Robin Hood Gala Raises $61 Million, Helped by Bezos Familyby
$15 million from Bezos, Overdeck foundations matched at dinner
Blankfein, Fink, Einhorn, Ackman among event's attendees
A hard year for Wall Street is still a solid year for its biggest charity gala.
The Robin Hood Foundation, dedicated to fighting poverty in New York City, took in about $61 million at its annual fundraiser with the help of wealthy donors from the financial industry and beyond. That’s less than last year’s $101 million, when two donors chipped in $50 million to smash the record. But it’s a bit more than the year before, when times were better by many measures. The decade’s low was $47 million in 2011.
The daylong event dubbed “Night for NYC” culminated in a benefit dinner at the Javits Center in Manhattan on Monday. Wallets opened again this year despite a further slump in investment bank profits, a jump in hedge-fund withdrawals and a presidential race with candidates arguing over who’ll be toughest on the industry. As Katie Couric gave her opening remarks, she welcomed a crowd she called “Bernie Sanders’s worst nightmare.”
“We’ve weathered all the different points of economic cycles,” David Saltzman, the foundation’s executive director, said in an interview before the event. “What I’ve found to be truly remarkable about our donors is at the toughest times they continue to be generous, because they know they’ve been blessed by good fortune and they still want to be generous to others.”
Guests included Goldman Sachs’s Lloyd Blankfein, BlackRock’s Laurence D. Fink and investors Bill Ackman and David Einhorn. The evening featured a surprise country-music guest, the Zac Brown Band, and closed with a set by Usher. Comedian Jim Gaffigan warmed up the crowd by mocking how people complain about the cold.
“It’s freezing,” he parroted. “Damn Obamacare. Without Obamacare it’d be 72 degrees out there.”
Looking beyond Wall Street’s malaise helped. This year’s fundraiser was spurred by a $15 million challenge grant from the Bezos Family Foundation and the Overdeck Family Foundation. Jackie Bezos, president of her family’s efforts, sits on the board of Robin Hood Foundation. She’s the mother of billionaire Jeff Bezos, founder and head of Amazon.com Inc., and Mark Bezos, a senior vice president at Robin Hood.
The Bezos and Overdeck grant will help Robin Hood start an effort to help parents, grandparents and caregivers become “brain carers” to prepare toddlers for school through a program called the Metropolis of Early Learning, Saltzman said. He said adults can learn to use everyday experiences such a trips to the grocery store to help children learn about topics like colors, shapes and numbers at an early age.
“There’s no time where a human brain is more plastic and able to learn and develop than between zero and three,” Saltzman said. “Let’s take full advantage of that and make sure kids from all income brackets and all neighborhoods get to school ready to soar.”
He said Robin Hood intends to spend $50 million over five years on the program as it continues other initiatives to fight poverty, including job training and support of food pantries and homeless shelters. But readiness for school can help diminish those needs, helping children reach milestones necessary to avoid poverty.
“Early childhood programs pack a poverty-fighting wallop and that’s why we want to support them,” Saltzman said.