Transparency Talk

Category: "Celebrity" (14 posts)

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

Justin Bieber vs. the Gates Foundation
May 27, 2014

(Brad Smith is president of the Foundation Center. To learn more about what's trending with foundations and social media, click here.)

Bks-150When it comes to social media and "crowds," the largest philanthropic foundation in the world is no match for Justin Bieber. Not even close. As the graphic below shows, over the thirty-day period from November 3 to December 3,"Justin Bieber" was mentioned in 40,596,304 tweets while the "Gates Foundation" appeared in just 4,765.

Bieber_vs_gates

This somewhat crazy comparison offers some important lessons for philanthropy as foundations struggle to measure their grantees' (and their own) online impact.

Lesson #1 — "Crowdsourcing" requires a CROWD

The professionals that really understand crowdsourcing work for companies like eBay, not for philanthropic foundations. But like most of us, foundation program officers have learned enough about all this stuff to be dangerous and increasingly pepper their grantees with questions and suggestions about crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing works best when knowledge can be built on the clicks of very large numbers of people involved in relatively simple market-based activities such as shopping and travel, or where new markets can be created, as we are beginning to see with crowdfunding. Crowdsourcing in the philanthropic space, on the other hand, has by and large been a failure, and there is a trail of dead wikis to prove it.

Lesson #2 — Scale is a relative concept

Justin Bieber has scale, and so does the Gates Foundation. The crucial difference is that young Bieber's is driven by the mass-market appeal of the entertainment industry, while the Gates Foundation operates in a niche market. As important as the issues — agricultural development, malaria prevention, vaccine delivery — that drive the Gates Foundation are, they will never attract the kind of attention that a successful pop singer does. And as much as I might like to live in a world in which the 900 million people who do not have access to safe water are as important to the Twitterverse as the latest boy band, I do not. It has nothing to do with "fair" or "right"; it just "is." Philanthropy as a whole has achieved scale online: collectively, America's foundations have 4.5 million followers on Twitter. But philanthropy's scale is relative, and even though its reach is far greater than it was just a decade ago — and continues to grow — it will always lag mass social media trends. Meanwhile, Justin Bieber alone has nearly 49 million Twitter followers!

Lesson #3 — Foundations' (limited) online traffic is commensurate with their unique offline role

The niche market that is philanthropy exists precisely because there are still too many important needs in the world that markets and governments cannot (or will not) meet. Government, when working well, can be effective at delivering vital services such as education and sanitation and in holding up standards that cross boundaries and span the globe. Foundations, however, have a more nuanced, offstage role to play, using their relatively limited resources to address problems that fall between the cracks, test new ideas, and take an occasional risk. Foundations' predilection for acting in a low-key way also has roots in the oft-professed humility of wealthy donors who create foundations. The result? Offstage + humbleness = offline. Fewer than 7 percent of America's foundations have websites, so it should come as no surprise that we are not exactly the talk of the town on Twitter.

I suppose this post, in the end, is a call for philanthropy to get real when it comes to social media. We have long since resigned ourself to the fact that our tweets won't spur mass movements around our most cherished ideas and programs. Which doesn't mean we should give up. Now is the time to build a meaningful, lasting relationship with social media and whatever form of frictionless communication lurks just offstage. Foundations need to have realistic expectations about their grantees' reach, as well as their own, and accept that we will never be truly competitive in a medium that increasingly is dominated by entertainment, sports, and global brands. At the same time, philanthropy has to get better at communications, much better, and social media is an essential tool for doing that. Justin Bieber may be off the charts in terms of followers, but when it comes to message quality, the Gates Foundation rules.

-- Brad Smith

Sean Parker and the Perils of Stealth Philanthropy
June 17, 2013

(Janet Camarena is the director of the Foundation Center's San Francisco office and leads the Center's Glasspockets effort.)

Camarena_100I love weddings and I love philanthropy, so I have been following the fallout from Sean Parker’s wedding with growing interest over the last couple of weeks of unrelenting news coverage surrounding the big event. Mr. Parker is the co-founder of Napster and was also Facebook’s first president. To believe the tabloids, the nuptials involved an elaborate staging akin to those of sets for Lord of the Rings crossed with Game of Thrones all under the canopy of old growth redwoods in Northern California.

Unfortunately many new donors fear that philanthropic transparency will lead to being inundated with requests, and instead opt for treating philanthropy like a “stealth mode” operation.

Couple those images with the fact that he apparently did not secure the proper permits, and in the end made a “voluntary payment” to make the whole brouhaha go away (the California Coastal Commission can technically not levy fines), and you have the makings of story that any news cycle will love about billionaires being able to make up the rules as they go along. And that is where philanthropy enters the picture, as when Mr. Parker has tried to catch up to the story and correct the record, he refers to his foundation and its work supporting conservation efforts as a means to demonstrate his commitment to the environment. And given this history of philanthropic support for conservation, he also explains that his goal for the wedding was actually one in which the event would leave the forest in better shape than when he found it, with ample funds included for restoration. 

As a philanthropy observer, that was the sound bite that really grabbed my attention! Sean Parker has a foundation?  Who knew? I was aware of Mr. Parker’s excellent work on the crowdfunding platform Causes, and in fact, we have featured its good work on several occasions here at the Foundation Center, since it is a platform that has helped many nonprofits mobilize their networks to raise millions of dollars for charity. Given his efforts to build Causes soon after making it big with Facebook, it is clear he has made philanthropy, and the technology that can serve as its catalyst, a professional priority. 

What surprised me was the foundation part, as I had not previously heard of its work. So, I looked up the Sean Parker Foundation in our Foundation Directory Online database, which contains profiles of more than 100,000 grantmaking foundations, and I could not initially find any foundation there listing Mr. Parker as its donor, officer, or trustee. So, next I reached out to our data department to see if they had record of it and learned that it is indeed, a new foundation in the process of being added to our database. This means that the only source of public information on the foundation would be its 990-PF tax form, so I reviewed that to get a better idea of Mr. Parker’s philanthropic activities.

Unfortunately, given the nature of the turnaround with tax forms, the most current publicly available form only provides insights into the Sean Parker Foundation’s giving in 2011. At that time, this new foundation had approximately $1.8 million in total assets and had disbursed three grants totaling $225,000 and the funding was given to the Beckley Foundation to support a global initiative for drug policy reform, to Gabrielle’s Angel Foundation for cancer research, and to the Bridge School to support education for developmentally disabled children. All worthy causes, but nothing to indicate his interest in conservation. 

Next I tried his Wikipedia entry, and found some good indication of his philanthropic interests there, and more details about Causes, but nothing more specific about the work of his foundation in the last year. I was able to find one recent gift attributed to Sean Parker through a Google search, which yielded a general donor list for Stand Up to Cancer, indicating either that his foundation’s work on cancer has continued, or that he has multiple giving vehicles through a donor-advised fund or supporting organization, which may serve to administer additional giving on his behalf through a community foundation or banking institution. 

This structure does not reduce the value of his grantmaking, but the lack of transparency for those vehicles make his good work invisible, which puts him at a distinct disadvantage now that he is on the defensive. As a tech pioneer, Mr. Parker could have simply used the online tools at his disposal and voluntarily disclosed his fund or foundation’s grantmaking details and strategies on his own web site, or provided greater detail about it on his Wikipedia profile.

Had he established a web site for his foundation with a list of recently awarded grants, his current giving would now be a matter of public record for all to see, including prying journalists and an unforgiving public. 

Although I cannot speculate as to why Mr. Parker hasn’t chosen to be more open about his foundation, the more private approach is not uncommon in philanthropy. Unfortunately many new donors fear that philanthropic transparency will lead to being inundated with requests, and instead opt for treating philanthropy like a “stealth mode” operation. However, the philanthropic record and reputation private foundations can build ultimately serve the philanthropist, particularly in occasions such as this. For if you don’t tell your own story, others will tell it for you. And more importantly, if no one knows you have a foundation, doesn’t that limit its capacity to do good?

Furthermore, in our work at Glasspockets.org, a web site committed to encouraging greater philanthropic transparency, we have found that online foundation transparency has the power to build public trust and credibility, improve relationships with grantees, facilitate greater collaboration, reduce duplication of effort, and cultivate a community of shared learning. 

The forest Mr. Parker and his bride selected as the setting for their nuptials is called the Ventana Wilderness. In Spanish Ventana means window, which seems fitting since thanks to news and digital media, we now all feel like we got to peek through the reception’s window. Too bad we didn’t have more of a view of his philanthropy leading up to this event, which may have made his efforts at damage control an easier task.

--Janet Camarena

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About Transparency Talk

  • Transparency Talk, the Glasspockets blog, is a platform for candid and constructive conversation about foundation transparency and accountability. In this space, Foundation Center highlights strategies, findings, and best practices on the web and in foundations–illuminating the importance of having "glass pockets."

    The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation Center.

    Questions and comments may be
    directed to:

    Janet Camarena
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    Foundation Center

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