Zero Memorial On Bumpy Path For Its Millions

Back in the heady days of 2003, no one seemed to want to talk about how much the World Trade Center memorial would cost. No one tried to keep costs down, and the amount to be raised privately was a well-kept secret.

People argued over whether to give extra recognition to police officers and firefighters. They said that the Twin Towers’ footprint must be preserved. They crowed about opening up the memorial competition to “anyone with $25 and a vision”—which turned out to be the best idea of all, as it raised a little pocket change for the construction. But the architects were never given a budget, and some came up with lavish ideas: 3,000 glass columns, each inscribed with a victim’s name; 92 sugar maples, representing the number of countries from which the victims came; 10,000 vertical light beams floating in midair.

The design that won, Reflecting Absence by Michael Arad and Peter Walker, may have been one of the cheapest, but it includes eight waterfalls, 30-foot-deep reflecting pools and hundreds of trees. The cost, along with an underground museum, was last tallied at $490 million, but construction inflation and the other elements of the memorial quadrant prompted Mayor Michael Bloomberg to speculate that the final price tag would be more like $1 billion.

Just $130.3 million has been raised privately.

Reflecting absence, indeed.

The expulsion of the planned Freedom Center from Ground Zero—which was to be a cultural museum dedicated to … freedom?—cut off what was supposed to be a profitable conduit for funds for the whole memorial.

The Freedom Center had already raised a few million dollars from American Express, G.E. and other corporations, and would have been able to sell naming rights, which will not be permitted on the site itself. (The visitors’ center will display a list of contributors.)

After the Freedom Center died, Agnes Gund, former president of the Museum of Modern Art, resigned from the memorial’s board in protest. Tom Bernstein, a co-chairman of the foundation’s fund-raising committee and chairman of the Freedom Center, quit as well, and with them went the sense that the memorial would appeal to New York’s donor class.

“I’ve never been asked by any of our donors who gave generously to the Sept. 11 Fund and to other 9/11-related charities anything about the memorial,” said Bob Edgar, vice president for donor relations at the New York Community Trust. “I think many donors these days are proactive: ‘What can we do to make things better?’ I don’t know exactly, if given a choice between helping a Ninth Ward New Orleans family and engraving the name of someone who died in 9/11, which one you are more likely to give to.”

Other fund-raising professionals pointed to other anomalies that are making it hard to attract donors—like the fact that the memorial doesn’t exist yet. (A chicken-and-egg problem if ever there was one.)

“As opposed to the Statue of Liberty, where you could look out and see the lady with the torch in the harbor and that iconic image is known throughout the world, we are being asked to invest funds in something where there is only an iconic image of what once stood there,” said Michael Seltzer, president of the New York Regional Association of Grantmakers, an umbrella group of foundations and individual donors. “The situation defies conventional indicators, and I think $130 million is frankly quite impressive by this stage.”

As a sign of how hard it is to raise money for Sept. 11 almost five years later, consider September’s Mission Foundation, an organization established by Monica Iken, who lost her husband on Sept. 11 and who, right after the memorial design was announced in January 2004, said she wanted to raise $9.11 million that would go towards the memorial’s construction and operation. So far, Ms. Iken said, she has brought in about $35,000. She has lowered her sights to raise $1 million by the fifth anniversary this September.

Good Money After Bad (News)

“I would say it’s disappointing, but I would not in any way say it’s a failure,” said Addie Guttag, senior vice president for development at the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation.

And she and the foundation’s defenders have a point: The foundation raising money for the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island took more than 20 years to raise a half-billion dollars. Prestigious universities and large art museums get up into that range, but then they’re long-established institutions.

“Part of what we are fighting is that stories are being put out there in the press that it is a failure,” Ms. Guttag said. “I don’t know any start-up that has raised more money than we have. People, and corporations, like to give to a winner.”

When asked whether potential donors mentioned the bad news, Ms. Guttag said, “No, but I think there is confusion over what is ours, what is [office developer Larry] Silverstein’s, what is the Port Authority’s …. No corporation has turned us down. In some cases, they want to wait and see. In some cases, they have to do their due diligence and get approval from their board.”

Until recently, the bad press followed bad news, largely at other portions of Ground Zero. Then, on April 11, the New York Post quoted two foundation board members anonymously who said that the foundation’s president, Gretchen Dykstra, wasn’t doing her job well. She had come to the foundation a year ago with little fund-raising experience but what was seen as valuable connections to businesses forged when she was head of the business-improvement district in Times Square.

It is unclear how those connections have played out. The biggest donation so far—$25 million—came from the Starr Foundation, which is headed by Maurice (Hank) Greenberg, the embattled former chairman of A.I.G., and it is assumed he was asked for a donation by his close friend John Whitehead, the chairman of the foundation’s board. Many of the other large corporate gifts—$15 million from Deutsche Bank, $10 million from the Bank of New York, between $1 million and $5 million from Bear Stearns—have come from downtown institutions with a clear interest in seeing something get built in the hole at Ground Zero, and whose executives sit on the foundation board.

“When I see how much and where we have raised, I say, ‘Thank God for John Whitehead,’” said one board member who requested anonymity. “You have to put forward a sense of excitement. There has been no ad campaign so far. We live in New York City. How many fund-raising events have there been in the last year? None.”

Ms. Dykstra referred specific questions on development to Ms. Guttag, and she was unavailable to be interviewed because of her schedule, according to vice president of public affairs Lynn Rasic.

“A campaign of this magnitude depends on the support of major donors and the public,” Ms. Rasic said. “Like most nonprofits, the president and foundation staff work with the board to maximize their resources in order to further the organization’s mission and close gifts. Obviously, Gretchen’s job as president entails a host of things. The foundation isn’t just a fund-raising body. The foundation is set up to build, own and operate the memorial and the site.”

The launch of a television and print advertising campaign to solicit donations from the general public will come in May—but that, according to the board member, is awfully late in the process. Ms. Rasic said that the campaign is being produced entirely pro bono, with airtime, newspaper space and creative work all donated.

The foundation knows that most of its money will come from big gifts, not the general public. So ad campaigns, or gimmicks like American Express donating one penny for each charge—like it did for the Statue of Liberty—may be nice to goose school spirit, but cannot be counted on for major amounts.

The last direct-mail campaign, with about 164,000 pieces, yielded just $60,000, according to Ms. Guttag. The earlier one, launched in late November, yielded even less. She said that direct mail, however, builds a mailing list that will come in handy five or 10 years hence in soliciting funds for operating or maintenance.

Other board members did not blame Ms. Dykstra entirely or at all for the lack of donations, although they did echo the sense that fund-raising was in crisis.

“I think the fund-raising really needs a good jumpstart,” said Julie Menin, head of the lower Manhattan community board and a member of the foundation’s board. “I served on the jury that picked the 9/11 memorial, and some time has passed since then and we don’t have a lot to show for it. I really think there needs to be more of focus put on fund-raising. It entails a national campaign. It entails elected officials going out and fund-raising for the memorial.”

Fund-raising professionals not directly connected to the campaign were surprised when told that not all members of the foundation’s board had made contributions.

“We call it ‘family first’—whether it is the first 12 months or 15 of a campaign, you certainly like to have leadership gifts in hand before you spread the solicitations around,” said Bob Carter, president of Ketchum, which is advising the $30 million fund-raising campaign for a Flight 93 memorial in Pennsylvania. “The executive director is likely to be the manager of the process and perhaps the information resource to the key volunteers. We believe in the success of peer-to-peer fund-raising instead of fund-raising by paid staff.”

J.P. Morgan Chase, Time Warner and American Express are the three largest corporations who have representation on the board but which have not contributed. Spokesmen for each of them said the companies plan to make significant donations, although they did not specify when.

The Rockefeller Foundation has not announced, though its president, Judith Rodin, is a member of the foundation’s board. Ms. Rodin recently hired Richard Tofel as vice president and general counsel. Mr. Tofel was the president of the International Freedom Center.

A call to a Rockefeller Foundation spokesman for comment was not returned.

—additional reporting by Jason Horowitz Zero Memorial On Bumpy Path For Its Millions