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Over the past year, GCs at the nation’s largest charities have helped coordinate some of the biggest relief efforts ever launched in the nonprofit world. Meeting those Herculean challenges has also meant grappling with a host of novel legal issues. At the New York Community Trust, the legal department’s first task was to help define the group’s mission. To set up the September 11th Fund (a joint venture with the United Way), NYCT General Counsel Jane Wilton had to draft a legal definition that would spell out exactly who would receive assistance from the fund. The big question for Wilton and her colleagues: Would aid go just to survivors, or to a broader group less directly affected by the attacks? Wilton remembered the advice of Nancy Anthony, president of the Oklahoma City Community Foundation, which responded to the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. “Nancy told us to think long term and address the greater needs of the community, not just define our mission around the victims,” Wilton says. Ultimately, the September 11th Fund decided to give grants not just to the relatives of those killed in the terrorist attacks, but also to workers and residents who were injured or displaced as a result of the tragedy. In order to avoid any misunderstandings, Wilton made sure that donors were informed, through press releases and the fund’s Web site, that their contributions would go to a wide range of recipients. SURVIVOR STATUS The Twin Towers Fund had to deal with a more nuanced twist on the issue of whom to aid: determining the legal status of some applicants. A brand-new charity established last fall by Rudy Giuliani, the fund is headed by Larry Levy, an ex-deputy counsel to the former New York City mayor. Levy says that his organization initially recognized requests only from the surviving members of couples who were married or who had registered as domestic partners under New York City law. But the fund’s rule left out about 40 other survivors whose legal status was less clear-cut: both heterosexual fianc�s who were engaged to a victim, as well as gay survivors who hadn’t registered at City Hall with their partners. Levy and M. Antoinette Thomas — a partner at New York’s Carter, Ledyard & Milburn who worked as the fund’s GC on a pro bono basis — sought guidance from other charities that had dealt with the issue before. Thomas and Levy then drafted new criteria that will allow an applicant to show that he or she had a relationship with a victim by proving economic co-dependency, as through shared bills. In the midst of providing relief, other organizations were able to turn roadblocks into new public policies. Victoria Bjorklund, outside general counsel for The Robin Hood Foundation, hit an obstacle while setting up grants for small businesses in lower Manhattan. The IRS has traditionally considered these types of gifts to be taxable income (charitable grants to individuals are generally ruled to be nontaxable). A BREAK FROM THE IRS But Bjorklund, a partner at New York’s Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, decided to challenge the IRS on its policy. The 9/11 Task Force of the American Bar Association (on which Bjorklund sits) also joined the fight. The group submitted supporting research to the IRS and sent a representative to testify before Congress. Ironically, the good news came on April 15. In a precedent-setting letter, the IRS ruled that grants given to Manhattan businesses hurt by last fall’s attacks would not be considered taxable income. Like her colleagues at other charities, Bjorklund was happy that her expertise and persistence paid off. “We did everything we could to help people and businesses [remain] downtown,” she says. Mission accomplished.

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