How All That Salad Dressing Is Making the World a Better Place

Some of the best cheer we can bring to the holidays is through homemade gifts. Paul Newman discovered this when he and pal A.E. Hotchner made salad dressing for Christmas presents for friends and family, served up in recycled wine bottles. Out of this simple giving practice came the idea of Newman's Own, a brand Paul Newman would put his name on in 1982 with the plan of giving all profits to charity. Since that time, the company has donated over $450 million dollars to organizations in the nonprofit sector.

Although Newman’s Own started 33 years ago, Newman’s Own Foundation was established by Paul Newman in 2008 to ensure that his philanthropic legacy would continue. Newman asked Bob Forrester, who has spent his entire career in philanthropy, to be the foundation’s president. 

Forrester, who speaks with a soft cadence and a smooth philosophical tone, described Paul Newman as a founder who was only willing to put his name on a quality food product if all of the proceeds went to charity. "He wouldn't have called it vision," Forrester said of Newman's humble intentions in creating Newman's Own and pursuing the idea that business could fund good causes. "He just thought it was the right thing to do."

While Newman's Own Foundation does not accept unsolicited grant proposals, Forrester talked about how the foundation finds its grant recipients. "We have a broad belief that the nonprofit sector itself— where I've spent all of my career—that the people out there in the nonprofit field are passionate, they're smart about what they do, and so we want to support that work."

An important focus for the foundation is empowerment, broadly defined, and Forrester added that this focus runs through much Newman's Own grantmaking. The foundation's empowerment focus provides a variety of people access opportunities in diverse ways. Its work in this area benefits organizations as different as the Partnership with Native Americans, Safe Water Network, and the Service Women's Action Network.

A second major focus for the foundation is children. The foundation focuses specifically on helping children with life-limiting illnesses, and also supporting their families. This focus goes back to 1988, when Paul Newman opened the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in Ashford, Connecticut, where children with life-threatening diseases could experience "the transformational spirit and friendships that go hand in hand with camp." Forrester talked about how these children's camps have been replicated all over the country and world, with the Hole in the Wall Gang camp being the inspiration and blueprint for similar efforts. The foundation continues its support for this work primarily through SeriousFun Children's Network, which has now served over 600,000 children in more than 50 countries.

Newman's Own Foundation also focuses on children facing extreme circumstances in developing nations. He described the work of a program called Shining Hope for Communities that helps girls in extreme poverty by providing education and other services. "This is a program we support in the Kibera, outside of Nairobi.  This is a gender-based program focused on girls, started by two students at Wesleyan. This year, there will be about 50,000 individuals being helped by this program. And one of the founders of this program is still under thirty years old, so that's empowerment also."

Nutrition is the third of four focus areas for Newman's Own, aligning with Newman's own foodie tendencies and interest in the art of eating well. The foundation has developed a cohort of 6 organizations and one university that are working on nutrition issues, including the Edible Schoolyard in New York City, and the Farmer Veteran Coalition, which is mobilizing Veterans to grow food for the country.

The final of four grantmaking areas that the foundation supports is philanthropy, with the goal of helping more people get involved in the work of charitable giving. To this end, the foundation supports organizations like Net Impact, which holds a national conference and, through its groups on college campuses and business schools, helps to develop more investment from young people in doing good.

In the field of philanthropy, Newman's Own is one of the pioneers of social enterprise, and has served as a model for many other companies with similar business models of social responsibility, including Finnegan's Brewery and Hive Lip Balm. Forrester and other leaders at Newman's Own continue to advise small companies that want to embrace the "all profits to charity model."

Which gives Forrester some authority when he compares the Newman's Own model to some of the newer models of philanthropy, particularly Mark Zuckerberg's recent announcement of a $45 billion endowed LLC. "I have concerns," he said. "It literally shoots right over the heads of thousands of nonprofits that are dependent on philanthropic support to do the things they do."

Forrester also feels that the idea of creating such a large investment vehicle for "social enterprise" is confusing the public and leaving many people with a dim view of philanthropy and its true intent. "Right now, for a variety of reasons, people are trying to do good things but really are equally looking, or maybe more than equally looking to get a financial return to themselves, and that's not what philanthropy is."

Forrester described philanthropy as "the desire to give to others in need with no intent of getting anything in return," and wonders if some of the newer models like Zuckerberg's are not only confusing the public, but also blurring important distinctions that make the sector unique.

Forrester would like to see corporations across the board give more to charity. "Corporations today are still only giving less than 1 percent of pretax income. In 1986, they were giving about 2 percent of pretax income. So corporations are giving less today, but they're making a whole lot more noise."

Concerns aside, Forrester is hopeful that the mission of Newman's Own is a model that will continue to spread and bring more businesses in line with the idea that a much larger share of profits can and should go to charity. As Newman once said, and which might aptly apply to the ongoing mission of Newman's Own Foundation, "I just happen to think that in life we need to be a little like the farmer, who puts back into the soil what he takes out."