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The 12-12-12 Sandy Benefit Concert: Following the Money

December 08, 2012

By Howard Husock

The final tally is not yet in for last week’s 12-12-12 fundraising concert in Madison Square Garden. But it’s clear that the work of New York’s Robin Hood Foundation to gather rock and rap superstars to benefit victims of Hurricane Sandy will raise at least $30 million just from ticket sales; sales of merchandise and auctions of memorabilia will raise that total still further. But, as with any charitable undertaking, one must ask the question as to where the money will go. I raise it here not because of any doubts about the integrity of the process—Robin Hood is both well-respected and well-endowed—but because answering it reveals some important aspects about trends in which charitable dollars are raised—and how, in an era in which government spending dwarfs philanthropy, they can continue to matter.

First, some perspective. The cost of rebuilding in the wake of the October superstorm that brought tsunami-like damage to coastal New York, New Jersey and Connecticut has been set at $71 billion. So the proceeds of the 12-12-12 benefit will be just drops in that bucket. But that doesn’t mean FEMA and its state counterparts can address all the damage from the storm—even with billions in emergency rent vouchers and (in some locales) trailers that will literally provide shelter. Robin Hood has adroitly recognized the fact that the storm upended lives in myriad ways that go beyond physical rebuilding. College students with part-time jobs may have lost paychecks because their employers had no power; food banks may need extra funds to restock their shelves early after serving a wave of those temporarily in need; legal services agencies may need to staff up to help those who lost homes apply for federal assistance. These sorts of grants—dispersed among 140-plus agencies which are part of Robin Hood’s regular recipients of funds aimed at "targeting poverty in New York City"—are of a sort government is neither authorized to make nor imaginative enough to conceive. (It’s worth noting that some of Robin Hood’s grant recipients will deal directly with the physical clean-up and aftermath—including a million dollars to buy manufactured homes and $100,000 for "sheet rock, insulation and lumber".)

As admirable is the Robin Hood effort and thought process it does, at the same time, pose some dangers. As anyone who has ever written a grant application in response to a major foundation’s big new idea, there’s a strong incentive to repackage what you’ve been doing all along—and to say it meets the terms of the new grant. One has a sense that some of that could be going on amongst Robin Hood’s grantees—a number of whom will receive funds as they "continue to address the needs of [their target population] even as demand for services increases." This sort of thing may be inevitable when an infusion of funds becomes available in the wake of emergency—but Robin Hood does owe the public a good accounting in the months to come, one that makes clear what additional goods were purchased and what services were provided that would not have been available otherwise. (The full list of Robin Hood’s 12-12-12 benefit concert grantees can be found here: http://www.robinhood.org/rhsandy).

A final thought about Robin Hood itself as the link to an array of quite local relief providers. In the big sweep of American charitable giving, Robin Hood has re-invented an important role—that of a large, intermediary organization which the public trusts to do the right thing with donations—in the process bringing small organizations to the attention of a larger public and saving even relatively large organizations the expense of fundraising. This is the same underlying idea that led, in the 1920s, to the advent of the Community Chest movement—which itself evolved into regional United Appeal and then United Way fundraising drives, often fueled by employer-enabled paycheck deductions. There’s been a pushback against such umbrella fundraising drives in recent years—in some quarters because of the view that they failed to represent the full diversity of the local population, in others because donors wanted the satisfaction of making choices themselves. (It’s notable that no one in New York seemed to think that the United Way should have organized the 12-12-12 benefit.) But there are virtues in the sort of big tent assembled by Robin Hood—especially if it can demonstrate, in fairly short order, that it made good decisions about where it directed the concert proceeds.

Original Source: http://www.forbes.com/sites/howardhusock/2012/12/18/the-12-12-12-sandy-benefit-concert-following-the-money/#

 

 
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