George Lucas Unleashes the Force of Giving

Not so long ago in a galaxy not so far away George Lucas’ California based Lucasfilm Foundation granted a gift of $175 million to his alma mater, the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts. In 2006 this was the largest single donation in the school’s history. They also more recently gave a total of just over $20.5 million to various arts and culture organizations according to the Foundation Center’s 2010 figures. The Lucasfilm Foundation ranked 17th among the top 50 U.S. foundations awarding arts and culture grants according to the list and are ranked 20th in The Foundation Center’s list of “50 Largest Corporate Foundations by Total Giving.”

Generous as the Lucasfilm Foundation is, it also has an expressly specific focus. The Lucasfilm Ltd. website states that the foundation “only considers contribution requests from charitable organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area that benefit children. In addition, the Foundation only gives once in a calendar year to each organization.” This very specific focus allows the organization to be quite selective in their donations, ensuring the gifts go to causes that are closest to Lucas’ heart.

The Star Wars director has been a long-time supporter of the arts, but has also lent strong support to various educational and environmental efforts.  Perhaps as a corollary to the Lucasfilm Foundation, Lucas also founded The George Lucas Educational Foundation that operates under the brand name Edutopia with the goal of “transforming the learning process” and encouraging innovation in schools.  Lucas is also a charitable giver to land preservation efforts as evidenced by his foundation’s recent $2 million grant to the Marin Agricultural Land Trust, saying at the time, “We need to respect and protect the land while we're here, so that future generations can also appreciate its beauties and its benefits.”

The world renowned director and producer tends to keep many of his other philanthropic cards close to his chest, however he is also signatory to The Giving Pledge, a campaign began by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett to encourage the most wealthy of Americans to commit most or all their wealth to philanthropic causes. And in 2005 he donated $1 million toward the construction of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington D.C.  In the area of the arts he has also been a supporter of Artists for a New South Africa and Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation. Together these philanthropic efforts are beginning to create a legacy for a man who was behind some of the most memorable pop-cultural touchstones of our time.

Of course, though, George Lucas is just getting going with his giving. With a fortune of over $3 billion and more money rolling in all the time -- he made an estimated $90 million in 2011 -- Lucas' philanthropy has barely scratched the bulk of his fortune. His attention is still very focused on making money as opposed to giving it away. But as a signatory of The Giving Pledge, we can be sure that much larger scale philanthropy lies ahead for George Lucas.