Have you ever wanted to pull back the curtain on a celebrity charity to see how they’re run? Or how much money they actually give to their own foundations?
Well, today is your lucky day…
In this episode of A Modern Nonprofit Podcast, Tosha is joined by Marc Pollick of The Giving Back Fund who shares his insights from over 2 decades working with celebrities and their charities.
He’ll tell you the truth about celebrity giving patterns. And reveal his simple secret for connecting with hard-to-reach public figures. reveals why he made a move away from most celebrities toward less-known high net worth individuals. Don’t miss it!
Almost 25 years ago, Marc Pollick founded The Giving Back Fund. Initially established to advise Hollywood celebrities, famous musicians, and sports stars on creating their own non-profit organizations, GBF has diversified into helping less-known high net worth individuals, and corporations, who truly want to give back to their communities.
The Giving Back Fund provides a wide range of consulting services to non-profits including management and administrative advice. GBF are experts on starting a non-profit from the ground up, and help to establish community-based foundations for those who want to support the communities that once supported them.
Marc is an internationally recognized speaker, writer, and consultant in the field of philanthropy and charitable giving. Before taking on the world of philanthropy, Marc’s career was in academia specializing in Holocaust Studies, including working with 1986 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Elie Wiesel. In addition, Marc was recognized for his achievements as a recipient of the prestigious University of Chicago Alumni Award for Public Service.
In this episode, you’ll discover…
- How Marc’s experiences working with celebrities can give you insight into your own non-profit. (2:00)
- A surprising fact about the giving habits of most celebrities. (5:25)
- Why The Giving Back fund expanded to serve more than just celebrities. (6:54)
- What changes GBF has experienced since the onset of Covid19 and what you can expect going forward. (13:16)
- The not-so-secret, but underutilized, skill that Mark credits for opening doors to his biggest opportunities(17:38)
- Why mentorship is so important and the unexpected value it brings to your non-profit. (20:30)
Thanks for watching. Be sure to subscribe for new episodes every week!
For more nonprofit accounting resources check out http://www.thecharitycfo.com
🎥 Click the video below to watch the episode on YouTube.
👇 Or scroll below the video to read the full transcript of our conversation
A Modern Nonprofit Podcast
Celebrities, Wealth & Giving Back
Tosha Anderson (00:03):
Hey everyone. Welcome back to a modern nonprofit podcast today. I have my new friend mark Pollack with the giving back fund. Mark. Thank you so much for joining us. I’m really excited to dive into this conversation about your organization and how you help other organizations, mark. Thanks for being on today.
Marc Pollick (00:18):
Thank you very much for having me.
Tosha Anderson (00:21):
So your organization as little unique and, and oftentimes in these conversations, we just jump right into topics, right? Uh, I think first and foremost, I’d love to hear a little bit more about the giving back fund. You are a nonprofit that, you know, helps other nonprofits. You’re a connector. If you will. I’d love to hear a little bit before we dive into the conversation more about you and how you came to, to this vision or idea. And tell us a little bit more about the giving back fund.
Marc Pollick (00:48):
Sure. Um, well first I’ll tell you a little bit about me. Um, uh, when I, uh, came out of, uh, graduate school, this would’ve been a very unlikely career for me because I’m trained to do something very, very different that if, uh, if I gave you a, your listeners, 10,000 guesses and they didn’t know, um, no one would, would guess what my first career was. Um, I am a Holocaust scholar who spent, um, more than 20 years in the academic field of Holocaust studies. I, uh, did three graduate degrees with a man named Ellie Wiesel, um, who won the Nobel Peace prize. And mm-hmm <affirmative> is a fairly well known, uh, survivor and author and professor mm-hmm <affirmative>. And I, uh, created a foundation for Ellie, uh, around the time that he won the Nobel peace prize. Um, and, and that foundation, you know, when you win a Nobel peace prize, um, you become pretty well known.
Marc Pollick (01:42):
There just aren’t that many, uh, Nobel peace prize winners in the world. Uh, and so I, I learned from that just how powerful the celebrity that winning a Nobel peace prize brings to you. And that that could be leveraged on behalf of, uh, a cause. And in Ellie’s case, it was human rights around the world. Um, and that leveraging of celebrity that I originally he did with Ellie Wiesel, um, made it a deep impression on me. Um, and several years later, um, I actually, uh, came across the idea of doing what I was doing for Ellie, for anybody who had both wealth and celebrity, that you could link those two things together and Le both on behalf of whatever someone’s cause is. So for example, with Michael J. Fox, who is very well known and who has Parkinson’s, mm-hmm, <affirmative>, he’s able to leverage the fact that he’s a beloved actor, um, but who also has Parkinson’s to, um, be the face of that disease.
Marc Pollick (02:43):
And, uh, and that has resulted in a, you know, wonderful foundation that he has trying to cure Parkinson’s. And I could give you many examples of that, but the, the short answer is that, um, what led me from Holocaust studies to what I’m doing now, um, was figuring out in working with Ellie Wiesel how powerful that leverage is in leveraging a celebrity, because a celebrity has a spotlight on him or her and taking the spotlight off the person and putting it on a cause. Um, and so I went from, uh, doing that with one person to creating an organization that would do it for, uh, an infinite number of people. And, uh, in 1997, we’re about to celebrate our 25th anniversary, uh, in, at the super bowl in February, in 1997 in Boston, Massachusetts, where I was living, I created the giving back fund, uh, to do just that,
Tosha Anderson (03:40):
What a cool story. So interesting too. Yeah. I, I can absolutely see where the spotlight could immediately elevate causes and, and, and passion projects and those sort of things and, and what a great tool to be able to do that. Speaking of, kind of these people of influence and, and it’s so interesting because even now in this modern world, you can become a person of influence very quickly, right? <laugh> um, with social media and just media in general, um, it kind of makes you think, you know, what all the good that we can do in the world with just such an elevated platform to, to immediately just be well known and, and to bring, um, you know, bring, or, or highlight special causes. I actually had an interview with a woman that did something similar. She’s an influencer, um, on social media and not necessarily an author or an actress or anything like that, but she, um, she was able to elevate causes and really, uh, used that as a fundraising platform.
Tosha Anderson (04:39):
So that’s, that’s, it’s really fascinating, speaking of kind of athletes or, um, celebrities or other high net wealth individuals, I think the average person has not actually come in contact with these sorts of people, right? <laugh> the average person probably listen, you know, at least the average clients that we work with, don’t typically get their funding for from high net wealth individuals. They’re usually, um, special events or fundraising opportunities. And of course every nonprofit is always interested in major giving and finding individuals that can help elevate their platform. I’m just really curious from your perspective, mark, how are these individuals that you work with that are P really significant peoples of how do they give, what are their giving patterns, what do they like to give for? Are they the same? Are they different than the average person? I’m just curious at this point <laugh>
Marc Pollick (05:30):
So they are, I realize this is a podcast. So usually I say, you know, when I’m gonna tell you, um, don’t repeat because it’s a sort of a negative statistic instead of a positive, but it is a true statistic. And it’s one that, um, I first tried to change the culture of celebrity in America and in several ways over the years and, uh, have not succeeded in it. Um, but I’m gonna tell you this statistic because it’s true. Um, and it’s one that, um, might surprise some of your listeners and it, and it may surprise you as well. And it certainly surprised me when I started the giving back fund. I had no, uh, experience with, uh, with celebrities, with athletes and entertainers. My celebrity was Ellie Wiesel. Who’s a very different kind of celebrity than Britney Spears. Sure. Um, who I later worked with.
Marc Pollick (06:20):
Um, but they’re very, very different. And so with no experience at all, with celebrities, other than that, they were influential and wealthy. If you’re a celebrity in America today, you’re wealthy. They go hand in hand. The thought that I had is that if a celebrity <affirmative> wanted to do good in the world and they wanted to start a foundation and they were wealthy and they cared about something, but of course they were gonna fund it. Um, mm-hmm <affirmative> why would you care about something and have a lot of money and not fund it? Well, to my great surprise. Um, I found out that the vast majority of celebrities, um, who wanna start foundations and wanna do something, do not fund it with their own money. And that, and that percentage is very high. It’s about 97%. Wow. 97% of all celebrities do not fund their own foundations with their own name on it, with their own money.
Marc Pollick (07:14):
And you might say, why is that? And the answer is because, cause in America, celebrities get almost everything for free mm-hmm <affirmative>. I guarantee you, if you, um, had the pleasure of going out to lunch somewhere with Oprah, wherever you would go, the owner of the restaurant would come over and say, oh my God, you’re Oprah. You’re here. Can I take a picture with you and a comp, or she would comp her lunch. Now she could afford to pay for the lunch, but, um, but she would be comped. And in almost every case that’s, that is the case. And so we’ve built a culture in America where celebrities, um, often don’t have to pay for things. And when they come to philanthropy, they realize that they can leverage their name if famous, to get their fan base and others and corporate America to put money into a cause that they care about.
Marc Pollick (08:07):
We mentioned just off the air, uh, Michael J for maybe on the air, Michael J. Fox, um, and his Parkinson’s foundation. And so, because he’s so beloved, millions of people contribute to that foundation cuz they know who he is, is well mm-hmm <affirmative> unfortunately the vast majority of celebrities say, well, if I can get other people to give, then I don’t have to mm-hmm <affirmative> now the problem with that. And you might say, well, as long as somebody’s giving and people are benefiting what’s, what’s the difference. And the problem with that is transparency and authenticity that a celebrity would, would never say to you. Um, listen, I would love for you to give to my foundation. I care about it so much. And the cause is so important to me. I just want you to know that I’m not giving I’m wealthy, but I’m not giving, but you should give mm-hmm <affirmative>.
Marc Pollick (08:52):
How would that be as a pitch? You, you would not give to that foundation. You would say you’re, you’re wealthier than I am and you’re not giving, but they don’t say that the vast majority 97%, uh, don’t say that they simply hang a shingle and say, I’m starting the X, Y, and Z foundation. I’m not gonna call out names. Um, but I could, but I won’t do that. Uh, public will give because they, they love that celebrity. And so mm-hmm, <affirmative> when I started the giving back fund and, and saw this happening. I apologize. There’s a puppy in the background. I hope she doesn’t no worries. Um, and I saw this happening. I thought, well, this isn’t right. Um, if you’re gonna start, you know, I’m not the philanthropy police, you don’t have, have to give, you don’t have to do a foundation, but if you’re gonna start one and you’re wealthy and you care about a, you know, whatever the, um, the mission is, then you should give some of your own money.
Marc Pollick (09:46):
And when they weren’t, um, that was a real eye opener for me. So we did, um, several things to try to change the culture in America. And if you want, we could get into that later. But, um, none of the things that we tried and they were major things on a worldwide level, um, it didn’t change the culture. And so we went, uh, we changed, you know, Einstein’s theory of insanity. You can’t keep doing the same thing over and over again, the same result. So we changed to just work with the 3% and will only work with someone who actually, you know, I don’t say how much you should give, but you should make a meaningful gift if you wanna do philanthropy. And you’re asking others to give, make a meaningful gift yourself. Otherwise there’s something inauthentic about it.
Tosha Anderson (10:33):
Yeah. Wow. That is shock. Although shocking in some ways, but not surprising. I guess I, I, I think you’re right. Um, you know, I could see that where especially celebrities, they can, you know, license their name for anything. Right. And not actually whether it’s on businesses or clothing or, you know, other merchandise or lots of initiatives. Right. Uh, and just by, and I could see that where from their perspective, you know, by leveraging my name, this mission is going to benefit anyway. Do I really need to give? Yeah. That’s, that’s really fascinating though. That percentage, um, I guess a percentage surprises me the idea of it doesn’t entirely surprise me maybe, but it
Marc Pollick (11:16):
Surprised me. So
Tosha Anderson (11:18):
<laugh>, I wasn’t. Yeah. That’s, that’s interesting. So you said you work with about, you know, the 3% of individuals, um, that fall into kind of the celebrity, you know, really famous or, you know, high net wealth individuals. So your organization, um, the giving back fund works with these 3% of really high net wealth individuals that want to give right. And want to, I maybe I’m, I don’t mean to put words in mouth, but promote others to give right. Sometimes. Um, but you also help other organizations. Now we’re talking nonprofit organizations to help get them funded. Tell us a little bit about that.
Marc Pollick (11:58):
Well, so what we did when we realized that the celebrity market, 97%, um, didn’t, uh, give, you know, give their own money and that we wanted to work with people who were more authentic, um, we expanded who our target market was. Um, mm-hmm <affirmative> so we do still work with celebrities with that 3%. Fortunately mm-hmm, <affirmative>, there’s a lot of celebrities. So even the 3% is a lot, um, mm-hmm <affirmative>, but we expanded to work with other regular people with high net worth who aren’t celebrities, but they’re simply wealthy and want to do philanthropy work with corporations. We work with projects, uh, and we work with regular people who just want to do so something philanthropic. So now we are, uh, a fair, a fairly large mix of celebrities and others, um, who all want to do good. Uh, so what we did to remedy the fact that all celebrities don’t give their own money is work with those who do, and then others, um, in, in the whole constellation of philanthropy who wanna do something good in the world.
Tosha Anderson (13:02):
Mm love that. So you, um, you you’ve been in the business now for, what did you say? 25, an 25 years,
Marc Pollick (13:12):
24 and a half years will be 25, 4
Tosha Anderson (13:14):
And a half. So what a change, what a change you’ve seen in, in the world, I’m sure of philanthropy also in the world of how people get famous, um, how people earn money, how people give money, how organizations receive money. So many different things have changed. And, and certainly in the last, you know, two years, 18 months, really, um, the world has changed pretty significantly as well. And frankly, I don’t see any of this slowing down anytime soon. So I’m curious to know or hear from your perspective, what do you see changing in this industry both positively and negatively over the next one to two years?
Marc Pollick (13:52):
Well, the biggest change that I I’ve seen in, in this industry is, is a change in almost every industry. And that is, um, the impact of, of the pandemic. Um, mm-hmm, <affirmative>, it’s drastically changed how we do business and it’s really changed how everybody do business does business. It’s put, um, unfortunately a lot of nonprofits out of business because you can’t do your traditional fundraiser. Uh, in person, a lot of people have gone to virtual, but you don’t raise as much money virtually, um, on events like this that we, we, um, for the past 11 years have done these signature philanthropy have been at the super bowl called big game, big give. And it’s a very high profile event. It’s $3,000 at ticket. It’s the night before the super bowl at a, at the nicest private mansion in the super bowl city for 500 people who pay for the right to be there and all the money goes to charity and you can’t do that during a pandemic.
Marc Pollick (14:50):
Right? So, um, it’s changed things for us and for, um, many nonprofits and it’s a lot harder to raise money if you don’t have a sort of baked in, um, uh, base of support, uh, who will give, even if you don’t have the dinner, even if you don’t have the event, the golf term, whatever you’re doing, if you don’t have that, if you’re really trying to raise money for, from the public, um, it’s, it’s been difficult, um, to do mm-hmm <affirmative> things during the pandemic. In addition to, you know, we’ve spoken about how now many more people are working from home, uh, instead of coming to an office. And so when you, uh, they say, if you, if you do something for 21 straight days, you can break a habit. Well, it’s been in almost 21 months, <laugh> that we battling this pandemic. And so a lot of habits are broken. There’s a lot of empty office space out there. Um, and a lot of people have gotten used to at least in LA and not having to commute on our, on our, uh, very crowded roads. And so I think the biggest change, um, nonprofit space that I’ve seen is all the changes that have been brought as a result of the pandemic, which we never would’ve foreseen before it happened. And it’s really changed. The world
Tosha Anderson (16:02):
Really has. It really has. And I’m very, very curious to see how things continue to evolve over the next one to two years. I don’t even ask the five to 10 year question anymore. You know, how are we gonna get through this next 12 to 24 months? And what, what changes? I agree with everything you’re saying, that’s a lot of what I’ve seen on my side too. Organizations are really shifting pivoting. Um, it’s really interesting too, you know, I think as people question, should I start a nonprofit, right? Or should we merge or require additional nonprofits to expand and out way? I think, um, it’s gonna be interesting to see how many, um, combination of businesses or people kind of slowing down the idea or not. Right. And usually when people are in need, people want to give and do so. Um, yeah, it’s all gonna be really interesting.
Tosha Anderson (16:48):
So last question I have for you, your organization is just very modern and it itself, and it structure and how it raises money, the people it works with, um, the organizations that it, that it helps serve, um, in, in a number of different ways. I’m just really curious, um, from your perspective as kind of a visionary leader, whether you classify yourself that is or not, but it surely sounds like you are. What advice would you give to other leaders of non for profits, you know, on how to think outside of the box, how to not always default to doing the things that we’ve always done, just for the sake of doing the things that we’ve always done, any, any tips or suggestions there?
Marc Pollick (17:26):
Yes. Uh, I’ll, I’ll give you the same tip and suggestion that I often do when I speak to young people who wanna sort of break in, uh, to philanthropy and that’s, um, mm-hmm, <affirmative>, you, you can never be successful at anything if you’re afraid to cold call. Um, it’s one of the hardest things in the world to do because, um, nobody likes to, um, get cold calls and nobody likes to do them, but, um, it’s really been the, uh, sort of underlying secret to my success. And, and, uh, I believe so strongly that, um, if you wanna, uh, achieve something in life, you have to be able to, as you said, think outside the box, but also be willing to act outside the box. So, so when, when we first met and you told me you were from St. Louis, um, mm-hmm, <affirmative> I told you that one of the very first calls I made in 1997 was to, uh, the, the famous Emmy winning sportscaster, Bob Costas, who then was living in St.
Marc Pollick (18:21):
Louis. Um, I was looking for somebody to chair my board and we were gonna be an organization that worked with athletes. And so I looked on the, uh, power 100 list and he was like, number three on that list. I didn’t know him at all. Um, but I just cold called his office and asked if I could come meet him and flew to St. Louis and we had lunch and he ended up becoming my first chairman. Then, if you remember, uh, the movie Jerry McGuire, uh, it is about a real life person who is the most famous sports agent of all time. And his name is Lee Steinberg, not Tom cruise, but Lee Steinberg. And so I cold called Lee Steinberg in, uh, in Newport beach, California, and said, you know, you don’t know me, I’m just a guy from, uh, uh, from Boston, but I’d like to talk to you about this new idea I have, and sure enough, he called back.
Marc Pollick (19:14):
Um, he actually called me back when I was coaching the third base, uh, line of my son’s little league game. So because it was Lee Steinberg, I took that call while I was on the third base coaching box <laugh> and we started at 25 year friendship. So I could tell you many, many people who over the years, I’ve cold called. Um, and, and again, it’s, it’s hard to do cuz a lot of people don’t return your calls, but the ones that do can become, uh, very valuable in any success that you might have. And so, um, that’s my secret and that’s the advice I would give to somebody if you’re gonna start anything, um, don’t be afraid to cold call.
Tosha Anderson (19:51):
I love that. I love that. And, and, and even it’s so interesting how so many nonprofit leaders that I have worked with currently work with are just afraid to ask anything, whether pick up the phone and call, right? Which is usually you’re asking for something. Or even if you have an opportunity to ask for support financially or otherwise, there’s this do just nervousness and anxiety around the ask and you know, whether it’s for profit or nonprofit, you know, whether you’ve been in business for a little bit or a long time, I absolutely agree. You have to put yourself into those uncomfortable situations and get comfortable with just connecting with people and asking people and sharing what it is you’re looking for. And it’s always very humbling to me. I’ve talked with some really significant people in business that with all, all the criteria, uh, it’s always surprising to me when I talk to them that first of all, they want to talk to me.
Tosha Anderson (20:43):
They’re interested and excited about what I’m doing here, but they always ask me, what can I do for you? And that’s so surprising to me because me as a business person, I think I need to do for my clients or I need to do for other people. But when people ask me, you know, that have become mentors and just people I look up to that are much more successful in business than I’ve certainly been so far, it’s really quite surprise to me how much people are willing to help you if you just simply ask. So I think that’s a really good tip. Thank you, mark. So mark, thanks again for joining us. Uh, last question. If anyone is interested in following you or connecting with you, what is the best way to get in touch with you? Is that through the website or what is the best platform? If people wanna follow what you,
Marc Pollick (21:27):
Yes, we actually have two websites. We are the proud, um, uh, philanthropy partner and consultant for the entire NFL PA. Um, all mm-hmm <affirmative> players have a, a little card on it. Like that looks like this, that, uh, has our logo and, uh, the NFL PA’s logo with an 800 number that rings in our office. And so we built for them, um, a website called foundation fundamentals, which has a lot of great information if you’re interested in starting a foundation and then our website giving back.org, uh, is the best way to reach me. Um, and, and to learn more about the giving back fund.
Tosha Anderson (22:04):
Okay. Going back to foundation fundamentals is that.org.com
Marc Pollick (22:09):
Do org foundation fundamentals.org.
Tosha Anderson (22:12):
Awesome. So we’ll put that in the show notes, mark, thank you again so much for joining us. This has been such an interesting conversation for me, uh, for those of you that have not already subscribed to our podcast, you could certainly do that on any major streaming platform, but then also we will put this video. All of our video O for our podcast are actually available on our YouTube channel. So just search for the charity CFO, and you’ll be able to find all those episodes there. Thanks everybody.