Movies in a Galaxy Far, Far Away—But Philanthropy Close to Home

Hollywood mogul J.J. Abrams is known for television hits such as Lost and Alias, and films such as Super 8, Star Trek. Now he has a mega blockbuster on his hands with Star Wars: Episode VII. Born in New York City, the 49-year-old Abrams has amassed a sizeable fortune from his triple-threat success as a screenwriter, producer and director.

That pile of money is now set to grow even larger with the record-shattering success of Star Wars

Like so many top Hollywood people these days, Abrams is involved in philanthropy. He and his wife Katie McGrath — a PR executive — have a charitable vehicle called the Katie McGrath & JJ Abrams Family Foundation.

There are a couple of things worth noting about this outfit. First, the foundation doesn't have much of a web presence, or a clear way to make contact. Additionally, the couple's charitable vehicle appears to be rather new and was only granted tax exemption status in 2012, according to one source. Apart from Abrams and Katie, the foundation staffs an executive director, Rebecca Goldman.

In other words, unlike some entertainment philanthropists we write about who are well along in their giving, with mature foundations, this couple is still at a pretty early stage. 

That said, they have given actively through their foundation, with grants that speak to wide and well-formed interestsas well as progressive politics. Topping the list is education. While Abrams and McGrath have given to their alma maters, and a few other colleges, their K-12 giving has been more notable, supporting outfits that operate in the couple's home city of Los Angeles. Grantees include City Year Los Angeles; L.A.'s Promise, a nonprofit "working to improve schools & empower neighborhoods in some of the most disenfranchised communities in LA;" First School in Santa Monica; Los Angeles Leadership Academy; and Los Angeles Fund for Public Education.

Abrams and McGrath have also funded organizations that support and enrich youth outside school hours. A major grantee in this area is Children's Defense Fund, where Katie sits on the board. A $420,000 grant went to the outfit in 2013. The couple has also bankrolled CDF Freedom Schools, "child-centered summer enrichment programs that boost student capacity and motivation to read, and connect the needs of children and families to resources in their communities." The couple also supports outfits such as Gabriella Foundation, whose mission is to "transform the lives of underserved youth in Los Angeles through high-quality dance instruction," and Diamond in the RAW, "devoted to empowering and transforming the lives of foster care and at-risk teen girls."

Grantmaking through the Katie McGrath & JJ Abrams Family Foundation has also involved policy organizations and outfits working to achieve race and gender equity. One grantee is Advancement Project, a "nonprofit organization that focuses on racial justice issues," which received a $25,000 grant in 2013. That same year, a $100,000 grant also went to American Foundation for Equal Rights, "dedicated to achieving full marriage equality nationwide." Recent funds have also gone to outfits such as California Calls, "a growing alliance of grassroots, community-based organizations," Feminist Majority Foundation, Death Penalty Focus, People for the American Way, ProPublica and Liberty Hill Foundation, an L.A. based outfit which has a social justice mission.

The couple also has an interest in global development, with recent funds going to Mona Foundation, "an international nonprofit charity working to eradicate global poverty through education," the Unatti Foundation, which "raises funds for education, food and shelter for underprivileged and orphaned girls in Nepal," and Operation Smile.

Katie McGrath is from Maine, another region that the couple has focused on. Coastal Mountain Land Trust in Maine, for instance, received a $5,000 grant in 2013. Other environmental outfits, such as Heal the Bay and Environmental Media Association (EMA), cofounded by Norman and Lyn Lear and Alan and Cindy Horn, have also received support.

The couple also supports outfits such as Lincoln Center of the Performing Arts, Camden International Film Festival and the Paley Center for Media, and to health outfits such as Epilepsy Foundation of America, Avon Walk for Breast Cancer and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, which received a $250,000 grant in 2013. Abrams and McGrath have also supported human services outfits such as A Window Between Worlds, "a nonprofit organization dedicated to using art as a healing tool for survivors of domestic violence," and Phoenix House, a nonprofit drug and rehabilitation organization.

As you can see from our rundown, Abrams and McGrath have hit the ground running with their foundation. In 2013, around $1.7 million total went out of the door, with similar sums in 2012. We can only suspect that they've recently stepped things up since then, beyond what's so far been reported publicly. Abrams is still only 49 and obviously very much engaged in his career, so this couple should be watched for greater giving down the line.

Related: J.J. Abrams