Transparency Talk

Category: "Celebrity" (12 posts)

Glasspockets Find: “Dear Warren” Accounts for Impact of His $30 Billion Gift to the Gates Foundation
March 3, 2017

Buffet Bill MelindaBill & Melinda Gates recently posted their foundation’s annual letter, sharing progress from their work.  This year's letter had a personal twist, revealing how the world's largest private foundation accounts for its progress to a key stakeholder.  The letter, a great example of donor stewardship at the highest levels, details the impact of Warren Buffett’s historic gift to the Gates Foundation. 

In 2006, Buffett’s $30 billion gift to the Gates Foundation was the largest single gift ever made, and it was intended to fight disease and reduce inequity.  Buffett’s gift doubled the foundation’s resources, and helped expand its work in U.S. education, support smallholder farmers and create financial services for the poor.

In “Dear Warren,” Bill and Melinda Gates personally let the Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Chairman know how the Gates Foundation was using his money. 

“To make sure your investment keeps paying higher returns, the world has to save more lives in the future than we’ve saved in the past.”

The couple jokingly reminded Buffett of his penchant for wise spending, such as the time Buffett treated Bill Gates to a Hong Kong McDonald’s meal and used coupons.  With handwritten notes, photos and infographics, the couple showed Buffett that they too were wisely investing Buffet’s money to make an impact on global health and improve childhood mortality rates, which contributes to healthy families and stronger economies.  

The letter shows how data and metrics can be used to tell a powerful narrative.  The Gates are careful to say that they are not doing this work alone, and that most of the numbers reflect how many global organizations, including the Gates Foundation, are contributing to saving and improving lives.

“If we could show you only one number that proves how life has changed for the poorest, it would be 122 million—the number of children’s lives saved since 1990,” Bill Gates said in his letter.

Economist1
Source: The Economist via the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Over a 20 year-period since 1990, the rate of childhood mortality has been cut in half, Melinda Gates said.  The Gates Foundation has helped contribute to improved global health through its investment of increasing access to vaccines in poor and developing countries. 

“For every dollar spent on childhood immunizations, you get $44 in economic benefits. That includes saving the money that families lose when a child is sick and a parent can’t work,” Bill Gates said.  

The foundation’s other global health initiatives include reducing newborn mortality, ending malnutrition, family planning and ending poverty.

Bill and Melinda Gates shared how they felt both inspired and compelled by Buffet to wisely and strategically make a philanthropic impact of Buffett’s life earnings.  They affectionately called him the most generous person they know, as well as one of the most competitive people.

Melinda Gates said the Gates are not using Buffet's money for “a grant here and a grant there.”  Rather, the Gates are using Buffett’s gift to build “an ecosystem of partners that shares its genius to improve lives and end disease."

"[You are] counting on us to make good decisions.  That responsibility weighs on us,” Melinda Gates said.  “To make sure your investment keeps paying higher returns, the world has to save more lives in the future than we’ve saved in the past.”

--Melissa Moy

The Force Was Strong With Her: How Carrie Fisher Struck Back By Opening Up
December 29, 2016

Just like Princess Leia, she was passionate, fierce and fearless. As we grapple with the loss of Carrie Fisher, who died this week following a heart attack, we reflect on her legacy of openness in the service of change.

Fisher will forever be remembered as Princess Leia from a galaxy far, far away.  Beyond the Star Wars franchise, Fisher was also an accomplished novelist, screenwriter, and a mental health advocate.  As the daughter of Hollywood power couple – actress Debbie Fisher and singer Eddie Fisher – she was born into the public eye, which may have prepared her both for stardom, and her capacity to go public with what many would consider a private matter.  

“Princess Leia would have gotten through being bipolar and an addict in the same way I did,” Fisher said in an NPR interview.

Carrie Fisher - SW CinemaBlend
Carrie Fisher starred as Princess Leia in the Star Wars franchise.  Source: CinemaBlend

Sharing a Private Struggle

Fisher, 60, candidly shared her struggles with depression and bipolar disorder in media interviews and also in her books.  It may have been cathartic for Fisher to ink the semi-autobiographical novel Postcards from The Edge and her comedy show, “Wishful Drinking,” which she eventually turned into a memoir.  Her new autobiography, The Princess Diarist, has become a bestseller.

“Fisher’s tireless advocacy efforts are a shining example of how high-profile openness and transparency can lead to increased awareness, empathy, and change.”

Although most would shy away from opening up about mental illness, rather than avoid personal issues, the actress showed great courage in coming forward and using her celebrity as a platform to advocate for mental health and substance abuse awareness.  Throughout her life, she openly discussed her substance abuse struggles and treatment, and hospitalization.

The witty author was featured on the Emmy Award-winning BBC documentary The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive, which destigmatized mental illness.  Fisher was among several celebrities who shared their experiences of wrestling with health and medical conditions while living in a public spotlight on the Discovery Health Channel show Medical Profile.

Fisher’s tireless advocacy efforts are a shining example of how high-profile openness and transparency can lead to increased awareness, empathy, and change.  Her voice contributed to greater public awareness of mental health and substance abuse issues, emphasized the challenge of stigma related to illness and treatment, as well as the need for increased access to programs and services.

Carrie FisherSeveral organizations recognized the mental health advocate for her efforts.  In 2016, Fisher won an Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism for her “forthright activism and outspokenness about addiction, mental illness and agnosticism have advanced public discourse on these issues with creativity and empathy.”  In 2012, Fisher won the Kim Peek Award for Disability in Media.

In an advice column for The Guardian, Fisher responded to a request for advice on how to live with bipolar disorder.  “We have been given a challenging illness, and there is no other option than to meet those challenges.  Think of it as an opportunity to be heroic – not ‘I survived living in Mosul during an attack’ heroic, but an emotional survival.  An opportunity to be a good example to others who might share our disorder,” Fisher advised. “That’s why it’s important to find a community – however small – of other bipolar people to share experiences and find comfort in the similarities.”

And that’s what Fisher did.  She devoted her high-profile platform to raising awareness, changing attitudes and expanding support for mental health. 

We’ll miss you, Carrie Fisher.  May the Force be with you.

--Melissa Moy

George Michael's Quiet Philanthropy
December 27, 2016

(Melissa Moy is special projects associate for Glasspockets.)

George MichaelAlthough iconic pop singer George Michael was well known for hits like “Last Christmas” and “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” few knew about his generosity to strangers and the causes he cared about.

Proving once again that anonymity has a shelf life, we are now learning about Michael's philanthropic resume. His random acts of kindness included an anonymous payment for a woman’s IVF treatment and contributions to several United Kingdom fundraisers.  The 53-year-old former Wham! singer died Dec. 25 of heart failure.

Earlier this year, we mourned legendary musicians Prince and David Bowie, who like Michael also quietly and generously supported numerous philanthropic causes.    

In the coming days, we’ll likely learn more about Michael’s generous philanthropy, which included donations to fight cancer and HIV.

--Melissa Moy

A Brief Analysis of the Clinton and Trump Foundations
September 13, 2016

(Jacob Harold is GuideStar president and CEO.  He has written extensively on climate change and philanthropic strategy; his essays have been used as course materials at Stanford, Duke, Wharton, Harvard, Oxford, and Tsinghua. This post first ran on the GuideStar blog.)

Nonprofits are a cornerstone of American democracy. They reflect the political diversity of the American people. That diversity is well illustrated by two institutions currently in the news: the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation and the Donald J. Trump Foundation.

GuideStar takes no position on elections and we will not comment on Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump as candidates for the presidency. We have, however, been repeatedly asked about the Trump and Clinton Foundations. Accordingly, we would like to offer a few notes of analysis on their structure, size, strategy, and transparency practices.

Clinton_GuideStar-1.jpg

Structure

Let us begin with a comparison of the basic facts. The Trump Foundation is legally categorized as a “private non-operating foundation” whereas the Clinton Foundation is a “public charity.” In simple terms that means the Trump Foundation is meant primarily as a vehicle for distributing grants from the Trump family fortune—although it also accepts funding from other donors. The Clinton Foundation is meant primarily as a vehicle for directly operating programs for the social good—while also making some grants to other organizations. 

Despite these differences, both organizations are, in a (non-legal) sense, “celebrity foundations.” They are seeded by money donated by their founders and also serve as a vehicle for members of the public to demonstrate their support of a prominent person. At their worst, celebrity foundations are vanity projects with negligible impact. At their best, such organizations channel fragmented resources and yield extraordinary impact for society. For example, the Michael J. Fox Foundation is known as one of the most sophisticated players in the fight against Parkinson’s Disease.  

Both the Trump Foundation and the Clinton Foundation are filed under section 501(c)(3) of the U.S. tax code, meaning they legally cannot engage in electoral activity. In general, they appear to have followed this requirement. There is at least one exception, though. The Trump Foundation made one donation to a political action committee associated with Florida Attorney General Bondi. It is not legal for a foundation to make a donation to a PAC; the Trump Foundation has paid a $2,500 IRS fine for this infraction. The the Trump Foundation characterized this as a clerical error although others have described it as a case of "pay-to-play politics." At the very least, this incident indicates insufficient controls and lax managerial oversight.      

Size

One thing is indisputable: the Clinton Foundation is far larger than the Trump Foundation. The latest comparable data from December 31st, 2014 shows the Clinton Foundation with assets of $354 million, compared with the Trump Foundation’s $1 million. The Clinton Foundation had total expenses of $91,281,145, versus $596,450 for the Trump Foundation. The Clinton Foundation had 486 staff compared to zero staff at the Trump Foundation.  

The Clinton family’s tax returns suggest that the majority of its charitable giving has been through the Clinton Foundation. Without access to Mr. Trump’s tax forms it is difficult to know the scale of his charitable activities outside the Trump Foundation. But it does appear that the dollars have not matched the pledges. An investigation by the Washington Post has not been able to validate that Trump has actually donated the money he pledged, instead finding, “Trump promised millions to charity. We found less than $10,000 over 7 years.” In addition, the last donation to the Trump Foundation by any of its trustees—family or otherwise—was in 2008. Indeed, David Farhenthold of the Post has suggested that the Trump Foundation has transformed over the last decade from "standard-issue rich person’s philanthropy into a charity that allowed a rich man to be philanthropic for free."

All told, the data at hand would suggest that the Clinton family has—at least over the last several years—donated more money (and at a far higher proportion of their wealth) than the Trump family.

Similarly, it appears clear that the Clintons have out-raised Trump. The Clintons’ fundraising for their foundation is one aspect of a broader fundraising portfolio totaling $3 billion over the last four decades. This is a remarkable number but they are not alone operating at this level: the Bush family raised $2.4 billion over a similar period. Trump has certainly helped raise money for both charitable and electoral efforts, but the total is undoubtedly less than the Clintons’. 

Fundraising at this scale takes place in a rarefied social circle. Each of these families—the Clintons, the Bushes, and the Trumps—must navigate a tangle of relationships with wealthy individuals. These relationships have caused some to claim that fundraising for the Clinton Foundation compromised Clinton’s role as Secretary of State. There appears, though, to be little evidence to support this claim. The Clinton Foundation signed an MOU in 2008 clarifying that Hillary Clinton would not have a role with the Foundation during her tenure at the State Department. And, indeed, funding for the Clinton Foundation decreased significantly during that period (2009-2013). A fair argument can be made that the Clinton Foundation should have been more aggressive in dealing with the perception of potential conflict. To its credit, the Foundation now proactively shares its key legal and audit documentation and has built a tool on its website to provide an additional layer of transparency about its donors (including both Donald and Ivanka Trump). 

Transparency and Strategy

Transparency is not a guarantee of effectiveness—but, in general, we believe that transparency is correlated with excellence in nonprofits. Transparency indicates an openness to questions and accountability. And, importantly, the act of transparency can force an organization to be clear about its goals and strategy.

Most nonprofits—including the Trump and Clinton Foundations—are required by law to file a regulatory document with the IRS, the Form 990. The 990 provides important baseline information but does not give a full view of the nuances of nonprofit work. Accordingly, GuideStar invites nonprofits and foundations to share additional data. Approximately 128,000 have done so. Some 34,997 organizations have provided enough to get one of GuideStar’s four “transparency seals”; of those, 1,061 have earned the highest level, Platinum. The Clinton Foundation is one of them. The Trump Foundation has provided no additional information and so has not earned a transparency seal. 

Trump-990_final_final.jpg

As a part of achieving a Platinum seal, the Clinton Foundation has provided a set of quantitative metrics about its programs. For example, one metric, “number of farmers benefitting from access to improved agricultural practices, increased yields, and enhanced market access,” rose from 66,124 in 2014 to 114,825 in 2015. Another, the “number of girls and women provided access to job skills training and livelihood support,” rose from 35,587 in 2014 to 48,696 in 2015. The fact that the Clinton Foundation provides such metrics makes it far easier for donors and citizens to meaningfully analyze the institution’s value to society.

The Trump Foundation provides no such metrics. Any analysis must therefore be based on the content of publicly available tax forms. These forms appear to indicate an unfocused generosity. For example, the below sample from the Trump Foundation's 2014 tax return includes grants to the Orthopaedic Foundation, the Palm Beach Opera, the Police Athletic League, Protect our Winters, and the Ronald McDonald House of New York. There is nothing inherently wrong with sprinkling many small grants in unrelated areas. But the Trump Foundation’s approach would certainly not meet the standard of focused, proactive grantmaking commonly called “strategic philanthropy.” 

TF_analysis_3.png 

Conclusion

Both the Clinton and Trump Foundations have been the subject of controversy while seeking to contribute to social good. They are undoubtedly different from each other in size, structure, and openness. Indeed, the two organizations reflect the perceived styles of the two candidates: one systematized, the other improvisational. Donors regularly decide which approach they prefer for their giving. Later this year voters will decide which approach they prefer for their leadership.

--Jacob Harold

Eye On Sports Philanthropy: Serena Williams Courts Equity in Education
August 31, 2016

(Melissa Moy is special projects associate for Glasspockets.)

Serena Bio PhotoSerena Williams dominates the tennis court but few may know about her philanthropic efforts that target social justice issues.  

As one of the world’s greatest tennis players, Williams tied Stefi Graf’s record earlier this year with 22 Grand Slam singles titles.  Among active male and female players, Williams holds the most major singles, doubles and mixed double titles with a record 38 major titles: 22 in singles, 14 in women’s doubles and two in mixed doubles. 

Now the Olympian philanthropist is focused on winning the U.S. Open title after an unexpected upset at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, where she had hoped to defend her 2012 gold medal victory in London.  Williams and her older sister Venus Williams also lost the first round in doubles – another upset because the duo had a 15-0 Olympic record and three gold medals in doubles.

Serena Game - Slate
Source: Slate

 Breaking Barriers

The Williams sisters grew up in Compton, CA, where poverty and gang violence is common.  Their father Richard Williams coached the young girls at some of the city’s roughest public parks where gang members hung around the courts. 

“I’m a black woman, and I’m in a sport that wasn’t really meant for black people.”

The Williams family eventually moved to Florida in search of better training opportunities for the girls.  In 1992, Richard Williams shared his hopes that his girls would one day win at the U.S. Open and Wimbledon and inspire other Compton children and gang members that “they could do it.”

The sisters have broken barriers as female, African American athletes from a poor community who have exceled in a sport that is not known for its diversity.  White athletes, especially men, typically have more recognition, money and star power.  Additionally, sports like tennis and golf are often perceived as exclusive due to the cost of equipment, court and tee fees.  This financial disparity is consistently identified as a significant barrier that impedes multicultural players from getting into the sport, according to the United States Tennis Association.

Powerful and Personal Philanthropy

Off the court, the 34-year-old tennis star has focused her philanthropy on equal access to education and helping individuals and communities impacted by violence. 

Serena & Students - StandingAn opportunity arose when she first visited Africa in 2006 as part of a UNICEF health campaign, and in 2011, Williams became a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.  Over the years, she has participated in multiple education initiatives that build schools in Africa and improve global education opportunities for disadvantaged children. 

The Michigan native has supported several UNICEF campaigns, including the World’s Largest Lesson, an initiative launched in 2015 to teach children in more than 100 countries about the Sustainable Development Goals; the 1 in 11 campaign that focuses on extending educational opportunities to marginalized children since 1 out of 11 children globally are not in school; and the Schools for Africa program, which raises awareness about UNICEF’s mission to provide quality education for the most vulnerable children. 

Through the Serena Williams Fund (SWF), Williams has also partnered with Hewlett Packard to build a school in Kenya as well other local organizations in Africa to open schools in Uganda, Zimbabwe and Jamaica.

Williams has made it a priority to fight for equity in education. “Now, sometimes in Africa they send only the boys to school,” Williams wrote in her Wired guest editorial. “So we had a strict rule that our schools had to be at least 40 percent girls. It was impossible to get 50-50 boys to girls, and we really had to fight for 60-40. But we got it… And hopefully my next school will be 50-50.”

Serena Kids Group Photo Africa
SWF also gives education grants to Serena Williams Scholars through a partnership with Beyond the Burroughs National Scholarship Fund, which gives scholarships to students “who have the drive to succeed but even with loans and other grants still fall short of reaching their dream to attend college.”

Another SWF priority – and perhaps the most personal one – is supporting victims and families of gun violence through The Caliber Foundation.  Williams has a personal stake in ending senseless violence since it is a “cause close to her heart.”  In 2003, Williams’ older half-sister Yetunde Price was shot and killed in Los Angeles.

Making Her Mark

Williams was the Sports Illustrated’s 2015 Sportsperson of the Year.  She was #55 on Forbes Magazine’s Power Women list in 2010.  In 2016, Forbes named her #40 on its World’s Highest-Paid Athletes list with $8.9 million salary/winnings and $20 million in endorsements, up from #47 in 2015.  For the last 12 months, she has also been the world’s highest-paid female athlete.  Over her career, she has earned $78 million.

Serena Wired COVER PhotoThe elite athlete continues to be a trailblazer.  In Wired Magazine, Williams shared her hopes for seeing “more women and people of different colors and nationalities” in sports as well as the Silicon Valley.  She added, “I’m a black woman, and I’m in a sport that wasn’t really meant for black people.”

Beyond philanthropy, Williams is leveraging this celebrity and influence to address issues she cares about.  She has spoken out against racism and pay disparity for minority athletes, and along with other African American athletes, she has vocally supported the Black Lives Matter movement. 

For Williams, philanthropy is personal.  She is focused on giving back in ways that address the inequities she experienced first-hand.  If her passion for philanthropy is anything like her focused drive and talent in tennis, she will leave a great footprint and an even better blueprint for future generations.

--Melissa Moy

Eye on Golden Philanthropy: Neymar Nets Philanthropic Goals
August 25, 2016

(Melissa Moy is special projects associate for Glasspockets. For more information about Olympians and their philanthropy, visit Glasspockets’ Going for Gold).

Neymar Gold Medal PhotoIn the midst of Olympic fever – when Brazil advanced in the quarterfinals – soccer phenom Neymar posted updates on Facebook and Twitter. 

He paused to promote his treasured Insituto Neymar Jr., which provides free education and health services for children in his impoverished hometown.

“One of my greatest achievements in life, to have the joy of creating the Instituto Neymar Jr. and see those smiles,” Neymar wrote on his personal Facebook page.  “Thank you God for making me able to give joy to the lives of these children and their families!”  

As one of the world’s best athletes and a Spanish FC Barcelona player, Neymar has earned comparisons to former Brazil and Santos forward Pele.  He’s racked up four consecutive Player of the Year awards, the 2011 FIFA Goal of the Year and league titles for Barcelona and Santos. In July, Neymar inked a 5-year contract extension with Barcelona, with an annual $16.9 million salary.

New York Times Soccer Kids
Source: New York Times

On the flip side, Neymar has also gained notoriety for partying with celebrities and repaying $51.7 million in fines and back taxes for tax fraud related to endorsement deals.  His temper has led to multiple penalties; and critics have questioned his conduct and sportsmanship.  Following Brazil’s first gold medal win in Rio, Neymar famously resigned as Brazil’s team captain.  However, the national team has not yet ruled out his return.

Neymar is a gifted athlete with an impressive online presence: more than 58.7 million Facebook likes; 57 million Instagram followers; and 24 million Twitter followers.  Earlier this year, ESPN dubbed him the world’s fourth most famous athlete, and Neymar topped U.K. media analysis firm SportsPro’s list as the most marketable athlete in 2012 and 2013. 

What’s interesting is how Neymar leverages his fame and global platform to draw attention to the causes he cares about. 

Neymar & KIdsPassionate Philanthropy

Neymar has targeted his philanthropy efforts toward impoverished communities in Brazil with a focus on clean water and sanitation, as well as education and health services for children.

The fiery and energetic Neymar has regularly partnered with Waves for Water to bring clean water ccto impoverished areas in Brazil.  In 2011, only 48% of rural Brazilian residents had adequate sanitation and 87% had access to improved water, according to WASHFunders.org, a Foundation Center collaborative project that tracks funding and data related to water, sanitation and hygiene.  Additionally, 3.53 deaths per 100,000 Brazilians were attributed to diarrheal disease.

“It makes me really happy to do something for these kids and their families.”

In 2014, Neymar leveraged his celebrity to new heights in a partnership with PayPal and Waves for Water through a global campaign tied to the 2014 World Cup held in Brazil. 

Since more than 3.2 billion people watched at least one live minute of the 2010 tournament in South Africa, this global water campaign banked on the World Cup’s popularity and PayPal’s global platform. 

The strategic campaign cleverly allowed fans to buy water filters for Brazilian cities with the bonus of an homage to the donors’ home countries.  For example, donations from the United States were used to buy water filters for Sao Paulo, where the U.S. soccer team stayed during the tournament.  And PayPal partner eBay auctioned off autographed Neymar memorabilia to boost the campaign proceeds.

Neymar KIDS INSTITUTEHowever, Neymar’s heart remains with his hometown.  In December 2014, Neymar launched the Instituto Neymar Jr. in Praia Grande, a coastal city outside of Sao Paulo.

The facility, which provides education and health services for children, is just a few blocks from where Neymar grew up on B Street in an impoverished community plagued with crime, drugs and unemployment.  It was in this neighborhood that Neymar played street games and futsol, an indoor version of soccer.

The soccer star values the opportunity to give back to his community, and he said it spurs him to excel professionally.  “It makes me really happy to do something for these kids and their families,” Neymar said in an in an ESPN story.

Neymar donated $6 million to the facility and also attracted additional sponsorship contributions to support the effort.  About 2,400 children, ages 7 to 14, attend the facility for two hours before or after school.  The children have free access to computers, dental and medical services, and can study English, Spanish and Portuguese.  Additionally, adults attend vocational classes in the evenings.

The institute is a family affair.  Neymar’s mother serves as the chief executive of the institute, and Neymar and his father spend time with the children. 

“I could not come to Brazil and not visit (the institute),” Neymar said.  “It’s my family’s dream, and I am always happy every time I visit.  It makes me want to keep growing this and doing this the right way.”

What’s Next?

With Neymar’s huge success and talent in sports, marketing, social media, endorsements and philanthropy at age 24, Neymar knows no limits. 

The next few years will be an exciting time for Neymar and soccer fans.  He will no doubt seamlessly continue to navigate player contracts and lucrative endorsement deals – $23 million in 2016 – with global brands like Nike, Red Bull, Gillette and Panasonic. 

With his tremendous fan appeal, social media and online presence, one can only imagine the awareness and improvements Neymar can bring to social justice issues in Brazil as well as the impact and influence he can wield in the philanthropic sector, from local to global levels.  All that to say… More, please.

--Melissa Moy

Eye on Golden Philanthropy: Michael Phelps Expands the Pool of Future Olympians
August 11, 2016

(Melissa Moy is special projects associate for Glasspockets. For more information about Olympians and their philanthropy, visit Glasspockets’ Going for Gold.)

Michael Phelps Rio PHOTOIf recent history is any indication, Olympic veteran Michael Phelps will make a huge splash at the Olympic Games in Rio. 

As the most decorated Olympian in history, Phelps debuted as the U.S. flag bearer in this Summer Olympics’s Parade of Nations during the Opening Ceremony. 

In the last few days, he earned gold medals in the men’s 4x100m freestyle relay, 200m butterfly, 4x200m freestyle relay and 200m individual medley.  He now has a record 22 gold medals, with a total of 26 Olympic medals.  Not bad for a “retiree.”  Phelps famously retired after the 2012 Olympics in London, and returned to the sport in 2014.

Michael Phelps NBC News
Source: NBC News

Phelps, 31, has earned numerous accolades over the years: Sports Illustrateds 2008 Sportsman of the Year; Swimming World Magazine’s World Swimmer of the Year Award, seven times; American Swimmer of the Year Award, 10 times; and the FINA Swimmer of the Year in 2012. 

The Maryland native’s performance at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing was phenomenal.  For tying Mark Spitz’s record of seven gold medals and ultimately setting a new record of eight gold medals, Phelps earned a $1 million bonus from his longtime sponsor Speedo. He used his bonus to start the Michael Phelps Foundation, which focuses on promoting healthy, active lives, especially for children, primarily by expanding opportunities for participation in the sport of swimming.

Building the Sport by Increasing Access to Swimming

In his letter on the foundation website, Phelps described his commitment to help youth enjoy safe swimming and healthy living.  “Swimming provided the opportunity to stay healthy while I learned about hard work, determination, and setting goals,” he said.

It may be surprising to some that as a boy, Phelps said he feared the water and didn’t like getting his face wet. “But because I had someone to encourage me, who understood the importance of water safety, I developed a comfort level for the water,” Phelps said. “The more time I spent in the water, the stronger I became, and my passion for the sport grew.”

In 2014, the Michael Phelps Foundation gave away $425,146 in grants, according to its Form 990.  The foundation aims to level the playing field for youth and athletes in underserved communities.

Im-program

Named after Phelps’ signature event, the individual medley, the IM program is promoted in U.S. cities where access to swimming is limited.  The IM program offers water-safety courses, recreational pool activities, and swim training, as well as health and wellness education.  To emphasize the need for such programs, the Phelps Foundation website cites the statistic that youth drowning rates in ethnically-diverse communities are two to three times higher than the national average.

Since 2010, the IM program has reached over 15,000 youth through the Boys & Girls Club of America and Special Olympics. In 2014, the Michael Phelps Foundation delivered the IM program to 35 Boys & Girls Clubs nationwide. 

“The Michael Phelps Foundation is creating a more inclusive sport with expanded opportunities for youth and athletes of all backgrounds."

To help talented athletes in financial need, Phelps’ foundation partnered with the Level Field Fund to create a grant program for swimmers. The Michael Phelps Foundation wants to “fund talent and fuel dreams for the next generation of Olympic heroes.”

“Losing talented athletes because of a lack of financial means is troubling,” Phelps said. “We support the Level Field Fund because we are big believers that every athlete should have the chance to pursue their dreams to their full potential.”

Olympian Katie Meili is one of the talented athletes who received a Level Field Fund Swimming Grant – which pays for expenses such as travel, coaching, training and event fees.   She won a bronze medal in the 100m breaststroke in Rio.  Thanks to the swim grant, Alex Meyer successfully competed in a 21k open water race in Poland and brought home prize money that covered two months of his living expenses.

Phelps also leverages his celebrity to help local charities.  Through Caps for a Cause, Phelps provides signed swim caps so that nonprofit organizations can raise funds at their respective silent auctions and fundraisers. 

Future Plans

Boomer PhelpsThe Olympics is just the icing on the cake for Phelps.  Phelps and his fiancée, Nicole Johnson, welcomed their first child Boomer Robert Phelps earlier this year.  Phelps said he enjoys family life and regularly posts adorable Instagram photos.

The future continues to be golden for Phelps, who is expected to compete in additional swim events this week.  He also can’t seem to leave the pool, and he has hinted that he may continue competitive swimming after Rio.

Watching Phelps score his 21st gold medal – and counting! – this week, it’s clear we are watching history in the making.  And his engagement in philanthropy shows that in and out of the pool, Phelps is one to watch. 

We are rooting for more victories in Rio!  And we’re looking forward to witnessing how he channels his talent, determination, and passion for swimming into creating a more inclusive sport with expanded opportunities for youth and athletes of all backgrounds.

--Melissa Moy

Prince: The Artist Now Known as a Philanthropist
May 12, 2016

(Melissa Moy is special projects associate for Glasspockets.)

Prince was known for his over-the-top showmanship, his musical genius, and for notoriously changing his stage name to a symbol after a copyright battle.

Inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, the prolific artist released 39 albums over a 40-year career; his last two, HITnRUN Phase One and HITnRUN Phase Two, were released in September and December 2015. A mentor and producer for an entire generation of musicians, Prince also penned Top 40 hits for more than a dozen artists - in all,  winning seven Grammys along the way.

Prince Photo
Despite his iconic fame and success, few knew of Prince’s generosity to the causes and organizations he cared about.

Since his unexpected death in April, Prince’s philanthropic endeavors are now coming to light as friends, family and charity organizations are speaking up about his quiet, anonymous giving.  

Van Jones, a friend, philanthropic advisor and attorney for Prince, shared his memories on YouTube, describing how Prince was quick to act whenever a friend or stranger needed aid, from installing solar roofing panels for poor families to making sure a friend’s children were cared for during a crisis. Jones recalled Prince saying: “Don’t give me the credit, don’t give me the glory.”

Anonymous Giving

Interest in Prince’s philanthropy will likely raise the visibility of causes he cared about, with news of his good deeds now circulating widely in the media.

"It seems anonymity has a shelf life...We now know that Prince was a long-time supporter of a range of causes in his native Minnesota and across the country.”

Even with all of the press attention, much remains unknown about Prince’s philanthropy. As a Jehovah’s Witness, Prince may have felt compelled to keep his giving private. Jehovah’s Witnesses are politically neutral and are discouraged from engaging in voting, advocacy or activism. These factors may have spurred the singer-songwriter’s desire to remain anonymous about his philanthropy.

However, it seems anonymity has a shelf life. Although he may have desired to remain below the philanthropic radar, with his death, we now know that Prince was a long-time supporter of a range of causes in his native Minnesota and across the country.

Prince often focused his support in helping youth and disadvantaged communities, contributing to #YesWeCode, an organization that equips urban minority youth with technology education and Green for All, which creates green jobs in struggling communities. Prince also gave $12,000 to help prevent the closure of the Western Branch Library of the Louisville Free Public Library in Kentucky, the nation’s first full-service library for African Americans.

Prince First Avenue & 7th St - Tenaja
Purple Rain Philanthropy

The Purple Rain philanthropist supported local causes and used his platform to draw attention to his community.  Many point to the fact that Prince made his home in Minnesota rather than pick up and move to Hollywood or New York as further evidence of his commitment to his community.

His 1984 movie, Purple Rain, was about the music scene and life in Minneapolis; several scenes were filmed at local music venues, First Avenue and 7th St Entry. And well beyond the making of the film, his philanthropy continued to rain support on local issues.

“The Purple Rain philanthropist supported local causes and used his platform to draw attention to his community.”

In Minnesota, he secretly gave $80,000 to Urban Ventures Leadership Foundation and $50,000 to a fund for the victims and families of the 2007 I-35 West bridge collapse.

Prince’s former wife, Manuela Testolini, described him as a “fierce philanthropist.” In fact, the couple met doing philanthropic work together. Testolini credited Prince for inspiring her to start her own charity 10 years ago.  Just before Prince’s death, her foundation, In a Perfect World, had announced plans to build and name a school in his honor.

Prince’s foundation, Love 4 One Another Charities, gave away $3.2 million to charities from 2001-2007, according to federal tax returns. In that same time period, Prince gave $10.9 million to his foundation. The foundation was funded, at least in part, by Prince’s 1995-97 Love 4 One Another tour.

It is unknown what happened to his foundation, as tax returns are unavailable beyond 2007, at which point the foundation held $11.9 million in assets.

In 2007, his foundation’s largest gifts included $800,000 for the Peccole Lakes Kingdom Hall Fund, in Las Vegas, to support a Jehovah’s Witness organization; $50,000 to the aforementioned Minnesota Helps Bridge Disaster Fund; $50,000 to Testolini’s In A Perfect World, in Minneapolis, which supports education for at-risk children; and $40,000 for Urban Farming, in Southfield, MI, to support healthy living and food for the hungry.

Prince the Activist

Although Prince quietly conducted his philanthropy, he seemed aware of the power and light he could shine on social issues important to him, and he often used his influence to take very public stands.

In 2004, he publicly criticized the music industry for promoting sex, violence and drugs in rap and R&B.  On his 1999 album notes, Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic, Prince, a vegan, wrote about the cruelty of wool production.

More recently, the “Purple Rain” philanthropist spoke out against racial injustice

Prince held benefit concerts for organizations and individuals in need. He gave money to the family of Trayvon Martin, the African American youth shot and killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer in 2012.

In response to the deaths of young black men at the hands of police, Prince wrote and performed a new protest song, “Baltimore,” at his 2015 Rally4Peace event.  The song included references to Michael Brown and Freddie Gray and the chorus: “If there ain't no justice then there ain't no peace.”

At the 2015 Grammys, Prince alluded to the Black Lives Matter movement while presenting the album of the year, declaring: “Albums still matter. Like books and black lives, albums still matter. Tonight. Always.”

A will for Prince’s estate has not been found, so it is uncertain if he earmarked funds for favorite charities. However, with the legacy of his philanthropy in the spotlight, perhaps the causes and organizations Prince supported will benefit anew from the visibility and influence the knowledge of his support brings.

--Melissa Moy

Remembering David Bowie’s Philanthropic Contributions
January 21, 2016

(Melissa Moy is special projects associate for Glasspockets.) 

David Bowie photoThere has been no shortage of media coverage on David Bowie’s musical legacy and influence as an artist.  A few articles have also focused on his philanthropic activities, which we will summarize here since the world of celebrity philanthropy is often not as visible as the star at its center.

The late British singer and actor, who died January 10 of liver cancer, was  passionate about philanthropic work that supported HIV/AIDS research and treatment, children in poverty, and humanitarian assistance for developing nations, according to Forbes Magazine

Bowie, 69, used his celebrity and influence to raise awareness and money for HIV/AIDS research and famine in Africa for numerous charities at his concerts.  The New York resident and his wife, supermodel Iman, have been deeply involved as donors and advocates for HIV/AIDS research for more than 25 years – especially noteworthy because they helped raise awareness in the early days when little was known about the global impact of HIV/AIDS, according to the nonprofit The Borgen Project.

Bowie actively supported Keep A Child Alive Foundation, which was co-founded by fellow artist Alicia Keys.  The foundation works to end AIDS for African children and their families and provides healthcare for those who lack access to life-saving treatment.  Iman also served as the foundation’s ambassador.

Additionally, Bowie partnered with War Child, an organization that helps children and youth impacted by war through music therapy, education, health and emergency programs.  He also contributed to the Whatever It Takes campaign, which supports 21st Century Leaders.    

Several of Bowie’s notable charitable concerts included a 2006 gala performance for Keep A Child Alive and the acclaimed 1985 Live Aid concert, a 16-hour concert fundraiser simultaneously held in London and Philadelphia that brought attention to Africa’s famine.  Bowie was a headliner at the event that featured a number of prominent singers and bands including Paul McCartney, Elton John, Bob Dylan, Queen and The Who.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declared January 20 as David Bowie Day.  The proclamation was expected to be delivered at the curtain call of the final performance of Lazarus, the Off-Broadway musical that Bowie co-wrote and co-produced.  Chicago previously named September 23, 2014, as David Bowie Day.

David Bowie is survived by his wife Iman; the couple's 15-year-old daughter Alexandria; and his son Duncan Jones, 44, whom he had with former wife Angie Bowie.  Given Iman’s philanthropic track record, she is likely to continue the couple's charitable legacy.  In addition to the charities already mentioned, Iman also supports Save the Children; UNICEF Go – 2 – School Initiative / Somalia; Hope for Congo; and the Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation, which supports healthcare, education, WASH and agriculture in Iman’s native Somalia.

--Melissa Moy

 

Eye On: Giving Pledger George Lucas
December 18, 2015

(Melissa Moy is special projects associate for Glasspockets. For more information about George Lucas and other Giving Pledgers, visit Foundation Center's Eye on the Giving Pledge.)

George Lucas PhotoThe Force may not necessarily guide George Lucas’s philanthropic interests but it certainly has helped fund and spur his efforts to elevate education, arts and film, and healthcare and human services.

Lucas has leveraged his wealth from the enormously popular Star Wars franchise – he directed, produced, and wrote the first three movies in the series – into a series of philanthropic investments, many of them focused on education. 

Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the seventh installment in the Star Wars saga, launches today.  Although Lucas only served as a creative consultant for the J.J. Abrams-helmed film, his fingerprints on the long-awaited blockbuster are evident and ticket sales for its opening weekend are likely to set records.

George Lucas:

  • Film director, writer, and producer
  • Best known for the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises
  • Founder of Lucasfilm, Industrial Light & Magic, and Pixar
  • Modesto, California native
  • Founded the George Lucas Family Foundation in 2005 ($1.1 billion in assets)
  • Personal net worth estimated at more than $5.3 billion

Building a Legacy

Over the decades, the epic intergalactic tales of clashing Jedi and Sith in “a galaxy far, far away” have achieved cult status and, thanks to a licensing and merchandising empire running the gamut from T-shirts, toys, and books to gaming and other collectibles, earned Lucas a devoted multi-generational  following – and a sizable fortune.

Lucas has used that fortune to support various organization and initiatives in the areas of education, art and culture, and civic and human services. He’s even building and endowing his own museum in Chicago, the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, that will be dedicated to storytelling and the evolution of the moving image. 

At one point, Lucas had considered San Francisco’s Crissy Field, historically the “front door” of the Presidio (now Golden Gate National Recreation Area), as a museum site. Negotiations with the Presidio Trust broke down, and Lucas eventually decided to build the museum in Chicago, where his wife, Mellody Hobson, was born. 

 

“Our education system (is) little better than an assembly line, with producing diplomas as its only goal.”

Slated to open in 2018, the museum will be built on vacant lots between Soldier Field and McCormick Place, near the city’s famous lakefront Museum Campus (home to the Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum, and Adler Planetarium), and will house a portion of Lucas’s personal collection, which is valued at $1 billion.

Lucas, 71, amassed the bulk of his $5.3 billion fortune when he sold his film and television production company Lucasfilm to the Walt Disney Company in 2012 for a reported $4.05 billion.

The original home of the Star Wars franchise, the legendary company also produced the popular Indiana Jones franchise (on which Lucas partnered with his friend Steven Spielberg) and was where the acclaimed animated film studio Pixar, producer of mega-hits such as Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and Cars got its start as Graphix Group, a Lucasfilm computer division.

Early Life and Career

Lucas graduated in 1967 from the University of Southern California, where he often hung out with a young Stephen Spielberg, then a film student at nearby California State University, Long Beach.

After returning to USC as a graduate film student, Lucas had some early success with a short film and, in 1969, was one of the cameramen on Gimme Shelter, the award-winning Rolling Stones concert film by Albert and David Maysles. He then co-founded his own studio, American Zoetrope, in 1971 with up-and-coming filmmaker Frances Ford Coppola. His first feature film for the studio (an adaptation of his earlier short film) flopped, and eventually Lucas decided to go out on his own. In 1973, he founded Lucasfilm and directed American Graffiti (1973). Inspired by Lucas's teen years growing up in Modesto, California, the film featured a young Richard Dreyfus, Ron Howard, and Harrison Ford. The film received rave reviews and five Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture. 

Lucas’s subsequent projects would include Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983).  In the 1980s, he primarily served as a producer or executive producer on other people’s films, including Body Heat (1981), Labyrinth (1986), and the animated film The Land Before Time (1988). He then teamed up with Spielberg for the Indiana Jones trilogy, reuniting with Harrison Ford (who had starred as Han Solo in Star Wars and played the title role in the Indiana Jones movies). Although he didn't write the Star Wars prequel trilogy, Lucas returned to direct The Phantom Menace (1999), Attack of the Clones (2002), and Revenge of the Sith (2005).

Philanthropic Efforts – Prioritizing Education Reform

Although Lucas has been relatively quiet about what inspires his philanthropy, he has articulated why he selected education as his chief giving priority. After Lucas and Hobson were among the first people to sign on to Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates’ Giving Pledge campaign, Lucas, wrote in his Giving Pledge letter: “It’s scary to think of our education system as little better than an assembly line with producing diplomas as its only goal. Once I had the means to effect change in this arena, it became my passion to do so — to promote active, life-long learning.”

“We need to promote critical thinking and emotional intelligence,” he added. “We need to focus on building an education system that promotes different types of learning, different types of development, and different types of assessment. We have an opportunity and an obligation to prepare our children for the real world, for dealing with others in practical, project-based environments.”

Even before he became a Giving Pledger in 2010, the Modesto native had regularly given large gifts to his alma mater, the University of Southern California, including one of his largest gifts, $175 million, to support initiatives at the film school. In October, Variety reported that $10 million of that gift will be used to provide financial support to African American and Hispanic students at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

Over the years, Lucas also launched half a dozen foundations, most of which are aimed at enhancing education via the development of innovative teaching models and the dissemination of best practices. The largest of these are the George Lucas Family Foundation and the George Lucas Educational Foundation (GLEF). 

GLEF works in conjunction with Lucas’ online think tank and operating foundation, Edutopia, to share and promote educational innovations, including cooperative and project learning; mentorship; parental involvement; and technological advances.  As an operating foundation, Edutopia runs its own programs and does not engage in grantmaking.

“Our goal has been to showcase bold successes and inspire others to further increase the appetite for education,” Lucas said of GLEF and Edutopia. “Our hope is that administrators, teachers, and parents will see the power of these collective efforts and join the fight for wider reforms.”  

“It became my passion…to promote active, life-long learning.”

According to 2013 tax returns, the George Lucas Foundation distributed nearly $18.6 million to 161 organizations in the United States, including nonprofits in California, New York, and Washington, D.C.  Although several of the recipients are based in Los Angeles, the majority are located in Northern California, primarily in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Lucas’s former companies are based.

The largest foundation gifts - $5.9 million, $2.8 million, two gifts of $2.1 million and $1.4 million - were all given to support USC’s Phase III expansion of the School of Cinematic Arts.  The foundation also awarded general support grants of $525,000 and $11,600 to GLEF; $250,000 to the Film Foundation – Los Angeles; $200,000 to the Film Foundation – New York; $100,000 to the Center for the Education of the Infant Deaf in Berkeley, California; and $25,000 to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence in Washington, D.C.

Also in 2013, dozens of San Francisco-based education, arts and health and human services organizations received smaller grants and donations, ranging from $500 up to $25,000, including the San Francisco AIDS Fund/Breast Cancer Emergency Fund’s Trivia Night Fundraiser ($25,000) and the San Francisco Film Society ($25,000). 

In addition, the IRS returns reveal that the foundation has approved $135.5 million in future payments.  The largest portion of that, $100 million, will bolster the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s support for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. 

Other large future gifts include $25 million to the University of Chicago; $9 million to USC to endow three new faculty chairs in the cinematic arts; and $1 million to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art. 

Lucas’ smaller foundations: the AEL, JWL and KRL foundations (likely named for his oldest children) each distributed a modest $20,000.

What’s next for the brilliant filmmaker, entrepreneur, and philanthropist?  As Lucas himself puts it: “As humans, our greatest tool for survival is our ability to think and to adapt — as educators, storytellers, and communicators our responsibility is to continue to do so.”  

We look forward to the convergence of Lucas’s passion for storytelling and philanthropy, and we look forward to learning more about his expanding philanthropic interests.

--Melissa Moy

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