, agencies, and nonprofits has been an ongoing problem.

And while many charities are expected to review end-of-year donations before making changes in strategy, they must also seriously consider a tendency to connect their own needs for money and volunteers with the terror attacks, lest they be perceived as wrongly opportunistic. Some wisely postponed solicitations, or changed their messages to reflect a sensitivity to the attacks.

Meanwhile, Americans can again exercise their vibrant charitableness broadly, continuing to match their generosity to meet specific needs.

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