June 20, 2017; Benzinga
Let’s place this story under the category of “new giving habits of the tech-enabled ungodly rich.” NPQ reported a few days ago that Jeff Bezos had tweeted to his followers in search of suggestions about what kinds of projects to get involved with philanthropically. Bezos is the third-richest person in the world, with an estimated $80 billion in net worth. In his tweet, he said that his philanthropic interests sit “at the intersection of urgent need and lasting impact.”
Pop singer Madonna, on the other hand, boasts only $580 million in assets, as estimated by Forbes, and she’s a graduate of Rochester Adams High School, about 30 miles north of Detroit, which has led her to support charities in that city. As she tweeted to Bezos, she thinks they could do great philanthropy together in the Motor City.
In line with what he said were his interests, the material girl tagged three Detroit nonprofits in her tweet: The Downtown Boxing Gym; The Empowerment Plan, a nonprofit that assists those facing homelessness; and the Detroit Achievement Academy, a charter school.
The Downtown Boxing Gym’s youth program assists more than 130 students between the ages of 7 and 18 in the areas of education, athletics, mentorship and intervention.
“Madonna is one of our supporters through the Ray of Light Foundation, which is her foundation. She has supported us in the past and did help us get into the building we’re now in and helped us with some construction costs when we were doing renovations,” [Carolyn Geck, the nonprofit’s development director] told Benzinga on Monday.
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Not only does this nonprofit have a waiting list of more than 800 students, but it also has a capital expansion project close to hand. Is it fate?
Geck says Bezos has not called yet. If Bezos takes Madonna up on her offer, he would not be the only philanthropic presence in Michigan’s struggling municipalities. An op-ed by David Callahan in the New York Times points out:
Last year, as Kalamazoo, Michigan, struggled with a budget deficit and other economic woes, two local philanthropists stepped forward, pledging $70 million to improve the city’s fortunes. Earlier in 2016, a group of foundations put up even more money to help another troubled Michigan city, Flint, recover from the contamination of its water supply. And a few years before that, foundations helped to rescue Detroit from bankruptcy.
But Callahan goes on to warn that although “most of these donors have the best of intentions, make no mistake: Their influence is growing in tandem with their largesse, shifting power away from democratic institutions.”
So far, Bezos is not volunteering to save a whole city, or help fund a municipality, or even fund a boxing gym—though he does have the power to pay the costs of replacing Flint’s pipes. But should rich people have this kind of power? It would be better if governments simply had enough money to operate.—Ruth McCambridge