Culture

Making Giving Great Again

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Donald Trump


On June 20, the New York Times reported that Michael Bloomberg will direct $80 million toward the 2018 midterm elections to support Democratic congressional candidates. The former mayor of New York, who identifies as an Independent, has openly supported more left-leaning ideals on issues such as gun control, immigration and the environment. The decision shouldn’t come as a surprise to AVENUE readers, as we ran a piece in our Spring issue on how philanthropists are using their money to champion social causes, especially ones that are at odds with President Trump’s policies. Here, again, is the piece: 


From foreign affairs and the #MeToo movement to the seismic rumblings emanating from the Trump White House, political disruption has been shaking the world in ways large and small.


While social-good giving may not dominate the headlines—nor interest television’s cacophonous talking heads as much as the presence of Russian fake news factories and chaos in the White House—philanthropy is changing, too. Our city’s cause-minded donors are creating new ways to turn the tumult of unexpected and unprecedented challenges into fresh opportunities to assert

their values.


Many of New York’s most influential and affluent philanthropists have responded to the current state of the union by refocusing their giving on social causes. And now, there is also a new vanguard of donors emerging—up-and-comers who are beginning to organize new ways to give. From Brooklyn-based Propel Capital’s new grassroots Propel Democracy fund to the six-month-old Hunger to Health Collaboratory, a new cross-sector consortium of nonprofits, universities, local governments, health centers and for-profit companies (including NYC’s Hearst-funded Good Housekeeping Institute) are collaborating to leverage their collective resources to improve health by ending hunger. “Hunger is a problem that can be solved, and by bringing all of these people together from different organizations, with different interests and different stakeholders, we have the power together to go where we can’t go as individual organizations,” said Laurie Jennings, director of the Good Housekeeping Institute.


This emerging trend in advocacy giving is more openly outspoken about social causes. Accelerating the trend is the fact that the boundaries of philanthropy are being broadened and redefined by the current climate of crisis; increasingly, giving for good is becoming unavoidably and openly ideological (following the example set in recent years by the Mercer and Koch families, if not their political direction), and big-bets gamblers are more willing to admit that confrontational positions are indicated in a moment when the very notion of what constitutes the public good is in dispute.


This year, as last, topping the big-bets giving list of New York philanthropists is the former mayor and info-tech billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who put a whopping $702 million into public health causes and other big-bets social ventures in 2017. Though he made his stance on Donald J. Trump clear at the 2016 Democratic convention (“Trump says he wants to run the nation like he’s run his business,” Bloomberg said. “God help us. I’m a New Yorker, and I know a con when I see one”) his giving remains comparatively uncontroversial—especially when compared to the most electrifying emerging cohort among Gotham’s giving-minded. They’ve set off an outpouring of philanthropic donations, large and small, to blunt the impact of initiatives coming out of the Trump White House targeting poverty, healthcare, and immigration.


The Trump Effect on philanthropy has catalyzed both Gen Y upstarts and Gotham’s older-money philanthropists. Here are 10 of the more notable social bets and bettors of 2017.


Michael Bloomberg


Michael Bloomberg

While a relatively small portion of the total $702 million that Gotham’s former mayor gave last year was political, his signal to Trump was clear. The president’s climate change pullout from the Paris Agreement catalyzed Bloomberg to ante up $40 million to the United Nations’ efforts to execute the Paris Climate Treaty— despite Trump’s decision to freeze official U.S. support for it.


Agnes Gund


Agnes Gund

Early last year, banking heiress Agnes Gund famously sold off her prized 1962 Roy Lichtenstein painting Masterpiece for $150 million (exclusive of taxes and fees), using $100 million of the proceeds to seed a new social justice fund to reform the criminal justice system. She rallied her fellow art collectors to sell their pieces to help raise another $100 million for the cause, which Gund has named the Art for Justice Fund. “I started the Art for Justice Fund because the criminal justice system in its current state—particularly in its treatment of people of color—is unfair and unjust,” says Gund. “And I believe that the power of art will help drive that change. Artists and storytellers can illuminate injustice, and humanize the people and families who are caught up in the system.” According to Melissa Berman, head of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, many major philanthropists are increasingly working with other donors to disrupt the social systems that perpetuate poverty and other social ills. “We are seeing increasing numbers of funder collaboratives,” she told AVENUE. The question now, she says, ”is how do we expand but also change the system?”


Tom Steyer


Tom Steyer

The native New Yorker, billionaire hedge fund manager and Stanford University trustee has spent the past year shuttling between both coasts to advance Need to Impeach, his high-profile ad campaign to remove Donald Trump from office. Steyer funneled more than $100 million of his own fortune into the effort last year. “Everyone who expected Trump to revert to normalcy, pivot to decency?” Steyer queried in an interview with AVENUE. “It’s not going tohappen.” According to Federal Election Commission records released earlier this year, Steyer almost singlehandedly bankrolled a political action committee to encourage Latinos to vote in the 2016 presidential election “to push back against Trump and Republicans.” According to the FEC, the Immigrant Voters Win PAC last year raised a total of $748,000, most of it from Steyer, money geared to fueling opposition to Trump in the upcoming midterm elections.


Jon Stryker


Jon Stryker

The chief of NYC’s Arcus Foundation and heir to the Stryker Corp. medical equipment family fortune donated $17 million to support/protect LGBTQ charities and raise awareness and mobilization against Trump’s antigay policies last year.


 


Olivia Leland

The managing director at the Rockefeller Foundation and founding director of the Giving Pledge late last year founded the new $500 million Co-Impact Fund, which will chiefly focus on helping lower-income people gain greater access to quality public health, education and economic opportunity in the United States and around the world. Says Leland, Co-Impact’s founder and CEO, “A collaborative approach among donors is critical now to solving the world’s most pressing problems.” Co-Impact’s initial core partners include philanthropists Richard Chandler, Bill and Melinda Gates, Romesh and Kathy Wadhwani, and Jeff Skoll. The Rockefeller Foundation is incubating Co-Impact and will provide staff, significant operating funds and ongoing strategic support.


Leah Hunt-Hendrix


Leah-Hunt Hendrix

The 33-year-old New York City native and granddaughter of the late Texas oil tycoon H. L. Hunt, is cofounder and executive director of Solidaire, a young donors’ collaborative she founded in 2013 to give “a way for people with a lot of privilege to find a role in the social movements of our time.” The new network of young philanthropists last year contributed more than $10 million to support the #BlackLivesMatter movement, the Harlem-based Alliance of Families for Justice, and other civil rights organizations and initiatives for racial equity. “I get the ironies,” says Hunt-Hendrix, who grew up on Fifth Avenue, daughter of pioneering philanthropist Helen LaKelly Hunt (New York Women’s Foundation). “I understand that there are contradictions between coming from an oil and gas family and doing this kind of activism for social equality. There are parts of our identity that we might have to be willing to give up to live in the kind of world we want to live in,” she told Salon, “the type of world where everyone has enough. To get there, however, we can’t hide from who we are. We have to work with what we have, from where we are and what we’re given.” 


 


Sarah Williams

Williams and her Propel Capital cofounder Jeremy Mindich launched Propel Democracy in 2017 to increase political engagement. With a $5-million start-up fund, the organization supports grassroots efforts against the  Trump administration, particularly in swing states, with a keen focus on the upcoming midterm elections. The duo plan to invest another $2 million into the effort this year, and they are gathering millionaires in New York to further focus their collective giving. Propel Capital, founded in 2008 to target Gen Y philanthropists, joins other new U.S. donor collectives, including the Women’s Donor Network, Threshold and Solidaire, that have been organized to resist conservative efforts to limit civil rights. Williams, former director of philanthropy programs for the Pfizer Foundation, said that New York philanthropists are increasingly interested in “building new organizations and scaling movements to address issues of inequality.” Williams added, “There is an increasing sense of outrage and despondency about our democracy and our economy among New York philanthropists, and how these are not working for the majority—and there are philanthropists now who feel that joining these types of collaboratives is now the highest leverage point to build, among other things, access to our electoral system, because it now feels like that piece needs more attention and support.”


Ray Dalio


Ray Dalio

The hedge fund chief heading Bridgewater Associates gave $47.2 million last year to child welfare causes and to others providing underserved people greater access to education, financial inclusion and affordable computer technology, among other causes. Dalio, in an October LinkedIn post from Bridgewater, said the wealth gap is “our biggest economic, social and political issue” and played a significant role in Donald Trump’s election victory. “While conditions for the lowest income groups have long been bad,” he wrote, “conditions of non-college-educated whites, especially males, have deteriorated significantly over the past 30 years or so. This is the group that swung most strongly to help elect President Trump.” Dalio added that “the polarity in economics and living standards is contributing to greater political polarity” that is “also leading to reduced trust and confidence in government, financial institutions and the media, which is at or near 35-year lows.” Since 2003, Dalio and his wife, Barbara, have given out nearly $700 million to various causes.


George Soros


George Soros

The hedge fund billionaire reloaded his progressive, prodemocracy war chest last year, moving an additional $208.2 million of his own money into his Open Society Foundation to step up resistance to Trump administration policies and fund efforts for electoral and voting rights reforms. The foundation’s assets today stand at about $18 billion, the bulk of which he’s added in recent years.


Donald and Barbara Zucker


Donald and Barbara Zucker

The Brooklyn-born Manhattan real estate developer and his wife gave $61 million to endow scholarships to help support medical students attending the Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra University and help postdoctoral fellows attending Long Island’s Feinstein Institute for Medical Research to prepare for successful careers. “We feel it is incumbent on us to help young people achieve their dreams to be physicians in today’s healthcare system, and to significantly lessen the financial burden and optimize the health and well-being of diverse populations and communities for the betterment of humanity,” Zucker said.


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