The Robin Hood Foundation could sell its donors a bridge.
In a sense it did at its annual benefit last night in New York, typically the city’s biggest charity fundraiser. The span was built in the middle of the cocktail area and labeled “a bridge from poverty to possibility.”
The event raised $60 million and counting as of this morning, with an early tally of $59.8 million delivered by an Amazon.com Inc. drone that flew through the room and arrived on stage carrying the result on a piece of paper. Last year’s edition of the soiree brought in $80.7 million as the foundation celebrated its 25th anniversary.
Lloyd Blankfein didn’t venture onto the bridge at last night’s event (“I’m in the risk management business,” the chairman and chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. joked as dinner got under way, including an artichoke salad and braised short rib.)
Daniel Och was spotted underneath it, and Peter Kiernan, a longtime Robin Hood board member, was found on the 198-foot span, 10 feet above the ground, with his family.
“This is not a bridge to nowhere,” Kiernan of Kiernan Ventures LLC said as some 4,000 guests flowed into the party including Steven Cohen, Mary Erdoes, Laurence Fink, Henry Kravis, John Griffin and Daniel Loeb. “We have a no-spitting rule.”
Yucks aside, Kiernan explained that the bridge decor “carries the theme of Robin Hood. We’re here to request a constant source of support for those in need. There’s no trickling down. The S&P is at an all-time high, and the needs of the poor have never been higher.”
The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index closed yesterday at a record 1,896.65 as U.S. stocks rallied anew.
Big digital screens around the room broadcast those needs: nearly half of New Yorkers living in poverty are immigrants or children; 50 percent of poor children will not graduate high school; and 22,000 children would sleep in a New York City shelter last night, according to the foundation.
The bridge was packed and provided good views of these messages, said Nathan Stoppelmann, who works at S&P Capital IQ.
One could also see giant Robin Hood archer disco balls floating from the ceiling, and the marching band that ushered guests into the dining room at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.
“Good evening rich people, good evening,” said John Oliver, host of a new show on HBO, as he began the program. “It is an honor to help you raise money this evening. Give yourself a round of applause, and give yourself an even bigger round of applause for being so successful that being in this room was even an option.”
Met with near silence, he retorted, “Don’t get bashful, billionaires.”
Cohen, the former hedge-fund manager who recently stepped down after a decade on the foundation’s board, was sitting up front with artist George Condo and former Senator Joseph Lieberman for a surprise performance by the indie pop band Fun. Bruno Mars later closed the evening with another surprise guest, Sting, who joined for The Police song “Walking on the Moon.”
NBC News anchors Brian Williams and Lester Holt appeared in a video rapping -- composed of cleverly spliced together moments on-air. “There’s a video tape editor at NBC who started working on that in July,” Williams said. “I have never said the word ‘hippety’ on air.” Williams, a Robin Hood board member, also helped lead the fundraising portion of the event.
Robin Hood has no endowment. The haul raised at the 2013 event accounted for 61 percent of the $132 million the foundation disbursed during the year to more than 210 organizations funding charter schools, soup kitchens, affordable housing and job training, to name a few examples.
All the money raised at the party and throughout the year goes to programs as the foundation’s board covers administrative, fundraising and evaluation costs -- all of which was explained with pictures of a pizza and a bosom in a video shown at the event featuring the Glove and Boots puppets Johnny T, a frog, and Fafa the Groundhog.
The benefit generally brings in the most money of any single New York fundraiser by tens of millions of dollars, according to the foundation, and it draws the largest number of guests, about 4,000, or more than twice the capacity of the largest hotel ballroom in New York.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute Gala, often called the party of the year, last week raised $12 million with 580 guests, and the United Jewish Appeal-Federation of New York Wall Street Dinner honoring Blankfein in December raised $26 million with 1,700 guests.
Robin Hood itself throws smaller fundraising efforts. A recent gathering for the foundation’s Philanthropic Young Things hosted by hedge-fund firm D.E. Shaw & Co. managing director Dan Michalow raised more than $100,000 with cocktails at rooftop lounge PH-D.
Robin Hood’s main benefit didn’t start off this big. The first one in 1990, two years after the organization was founded by money manager Paul Tudor Jones and others, drew a few hundred guests and hauled in $700,000. Word spread and demand for tickets grew, resulting in a parade of billionaires and celebrities to a rather unlikely gala spot off the West Side Highway, one whose beige-and-crystal decor requires transformation into a Robin Hood universe.
In the dining room, the table centerpieces were bridges and copper mylar tape hung above guests in an “abstraction of bridge cables,” said designer David Stark.
Here co-chairmen Jeff Bezos of Amazon, David Tepper and Alan Howard, as well as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, tennis great John McEnroe and Julian Robertson, Bill Ackman and Michael Novogratz settled down to dinner. It was catered by Union Square Events, owned by Danny Meyer, who sat near Blankfein and actors Mariska Hargitay and Michael J. Fox.
The fundraising after dessert -- adding to the $24 million raised coming into the event -- focused on a new American Dream Fund to help low-income immigrants achieve success.
Cuomo introduced a group of newly naturalized citizens and spoke of the dynamism immigrants bring to New York.
He wasn’t the only politician mingling with hedge-funders last night. Across town at the Manhattan Institute’s Alexander Hamilton dinner, investors including Clifford Asness and Paul Singer joined Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, both potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates.
Rudolph Giuliani warmed up the crowd before Bush’s speech.
“He was elected with 61 percent of the Hispanic vote. Wow! Come on,” the former New York mayor said, goading applause.
At the Robin Hood benefit Glenn Dubin’s mother and actor Steve Buscemi’s father spoke about their experiences as immigrants in a video.
“I was thinking of my grandfather,” Tepper said as he came on stage to solicit donations. “He was from Romania, his family sent him here with the promise he’d have a great education and he’d go to college and do great things, but he came here and there wasn’t an education for him. He wound up working at 13 in a cigar factory.”
Added the money manager from Appaloosa Management LP: “I think he would have gone to college if Robin Hood had been around.”
Tepper then announced the fundraising goal of $25 million, saying a $10 million challenge grant had already been offered by an anonymous immigrant and Ackman’s Pershing Square Foundation. He offered to match funds raised above $20 million.
“If you thought I made too much money last year, here’s your opportunity to separate me from it,” Tepper said. “Seriously, I really want to give this money away.”
The total amount raised for the fund was $35 million, with Tepper contributing $10 million, half of which he earmarked for immigrants in his home state of New Jersey.
The puppet Johnny T, in his tough-guy accent gave an early tally of $50. As pledges came in silently by e-mail, comedian Jim Gaffigan arrived.
“If eating steak is manly, it’s the only manly attribute I have,” he said. “I love steak. Steak gets a house, and they’re darkly lit. The waiters are no-nonsense. The potatoes are stuffed with five sticks of butter.”
Cars, he could take or leave.
“At this point, pickup truck commercials just give me anxiety,” Gaffigan said. “You could tow an aircraft carrier. Why? Why would you even need that?”
Guests departed the festivities with a black tote bag that can be flaunted in the coming weeks as a sign of attendance. It features the words “feed, teach, shelter, train, heal” in a Gothic calligraphy font, and was created by Jennifer Fisher, a jewelry designer known for using brass and making stamped dog tag-like name plates.