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The Emperors of Benevolence

A dossier on the board of directors of the Robin Hood Foundation, where everybody either knows a rock star or is rich enough to buy one.


What does it take to make it onto the board of the Robin Hood Foundation, perhaps New York’s most exclusive club? There are but a few simple requirements: You must have either (a) a ton of money or (b) fame or connections impressive enough to be an effective lure for attracting more of (a).

Example of the former: hedge-fund mogul Steven Cohen.

Examples of the latter: Gwyneth Paltrow, Tom Brokaw.

Founded in 1988 by hedge-fund pioneer Paul Tudor Jones II, Robin Hood—which is dedicated to fighting poverty in New York—has become one of the most influential philanthropic organizations of all time. Its 2007 annual gala, attended last year by 4,000 people, raised a stunning $71 million. The bulk of that money was brought in through a surreal auction—bidders competed for one-of-a-kind events like working out with Tom Brady or getting a piano lesson from Coldplay’s Chris Martin—run by Sotheby’s vice-chairman, Jamie Niven.

In addition to the privilege of being among the anointed, membership does have its costs. The board, which now numbers 29, underwrites the entire administration of the foundation, so that 100 percent of donations goes to the charities Robin Hood supports; in 2007, the foundation will spend $138 million on anti-poverty efforts. The full board meets four times a year—usually near a program it funds, not in a Wall Street boardroom—and additional committee meetings mean that every member has at least half a dozen commitments in total. It has a rotating chair, currently occupied by Bob Pittman, and exceedingly low turnover. In the nineteen years since Robin Hood was founded, only four members have stepped down: Lachlan Murdoch, George Soros sidekick Stanley Druckenmiller, Ted Forstmann, and Jann Wenner. (John F. Kennedy Jr. was also a member.) Gifts from board members last year totaled $35 million; the figures cited on the following pages reflect only that money given through family foundations and may not represent the full amount of each member’s giving.

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