HARTFORD — The charitable response to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012, was immediate, worldwide and exceptionally generous. But challenges emerged for both newly established and existing organizations as they struggled to manage the volume of donations, identify the needs of the community, and coordinate with other organizations.
On July 1, Governor Dannel P. Malloy, Attorney General George Jepsen and state Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner William M. Rubenstein released a report on the overwhelming charitable response that evaluates information provided voluntarily by organizations engaged in fundraising related to the tragedy, provides a quantitative analysis of survey responses.
The report identifies ways that state regulators and the nonprofit community can partner and collaborate to provide transparency, bolster donor confidence, consolidate resources and increase coordination. At the same time, the state released a new Charities Disaster Relief Guide, available online in the “Charities” section of the Attorney General’s website, which provides guidance to both donors and charitable organizations on best practices, effective communication and legal requirements.
“Each time our state is hit hard by a large-scale emergency or extreme weather related events, we see the best in human nature — that innate impulse and need to help and give during another person’s darkest hour,” said Gov Malloy. “We introduced this report to create a more transparent and streamlined system of accounting for the funds that are collected, recorded and distributed to Connecticut residents following a catastrophic event.”
The governor said the resource is “one of the many steps we have taken to demonstrate that we are serious about better serving the public by making state government more transparent, more responsive and more efficient.”
“The generosity of people from all corners of our country and beyond was on display in the days and weeks following that horrible day in Sandy Hook,” said Attorney General Jepsen. “The goal of this report is to document that generosity and provide transparency to the giving public about where their donations went while also developing strategies on how we can better prepare for and respond to tragic events. I appreciate the cooperation of the various organizations; 96 percent of those we asked to complete a voluntary survey did respond. My office will continue to communicate with these groups and monitor disbursement of remaining charitable funds.”
“This report and the new Charities Disaster Relief Guide demonstrate our strong commitment to oversee charitable activities and fundraising in Connecticut, and I wish to express my thanks to the Sandy Hook donors worldwide for their generosity, and to the charities themselves for cooperating with us as we worked to establish a system of transparency and accountability appropriate for a charitable effort of this magnitude,” Commissioner Rubenstein said.
“The Disaster Relief Guide is a must-read for anyone involved in soliciting, managing, or donating funds for emergency relief. We have researched, collected and combined the best practices, resources and laws applicable to Connecticut into one easy to understand document,” he added.
Within months of the tragedy, the Attorney General and Commissioner Rubenstein asked organizations and individuals that had been identified as having engaged in charitable fundraising related to Sandy Hook to complete a survey about their activities. In the fall of 2013, a second voluntary survey was issued to the organizations.
The survey was sent electronically and was comprised of questions about funds raised, whether fundraisers communicated a designated charitable intent, categories of expenditures, unspent funds, surplus funds and general organizational information.
In total, 77 organizations provided information in response to the surveys, which serve as the basis of the July 1 report. The respondents reported raising over $28 million in connection with 12/14.
Of that, over $15 million had been distributed at the time of the survey responses. Unspent funds were reserved by organizations for long-term community needs — including mental health and other services — memorials, scholarships and future programming.
According to the report, 64 of the 77 charities included are based in Connecticut, and 36 of those 64 originated in Newtown or Sandy Hook. Respondents were asked to identify their main charitable or organizational purpose.
The purpose of this inquiry was to better understand what types of groups were engaging in Sandy Hook-related fundraising.
The vast range of responses is reflective of a tragedy in a small community where locals pledged their individual and collective support to the rebuilding efforts and donated their services. The most popular selected categories were Philanthropic, Volunteerism, Grants (12 organizations) and Education (8), with Arts, Culture, and Humanities (6) and Human Services (6) sharing the third most commonly cited purposes.
Some that chose Other are large organizations with missions that spanned multiple categories without one particular focus. Others were small, one-time fundraisers. For example, Sandy Hook Wrist Bracelets raised $940 selling “Sandy Hook Angels 2012” bracelets and donated the funds to the “Sandy Hook School Support Fund c/o Newtown Savings Bank.”
Individual Efforts Noted
Three respondents each of whom selected “Other” were individuals and not organizations, including Tara Gaston, a first year medical student who, along with friends from her Newtown High School soccer team, Cast Frobey and Alex Konneker, raised $56,000 and donated the money to Newtown Scholarship Association and Newtown Memorial Foundation.
Vanessa Valenzuela from Chicago, Ill., solicited donations through the fundraising platform GiveForward.com for “families that suffered the loss of a loved one in the Sandy Hook tragedy.” Ms Valenzuela raised approximately $1,176 and had those donations sent directly to The Sandy Hook School Support Fund.
Tara Regan from Wentzville, Mo., raised approximately $7,700 for “individuals that were affected by the Sandy Hook tragedy,” which she donated to four Newtown/Sandy Hook organizations.
Of the total 77 respondents, ten organizations reported that they had dissolved or disbanded. All ten dissolved or disbanded fundraisers had formed a fund or solicited funds from the general public specifically in response to 12/14.
State officials are in the process of verifying that funds raised by these organizations have been accounted for and distributed pursuant to donor intent.
Of the $28 million raised, there remains $12,452,476 in unspent funds as reported on survey responses submitted through March 2014. Nearly half of the responding organizations reported that they have unspent funds or undisbursed gift-in-kind donations.
The responses suggest a variety of reasons why funds may be unspent including: awaiting approval of certain projects (such as memorials), awarding of scholarships in the future, and maintaining funds for the long term needs of the community, such as mental health counseling.
Officials will continue to reach out to these organizations to assess why funds remain unspent and whether they have a plan and the capacity to handle these unspent funds, and to provide guidance as appropriate in their disbursement in accordance with donor intent.
RELATED: Click here to see the distribution of the ten largest 12/14-related groups, as determined by those who responded to the state surveys.