Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear raises big money. Who gets it?

Saturday's Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, organized by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, has raised hundreds of thousands dollars without selling a single ticket. Where's the money going?

J. Scott Applewhite / AP / File
The Reflecting Pool on the National Mall in Washington, here shown on Sept. 2, has since been drained for repairs. Renovations to the pool and to the rest of the Mall are supported by the Trust for the National Mall, recipient of all money raised by Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity. Colbert's March to Keep Fear Alive is asking for contributions to DonorsChoose.org, an online charity supporting teachers.

While it’s still not clear how seriously to take the now-hybridized Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, the events have raised a serious amount of money already – and their organizers aren't keeping it.

Each of the two original events, Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity and Stephen Colbert’s March to Keep Fear Alive, designated a single charity to be the recipient of their fund-raising efforts. Whether people are buying merchandise or just making a contribution, all the money is being funneled into nonprofit pockets.

Mr. Stewart designated the Trust for the National Mall as his charitable recipient, much to the trust's surprise. “In fact, when we first got the phone call, we thought it was a prank,” admits Caroline Cunningham, president of the trust. “It was an unexpected and wonderful surprise.”

IN PICTURES: Who will be at the Rally to Restore Sanity?

The trust is a three-year-old private nonprofit that works with the National Park Service to restore the National Mall, Ms. Cunningham said. While the nonprofit organized its own, larger fund-raising events in the past, this is the most they’ve ever received from online contributions.

Mr. Colbert – or as he prefers, The Rev. Sir Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, D.F.A. – selected DonorsChoose.org, a charitable clearinghouse where teachers can describe classroom needs and donors can pick which project(s) to fund.

On his Oct. 5 show, Colbert issued this invitation to his viewers: “Make your donation to show support of my march and to support America’s kids. And keep those donations coming, folks, because for every $100,000, I undo another button.”

Modest viewers might need to shield their eyes, because by 5:00 p.m. on Friday, more than 10,000 donors had contributed just over half a million dollars. Visitors to Donorschoose.org/truthiness can watch the updates streaming onto the page as people make new contributions, each tagged with Colbert’s face and the banner for the March to Keep Fear Alive.

Mary from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, said that she contributed to the project “From Math Students to Mathematicians,” because "I always enjoyed school and am grateful to every teacher who drove my interest in learning more. I appreciate the dedication of all teachers who strive to create children interested in lifelong learning."

Visitors to Stewart’s rally website are repeatedly asked to donate to NationalMall.org, “because, let’s face it, you guys are probably going to mess it up a lot this weekend.” His fans responded. By close of business on the day before the Rally, supporters had contributed almost $150,000 – over $30,000 of that on Friday alone.

As an additional fundraiser, the Trust will distribute grass-seed cards during the rally that give a text-to-donate public service message, so attendees can make instant contributions with their cellphones. The information will be printed on paper specially made for the occasion, so that if people drop them, instead of generating litter, they’ll be sowing new grass.

Whether Saturday’s rally turns out to be entertainment or politics, its supporters have already contributed to the site of “countless history-making rallies, marches and pick-up kickball games,” as Stewart’s site says, and improved the lives of almost 200,000 students.

That’s worth rallying for.

IN PICTURES: Who will be at the Rally to Restore Sanity?

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