Shaken by the loss on September 11 of two good customers and colleagues — the Marriott World Trade Center's Abdu Malahi and Joe Keller — and confronted by what to do with a meeting planning department with time on its hands, Lee Travel Group president and b-there chairwoman Peggy Lee decided to set up a gift trust to provide financial support to the families of the 61 identified meeting, travel, and hospitality industry victims of the September attacks.
She and her staff put together the victim profiles and the financial and legal aspects of the foundation and launched Our Own (www.our-own.org) in March. The foundation holds online raffles, with the proceeds going to the hospitality and travel industry victims' families on a pro-rated basis.
Lee decided to process the fund on the Internet to bypass the rules, regulations, and taxes that offline charities typically are subject to. It uses components of b-there's online attendee management engine to manage the raffle ticket sales and track each item. Drawings are held as soon as the tickets sold equal twice the value of a particular item or 90 days have passed, whichever comes first. The only catch: Because it's a gift trust, contributions are not tax-deductible.
Donated items are eclectic, ranging from a conference registration package for Penton Media's Nextware Expo to a duck-hunting trip to Arkansas to a plastic surgery procedure. “Everyone has something they can donate,” urges Lee, who hope to find an online auction firm willing to donate auction software so she can add that functionality to the site.
It might be easy to get carried away with all the interesting prizes, but the foundation's Web site doesn't forget why it came to be: The “In Memory …” page puts faces to some of the travel and hospitality industry victims. At the bottom of the list, an animated poem by an 8-year-old named Abby sums up what the spirit of giving is really all about.