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The next 15 years: Much is expected, much can be lost. (General Ramblings).

A few years back a national survey organization asked Americans about charity. It turned Out that a majority of those asked believed that the American Red Gross was a part of the federal government. While that was an alarming finding, charities should be even more concerned about the public's reaction and expectations in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

As charity goes forward, the sector must deal with several vexing questions while managing the expectations of the good donors who opened their checkbooks or dropped coins in a kettle. Charity is rooted in compassion. But of late, the demands being placed on good will are forcing a reexamination.

After the horrors at the World Trade Center many lamented that the money being collected wasn't being distributed quickly enough. Next came questions about the amounts being paid to each survivor. Because of the outpouring of support from around the nation, many of the families are now financially set for life. That's fine. But now, some victims of the domestic terror attack in Oklahoma City want re-consideration because their checks were not as large. Representatives of service personnel killed in action in the war on terror are also raising question about their compensation, using the World Trade Center pay-outs as a benchmark.

The question that must be asked and answered is whether it is the role of charity to care for an individual from cradle to grave. The federal government has gotten out of that business, capping lifetime benefits at five years.

It seems the charitable sector will continue to suffer a credibility crisis unless it makes a clear declaration one way or the other.

The outpouring of support is unprecedented. But as the battle continues, charities and victims can not expect similar donor response. And no charity, or confederation of groups, will be able to provide such coverage. The role of charity is to care for those who can't care for themselves and to help up those who need it. The sector can not be expected to provide an umbrella that large.

Communication will be key, as will behavior that is above reproach. The sector can not tolerate large scale financial scandals, criminal or otherwise, and expect people to continue to give.

Likewise, charities must be clear about how the money is to be used. Donors understand that someone has to pay the electric bill. They just want to be told in plain English how the money is being spent.

A lot of good is done with the more than $200 billion raised annually. It is important that those good works are not lost to confusion and dashed expectations.
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Article Details
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Author:Clolery, Paul
Publication:The Non-profit Times
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2002
Words:439
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