Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Philanthropy is baaaack!

I don't have any science to prove this, but I'm betting that philanthropy is on it's way back to glamour child, media darling, good news growth.

As for data, I could point to the non-decline in giving reported by Giving USA, the increase in phone calls we're receiving from startup foundations, the "booming" sales of my book or a general uptick in positive media attention. Mostly my gut - which called it correctly in 1997 before the boom, is calling again for philanthropy to come roaring back into the public mainstream "good news" columns and off of of the scandal sheets.

Perhaps the final data point tipping me toward this feeling is this - in the Fall, ABC TV will premiere The Benefactor, a reality TV show starring Mark Cuban (multi-millionaire founder of Broadcast.com and owner of the NBA Dallas Mavericks). The game will focus on contestants meeting challenges set by Cuban, all in pursuit of $ 1 million to pursue their dreams. ABC plans to air the show right before Monday Night Football - one of TV's all-time prime time slots.

At the same time, Pamela Andersen's support for Olympic gymnastics hopeful, Mohini Bhardwaj, made headline news on the sports, entertainment and business pages. Meanwhile, in the arts, Joel Fan, a college friend of Yo Yo Ma's who went on to make a computer industry fortune, has started a foundation to connect wealthy executives with artists who need sponsors. This endeavors was chronicled in the August issue of Inc. Magazine, noting that Fan bought a new apartment, a new car and started a new foundation (not unusual behavior for donors).

These aren't groundbreaking philanthropic endeavors by any stretch of the imagination - but they are symbolically important. Three highly visible celebrities (or their friends) start putting money behind causes and the media follows right along.

We may not be far from the hype and glam of 1999 and 2000 when star philanthropists were regular features on the covers of Time, Business 2.0, Entertainment Weekly, People, and Fortune.

So, the billion dollar questions are:

1) Now that we have experienced both the rise and the fall of media coverage of philanthropy, are we as an industry any better equipped to use this access and good will to our advantage?

2) Have we learned anything about the media and public will that might be useful in this concurrent period of regulatory interest in the field?