One of the benefits of attending a high school reunion is reconnecting with old classmates who are doing cool things with their lives. Recently I returned to Cleveland, Ohio for a reunion and met up with Marc Pollick, founder and president of The Giving Back Fund (GBF). GBF, headquartered in Los Angeles, helps high-profile athletes and entertainers set up their own philanthropic funds. Its core donor base is women, people of color and youth.
Marc’s career path is an interesting one. He spent many years in academia as a Holocaust scholar and protégé of Nobel prize winner, Elie Wiesel. Eventually, he turned to philanthropy as a way to help make a difference. Realizing that celebrities have the ability to get attention, and also realizing that many sports and entertainment figures didn’t have a clue as to how to go about the “business” of philanthropy, he created GBF. GBF recruits donors, helps them set up their funds, choose focus areas for their giving and screens nonprofit applicants.
According to Marc, one of his biggest challenges is overcoming the culture of celebrity. He observes that famous people often become accustomed to “celebrity treatment”, meaning that they often are “comped” for things like restaurant meals, attending sports and other events. This carries over to the area of philanthropy; while many may have the desire to give back, they don’t necessarily want to reach into their own pockets to do so.
GBF’s current donors include NBA player Yao Ming (whose foundation strives to improve the lives of children in the US and China with an emphasis on providing educational opportunities), NFL quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (supporting K-9 units of police and fire departments), and actor Maria Bello (whose foundation seeks to advance the health, safety, and well being of women throughout Haiti).
So what’s the Minnesota connection?, you may be asking. In fact, there are a few. One of GBF’s donor clients is Minnesota Twin All-Star and former MVP Justin Morneau and his wife, Krista, whose areas of focus are supporting underserved communities where they have lived or worked. Michael J. Klingensmith, a friend of Marc’s from his college days at the University of Chicago, and the Star Trib’s President and Publisher, sits on the GBF board. And GBF partners with local star-studded organization, the Starkey Hearing Foundation, on various projects.
Nonprofits which want to try to tap into celebrity philanthropic dollars can check out the various funds on the GBF website. However, cautionary note: very few unsolicited proposals are accepted, according to the website.