May 7, 2010; New York Magazine | Nonprofits apparently have functions that aren’t stated in their missions—for instance, fixing scandalous corporations’ public images. Goldman Sachs has hired former aide to Bill Clinton, Mark Fabriani, to help it “create a counter-narrative” to rebuild its public image.
What might Fabriani suggest? New York Magazine asked a few publicists for ideas. One suggested that Goldman “consider adopting a smaller, socially useful institution” such as New York City’s financially troubled St. Vincent’s hospital “in lieu of adopting an African child.” Another opined that the firm’s “philanthropic” donations of $500 million to support small business and $1 billion to charity didn’t work as well as it might have to change the firm’s image.
Perhaps it was because it paled in comparison to the firm’s $23 billion bonus pool for executive staff. Remember, this is the firm that bet that the mortgage market was going to fail and, like Enron executives cheering when California suffered rolling brownouts, Goldman Sachs execs chortled as their expectations of the housing market proved true.
In response, a third PR expert suggested that Goldman should “donate $10 billion to mortgage relief. Say, we’re going to take our bonuses, and give it to people who lost their homes.” Ten billion dollars hardly undoes the damage that Goldman wrought on the housing market and the entire economy. Maybe Goldman Sachs executives could help change the firm’s image by stifling their smirks and answering Senator Levin’s questions on Capitol Hill.
Nonprofits might be able to capture some economic benefit from Goldman’s PR-advised philanthropic contrition, but we shouldn’t sign on to give Goldman Sachs a “get out of jail free” pass from its huge and cavalier responsibility for the economic mess it helped construct.—Rick Cohen