August 19, 2011; Source: Rolling Stone | An already unhappy story has taken an even unhappier turn. Amy Winehouse, a troubled British pop star, died suddenly last month at the age of 27. At her funeral, Winehouse’s father Mitch announced plans to create a charitable foundation, in Amy’s name, that would support a rehabilitation facility or some other program to help young Brits with drug and alcohol addictions.
But before Mitch Winehouse could get the charity established, someone else registered the name “Amy Winehouse Foundation” with the U.K. government. Although donations have already begun to come in payable to the Amy Winehouse Foundation, the naming dispute means that plans for the foundation are currently on hold.
Mitch Winehouse complained about the “name squatter” in a series of tweets:
“We all have to bombard the tabloids websites to put pressure on this d— head who stole our foundation name.”
“Instead of concentrating on allocating funding I am having to send cheques back [because] we haven’t got bank ac[count] in that name.”
“Our solicitors are all over this, but it takes time. Meanwhile we can’t get on with foundation.”
What gives us pause? First and foremost, it is the appearance of someone who guessed that he or she could “pinch,” in the words of Mitch Winehouse, the Amy Winehouse Foundation name. It is hard to imagine a charitable or philanthropic motive on that person’s part, as the father only announced the plan for the foundation at her funeral on July 27.
Second, there is the possibility that some of the donations will end up being used for purposes other than drug and alcohol addiction. How many checks have found their way to the legal entity registered as the Amy Winehouse Foundation instead of the singer’s father?
Third, there is a concern about Mitch Winehouse’s own plans. He was clearly grieving at the funeral and may have announced the foundation as a way of turning Amy’s troubled life into something positive for other young people. But we noticed a statement from him, after the news broke of the name-squatting, modifying the purpose of the as of yet not-operational foundation: “The plan is to help all children—not just rehabilitation, not just substance abuse. It’s to help all children in need.”
There have been a number of foundations created to leverage a tragedy in order to help similarly situated people, but many of them have run into problems of accountability and mission clarity. Grief is a powerful motivation to see something done to help people, but it doesn’t automatically translate into a solid plan for achieving tangible outcomes.
If the name squatter’s motivations were as slimy as they seem to be, one wishes Mitch Winehouse’s solicitors success in rectifying this situation. One also hopes that these solicitors give Winehouse the kind of advice he needs to ensure that his proposed foundation is set up to do the kinds of fundraising and programs that will make Amy Winehouse’s death a teachable moment.—Rick Cohen