Shortly after Omaha police and firefighters started selling 911 t-shirts to benefit the families of their dead and missing brethren in New York City, the money started rolling in. Receipts climbed past $100,000, then $200,000, then $300,000. When T-shirt sales and donations surpassed $400,000 last week, Sgt. Tim Andersen, president of the Omaha Police Union, was astonished. "I never dreamt we would raise this much," he said.

Andersen isn't the only one left gaping as more than $840 million has been raised nationally since the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. So much money was collected in so short a time, many charities have yet to figure out what they are going to do with it - and how to keep track of it. That has charity watchdog groups concerned about possible waste, fraud and duplication of relief efforts.

When a disaster occurs, charities usually make a plan and then an appeal, said Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy, a charity watchdog in Bethesda, Md. In the case of Sept. 11 efforts, it's happening in reverse. And that, Borochoff said, is reason for concern.

An example is the September 11th Fund, which was set up by United Way of New York and the New York Community Trust. It has taken in $320 million including $150 million from the Tribute to Heroes telethon, but has made only 27 emergency grants totaling $15.9 million. And a board to oversee and direct the activities of the fund wasn't named until Oct. 15.

Bennett Weiner, chief executive officer of Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance, said that at least 180 charities are now operating in New York, and establishing some money handling procedures "is a tall order."

New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has taken two steps to help organize efforts. Last week, he made public a web site--www.wtcrelief.info--listing all the charities at work in the state. The Web site shows people how to access a group's financial information at Guidestar, a national database of nonprofit organizations. It also lists charity watchdogs that are compiling information on relief efforts. Spitzer is creating a second database, accessible only to the charities, that would try to ensure equitable distribution by tracking the aid families get.

National donations since Sept. 11 attack, in millions:
Salvation Army: $35
Sept. 11 Fund: $300
Red Cross: $370

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