A New York benefit concert for Hurricane Sandy victims, featuring performances by the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Kanye West, Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen, among others, is shaping up to be the most widely seen musical event ever, according to organizers, with a projected worldwide audience approaching two billion.
The 12-12-12 Concert
for Sandy Relief at New York’s Madison Square Garden
is the brainchild of a little-known New York City anti-poverty organization, the Robin Hood Foundation
, founded in 1988 by hedge fund owners Paul Tudor Jones and Glenn Dubin.
The foundation operates on a “venture philanthropy” model, funding $140 million in grants each year to about 200 anti-poverty efforts across New York City, says Deborah Winshel, Robin Hood’s president and chief operating officer. After Sandy ‘s devastation, it expanded its reach to hard-hit communities in New Jersey, Connecticut and Long Island, as well.
Several Robin Hood board members, including film producer Harvey Weinstein and John Sykes, president of Clear Channel Entertainment, organized the Sandy relief concert with Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan - as they did the far smaller Concert for New York following the September 11, 2001 attacks. They say this year’s concert will reach many millions more, who will be able to watch and listen for free live via the Internet and scores of TV and radio broadcasts around the world.
Already, Winshel says, ticket sales have raised more than $32 million. All the proceeds will go to organizations providing relief to those plunged into poverty - or threatened with it - by the storm’s devastation. She says that is also true of 100 percent of other donations to the foundation. Board members themselves fund the organization’s overhead costs, so that donors know their money will be spent on aid, not on salaries or offices for the staff of 90.
“Robin Hood is the largest poverty fighter in New York City,” Winshel said. “We look to identify fund and support organizations that we think are the most effective in addressing poverty and that can range from soup kitchens to homeless shelters, to after-school programs to high schools, any intervention that we think will be helpful in allowing people to improve their lives.”
She said that Robin Hood’s innovation is using “investment principles” to try to assess both qualitatively and dollar for dollar, the cost-benefit ratio of anti-poverty programs - and funding only the most effective.
Charity springs from compassion, Winshel said, “But you can marry that to analytical rigor. We look at the entire landscape and try to use your money and leverage your dollar in the most effective way.”
The funds also flow without delay, she said. Robin Hood raised about $15.5 million in the immediate wake of Sandy - and has already distributed $14.5 million.
“We have a list on our web site we’re updating every week with all the grants we’re making related to Sandy, so that’s one way for anyone to understand where their money is going,” she said.
In addition to social service groups and food banks in New York City, Sandy donations now are going to similar efforts in Connecticut, Long Island and New Jersey.
The storm has created thousands of new homeless and poor in New York and surrounding areas, Winshel noted. Before the storm, 21 percent of New Yorkers were living in poverty, according to census data.
“We had 40,000 people living in shelter[s],” Winshel said. “Almost half are children. After Sandy, that number has gone up somewhere into the 55,000s and [is] growing. The statistics are just startling, so for us, even Sandy aside, the work here is so significant and there’s so much still to do,” she said.
Winshel is aware of the irony of a hedge-funders’ charity named after a 13th century bandit of English folklore, legendary for stealing from the rich to give to the poor. In the case of the Robin Hood Foundation, however, it is about the ultra-rich challenging each each other to lighten their own coffers.
Financier George Soros has the record for a one-time gift, pledging $50 million in 2009. At the group’s annual awards dinner that year, the New York Times
reported, comedian Jon Stewart told the crowd. “Tonight is a chance for Wall Street to help all those people hurt so badly by …Oh, sorry.”
They will have another chance with the 12-12 concert. “This is the biggest rock concert and the biggest grossing event ever,” Harvey Weinstein recently told the Wall Street Journal.
Prices for individual tickets to the sold-out concert, which will also feature Eric Clapton, The Who, Roger Waters, Alicia Keys, Bon Jovi, Billy Joel, Eddie Vedder, Chris Martin and Dave Grohl, were $150 to $25,000 - although million-dollar packages were also on offer to moguls who want to host friends for pre- and post-concert events as well.