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Sandy Hook Foundation Memo Unveils Plans For 'No Publicity' Fundraising



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Leaders of the Newtown-Sandy Hook Community Foundation have issued a memo signaling a plan to begin targeted fundraising to help offset operating expenses.

The memo, which was provided to and first detailed in The Hartford Courant, reportedly warned that the foundation is going about the fundraising efforts quietly — and wants “no publicity.”

Upon contacting Foundation Director Lucie Connell, she replied, “As you know, the foundation wants to stay true to our mission, vision, and promise to the community by supporting operations and activities which address the short-term and long-term unmet needs of individuals and the Newtown community arising from the tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012.”

Connell went on to say that the foundation leaders’ intention “has been to keep the Sandy Hook School Support Fund viable as a resource to the community until the children enrolled at the school on 12/14/12 are through high school.

“Consistent with not utilizing the Sandy Hook Support Fund for operating expenses,” she added, “the foundation expected to have the need to solicit resources to support ongoing operations through the remainder of the life of the foundation, to the extent possible.”

Earlier this year, the foundation tapped The Newtown Bee to help communicate news to the community regarding its upcoming grant cycle. Since 2014 and up to that point in mid-February, the foundation had provided $1,021,315 in grants to organizations working with individuals who were impacted by the 2012 tragedy, and to strengthen the community as a whole.

At the time, foundation leadership was continuing to focus on the development of partnerships with organizations and groups in the community to support and sustain recovery efforts for the long term. With the right structures in place, foundation founders and current leaders believe the community will be better equipped to support itself.

But by last December, the foundation had already signaled its resources were being depleted at a rate that could leave the organization falling short of its goal to remain sustainable until its projected sunset date of December 31, 2125. That date reflects the point when all of the students present at Sandy Hook School on 12/14 are expected to have graduated from high school.

Unprecedented Requests: 2019

In a December 2 Newtown Bee article, Connell said unprecedented requests for assistance covering immediate mental health intervention expenses were forcing the foundation to adjust how it would disburse future benefits.

She and Distribution Committee member Bob Schmidt explained that adjustments in certain support fund benefits were inevitable considering 2019 disbursements from the fund exceeded those in any full year since the foundation was formed.

As of last October, the fund had provided $404,983, and the foundation’s leaders were anticipating a spike in requests in mid-December. The next highest disbursements from the support fund occurred in 2016, when benefit distributions totaled $400,119.

Because of the historic spike in requests for immediate and more costly assistance, Connell said the foundation leadership decided to eliminate funding various secondary health and wellness services, along with social emotional enrichment.

“We have worked to fund services through 2025,” Ms Connell said. “It’s our board’s goal to try and provide as many services as possible. There is just not enough in the budget to continue covering the wellness [expenses] versus the more [emergent] therapy.”

At the time, the foundation leaders said they were resisting launching any type of fundraising, but would not rule it out at some point in the future if emergent demands for assistance began outpacing the fund’s ability to sustain them through 2025.

Matching Challenge Grant

Now, just six months later, the nonprofit foundation, which launched with approximately $12.5 million in donations, is reportedly taking advantage of an opportunity to participate in a “matching challenge grant” to anchor a general fundraising operation.

“A successful general operating fundraising effort will ensure that the foundation is staffed responsibly, allow the foundation to channel 100 percent of the funds donated to the Sandy Hook School Support Fund to those most impacted by the tragedy, and for the foundation to fulfill the initial sunset plan,” according to a July 20 Associated Press report.

The Newtown Bee has since learned the foundation is closing its office in The Parent Connection facility at Fairfield Hills as a further cost avoidance measure.

Of the $12.5 million in donations that poured in after the shooting, both the AP and Courant reported that $7.7 million eventually went to 40 families directly impacted by the massacre, with the bulk of that going to the 26 families. The remaining $4.4 million was to be used to provide mental health services to the victims’ families, first responders, teachers, and students from the school according to a March 2014 foundation report.

The AP is now reporting that the foundation has $1.5 million left for the next five years. The Newtown Bee was unable to immediately verify that detail, as public financial filings are only available through 2018.

The foundation had been able to use a federal grant and income from investments to pay operating expenses so far, but the grant is running low and has apparently triggered the need to conduct fundraising with the upside being the matching grant that could further fortify the fund and support its efforts.

The drastic demand for mental health and trauma assistance also impacted another local organization after it initiated fundraising following the tragedy. The Newtown Lions Club, which originally estimated having enough funds to last ten years, completely depleted the $344,000 it had raised by May of 2014.

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