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 whose meetings were cancelled last fall, Lee Travel Group president and b-there chairwoman Peggy Lee decided to set up a gift trust to provide direct financial support to the families of the 61 identified meeting, travel, and hospitality industry victims of the September 11 attacks.
Following the example set by the National Restaurant Association’s Windows of Life fund for restaurant worker victims’ families, Lee put her meeting planning staff to work last fall researching how to set up the foundation. "Putting our meeting planners to work on this project when they were afraid they would lose their jobs was the smartest thing I ever did," says Lee.
She and her staff put together the victim profiles, and the financial and legal aspects of the foundation, and soft-launched Our Own (www.our-own.org) in January. The foundation holds online raffles, with the proceeds going to the hospitality and travel industry victims’ families on a pro rata basis. "I didn’t want to even get into who should get what," Lee says. The official kick off will be held at the Stamford Marriott on March 20. Many of the victims’ families are planning to attend.
Lee decided to process the fund on the Internet to bypass the rules, regulations, and taxes offline charities typically are subject to. It uses the registration component of online attendee management provider b-there’s transaction engine, as well as the module’s session limits, to manage the raffle ticket sales and track each item’s availability. The first drawing of winning tickets will take place at the official launch in March. After that, drawings will be held when tickets equaling twice the value of a particular item are sold or 90 days have passed, whichever comes first. The only catch: Because it’s a gift trust, contributions are not tax deductible.
To date, donated items are eclectic, ranging from Bermuda vacations, a duck-hunting trip to Arkansas, the opportunity to pitch a business to a venture capitalist, and a plastic surgery procedure. "Everyone has something they can donate," urges Lee. Once the site is officially launched, Lee wants to look into getting an online auction firm to donate some 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, and lists all by name, title, and company. At the bottom of the list, an animated poem by an eight-year-old named Abby sums up what the spirit of giving, and America, is really all about.