$300 million: that’s how much Edie Lutnick’s foundation, the Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund, has donated to the families affected by the 9/11 attacks and to other charitable organizations since its establishment on September 14, 2001.
Lutnick refused to sit back and dwell on the overwhelming tragedy and loss in the wake of the attacks. Her brother Gary was among the 658 Cantor Fitzgerald employees occupying the 101-105 floors of the World Trade Center who lost their lives that morning. Instead, Lutnick serves as living proof that you can turn a devastating negative into an extraordinary positive.
She immediately quit practicing law and launched the Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund along with her brother Howard (Chairman and CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald). The move has played a large role in her personal healing process.
“The Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund created an enduring legacy for those we lost and now helps other victims of terrorism, natural disasters, emergencies and wounded members of our military in addition to supporting charities that are a force for good in this world.I get to be a part of that every day,” Lutnick says.
The organization donates 100 percent of its proceeds and has made a tremendous global impact since its inception. Here’s how Lutnick and the Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund are bringing light back into 9/11 families in the aftermath of dark tragedy.
After 9/11, why did you found your own charitable organization rather than join an established foundation?
As you may know, on September 11, 2001, my brother Howard and I lost our youngest brother Gary, an employee at Cantor Fitzgerald, along with 657 of his colleagues and friends. Howard and I were committed to taking care of the families of those we had lost any way that we could.
The events of September 11 created such an unprecedented set of circumstances that we had to create a charitable organization which addressed the immediate needs of those who were affected.At the time, no other existing charitable organization was prepared to do that with the direct financial assistance we knew these families required. So, on September 14, just three days after the WTC attacks, the Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund was born. I gave up practicing law to become the Co-founder and Executive Director.
I wrote a book called An Unbroken Bond, which answers this question much more fully and looks at the relationships we forged and tried to forge with other charities. On October 4, 2001, three weeks after we began, we sent out our first round of checks to the families.
How has establishing the fund changed your life?
Not just for me, but for most 9/11 families there is a before and an after following September 11, 2001. Creating the Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund gave me a purpose larger than myself. It enabled me to turn my grief into a cause that helped the 9/11 community heal. I may have had the privilege of helping the families, but they, in turn, helped me.
What advice can you give to family’s struggling with hardships or tragedy?
For over 15 years, I have been caring for families that have faced incredible hurdles, be they public or private. They are extraordinary individuals who have taught me so much. Here are some of the lessons I have learned:
First: You have a core of strength inside of you that you may not realize is there. Just trust that you have it. Finding a new normal is possible. It will be different and it may not be right away, but it is possible. Second: There is nothing okay about what is happening to you except how you choose to deal with it as long as you don’t hurt yourself or anyone else. Third: I said this before as it applied to me, and it works. Find something larger than yourself to focus on. It will not only help you heal, but you will accomplish spectacular things in the world. Fourth: This last one may sound silly, but believe it or not, it’s helped a lot of people. Someone told it to me when my parents died and I’ve been passing it along ever since. “Make your bed.” Making your bed does two things. First, it forces you to get out of it, and second, no matter how difficult your day may be, at the end of it you can look back and know you accomplished something.
Tell us about your annual fundraiser Charity Day. How has this event helped affected families?
Charity Day is our way of turning a tragic day into one that is positive and uplifting by helping others.Every year, on September 11or the first workday after, Cantor Fitzgerald and its affiliate companies, in conjunction with the Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund, create an enduring legacy for the 658 men and women who died at Cantor and the 61 at EuroBrokers on September 11, 2001.
On Charity Day, 100 percent of our global revenues go to hundreds of worthwhile charities around the world which are important to our employees and clients and to the celebrity ambassadors who come into our offices to raise money and make it a positive event for the men and women who give up their commissions and salaries that day.
This year, Charity Day was held on September 12in three NYC locations: at Cantor Fitzgerald, BGC Partners and our recently acquired interdealer-broker GFI. Sports icons Eli and Peyton Manning, Robert De Niro, Uzo Aduba, Louis C.K. and Michael J. Fox were among the many participating celebrities. We were proud to once again raise approximately $12 million. To date, our charity days have raised over $130 million and we give all of it away.
What can people who weren’t affected firsthand do to help these families either through your organization or in general?
There are so many ways to answer this question. Right now, a great way to help the 9/11 community would be to make sure that there is a 9/11 curriculum in your school districts. When dealing with someone who has been affected by a tragedy, I’ve learned that if you listen to the person and then do what they need, that is how you can be most helpful. Sometimes it won’t be what you thought you were going to do.
How can individuals help the Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund?
One of the biggest misconceptions we’ve had to battle is that the Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund is exclusively a 9/11 charity. It is not. The Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund is an organization that has taken the lessons it has learned from 9/11 and applied them to other disasters including Superstorm Sandy and the tornado in Moore, Oklahoma. We also assist wounded members of our military and their families with a special emphasis on amputees. Through our Charity Day, we support direct service charities around the world, many that do work in your communities and are not otherwise recognized. We are a public charity and individual donations are essential to the work that we do. Individuals can donate to the Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund by visiting www.cantorrelief.org
What do you want other organizations to learn or take away from the fund? How has it impacted other charities?
Many organizations were started in the wake of 9/11 but few still exist. The Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund has continued to grow, evolve and thrive. First and foremost we have always listened to our constituencies. We trust that if you put direct financial aid in the hands of impacted families they will make the decisions that best address their individual needs.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if every company and every person took just one day a year and devoted their pay or time to the problems of the world?
The Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund was initially created to assist families of Cantor employees who were lost on 9/11. We broadened our mission to provide aid to victims of terrorism, natural disasters, emergencies, direct service charities and wounded members of the military. We provide direct financial assistance to hundreds of charities around the world and are proud to raise awareness about small charities that have the potential to make a big impact.
One hundred percent of every dollar raised by the Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund goes to victims of terrorism, natural disasters and emergencies, direct service charities and wounded members of our military. Since its inception, Charity Day has raised approximately $137 million globally. The fund supports many of the charities that were started by 9/11 families, as well as other grass-roots organizations which focus on issues important to 9/11 families. It has raised and distributed over $300 million.
For more information about the Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund, please visit www.cantorrelief.org.