The September 11th Fund: Accountability and Media Strategy

Stanford Business School



Case Study Sector


At 8:45 a.m. on September 11, 2001, a hijacked airliner flew into the North Tower of New York City's World Trade Center. Over the next hour, three additional hijacked planes crashed: one into the South Tower, one into the Pentagon, and one into a field in Pennsylvania. Lorie Slutsky, president of the New York Community Trust, and Ralph Dickerson, president of the United Way of New York City (UWNYC), watched and listened from their Empire State Building offices as events unfolded. The two met and by 5 p.m. had created the September 11th Fund ("the Fund") to support the immediate and long-term needs of the people and communities affected by the tragedy. The Trust and UWNYC decided to partner in their September 11th response for several reasons: their stature as the city's largest charitable organizations, their relationships with local nonprofits and governmental agencies, their differing donor bases, and their history of collaboration. They believed that a joint fund would have greater impact and leverage than several smaller funds and that the public would benefit from having a centralized place to donate. The two staffs began meeting on September 12th to address the barrage of issues related to collecting donations, distributing money, and responding to the press and public. Through the direct collaboration of the Trust and UWNYC, the September 11th Fund provided support and services to over 100,000 people in 47 states and 26 foreign countries and effectively coordinated the efforts of hundreds of charities, governmental organizations, companies, and dedicated individuals.

They moved quickly and worked under intense media scrutiny. The scope of the September 11th disaster and the size of the response made collaboration essential yet also created enormous challenges. Despite the overall success of charities in facing the challenge, public confidence in charitable organizations declined in the year following the attack. The Fund's experience brought to light the lack of understanding between the philanthropic sector and the media. In the wake of September 11th, many foundation leaders evaluated the difficult lessons learned by the Trust and UWNYC in interacting.

Learning objective: To discuss the strategy of the fund, the challenges facing the fund, and how the challenges were addressed; the importance of accountability and how it was provided; and the role of the press.



  • Evaluation
  • Field Building
  • Partnership
  • Strategy


  • Northern America

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