Magazine article Variety

Philanthropy: The New Hollywood Brand

Magazine article Variety

Philanthropy: The New Hollywood Brand

Article excerpt

Nothing says you've made it quite like leaving your name on a good cause

The charity banquet season hits its peak at this time of year, and the crowded ballrooms remind us that there are people in town who worry less about making money than giving it away. They have reason to worry; philanthropy has become a perilous and competitive business.

David Geffen's decision to donate $25 million for a David Geffen Theater at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures means that virtually every institution in Los Angeles has a David Geffen something. No one else matches Geffen's philanthropic ubiquity, but almost every star these days has his or her own foundation, from Kobe Bryant to Ben Stiller.

The major talent agencies each have specialists in what they call "philanthropy branding" - an intimidating term in itself. Some stars like Sean Penn and Angelina Jolie talk more about what they're giving than who they're playing. Bono is no longer a performer, he's a cause.

And the fund-raisers are hip to the opportunity. Every nook and cranny of a new museum or arts edifice carries the name of a donor.

Naming rights at the planned Academy museum (scheduled to open in 2017) are being offered for the Film History Gallery (that will cost you $20 million), the Founders Room ($5 million) or the green room adjacent to Geffen's theater (a mere $2.5 million).

Traditional philanthropy has always involved art museums - think Eli Broad - but all that is beginning to seem dated. George Clooney supports Darfur, Penn underwrites Haiti. Bill Gates seems to underwrite everywhere else.

Some social-minded corporate CEOs want to change the laws to permit establishment of "benefit corporations" that would contribute 20% or more of after-tax profits directly to philanthropy. Blake Jones, CEO of a Colorado solar energy company, for example, wants to use his corporate profits to build a children's museum.

Then there's Mark Zuckerberg, who is channeling millions into a form of political philanthropy. He and some fellow Silicon Valley moguls have launched Fwd.us, which will subsidize and lobby for immigration reform, scientific research and higher educational standards (but got into hot water with environmentalists earlier in the month for an ad that supported oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge). Zuckerberg recently donated $100 million to the Newark New Jersey public school system to help underprivileged kids. …

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