NET WORTH: $2.9 billion
SOURCE OF WEALTH: Oprah Winfrey Show, Harpo Productions, Oprah Winfrey Network
FUNDING AREAS: Education, Arts & Culture
OVERVIEW: The bulk of Winfrey’s grantmaking has gone to educational causes, including charter schools, programs that support African-American students, and the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy in South Africa.
BACKGROUND: Winfrey was born to a single teenage mother in rural Mississippi, and spent the first six years of her life living there with her grandmother before first moving to Milwaukee to live with her mother, and then Nashville to live with her father. The media mogul overcame a tough childhood, but ended up winning an oratory contest that earned her a scholarship to Tennessee State University. She also won the Miss Black Tennessee Beauty Pageant at 17, and attracted the attention of the local black radio station, WVOL, where she worked her senior year of high school, and her first two years of college. She then got jobs as a news anchor, first in Nashville, then in Baltimore, before moving to Chicago to host a morning talk show. The program was wildly successful, and she landed a syndication deal, quickly becoming the most popular talk show host in America. Running from 1986 to 2011, it made Oprah one of the most influential people in the country, as well as the richest African American. In 2000, she launched O Magazine with the Hearst Corporation, and in 2011, she created the Oprah Winfrey Network.
OPRAH’S ANGEL NETWORK: Oprah’s Angel Network was established in 1998, and started with a plea to her viewers to donate their change, as well as their time. The initial ask raised $3.5 million, which was given away in the form of 150 $25,000 scholarships, and got 15,000 volunteers to build homes for Habitat for Humanity. Before the organization stopped accepting donations in 2010, it had raised more than $80 million, all of which was donated to charitable causes, as Winfrey personally covered the network’s administrative costs. At least $11 million of that went to relief efforts for hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and Oprah herself kicked in another $10 million on top. The network also helped build 60 schools in 13 countries, and provided books and uniforms. Much of the work once conducted through the Angel Network is now being handled by the Oprah Winfrey Charitable Foundation.
EDUCATION: According to Forbes, Winfrey had made approximately $400 million in grants to educational causes by 2012, including nearly 400 scholarships to Morehouse College, and more than $40 million in operating support for the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy in South Africa. She has also given at least $10 million to A Better Chance. Its mission is to improve access to quality education for students of color, and has given $1 million or more to at least nine different charter school organizations in a number of different areas throughout the country. Mentoring programs have also received support.
ARTS & CULTURE: Winfrey has donated $12 million to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, and $1 million to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. The National Council of Negro Women has received $2.5 million, and Millennium Park in Chicago has received $1 million.
HUMANITARIAN: In addition to her giving in education and support for Habitat for Humanity, Winfrey has made several significant contributions to Save the Children.
ENVIRONMENT: In 2006, Oprah made $1 million in grants to the Green Belt Movement International for tree planting and community development initiatives in Africa.
HEALTH: Winfrey’s health grantmaking via her foundation has recently supported places like International Brain Research Foundation.
LOOKING FORWARD: Winfrey has endowed her charitable foundation with nearly $240 million in assets over the last several years. Though most of the money that has flowed out the door so far has gone to support her Leadership Academy in South Africa, it appears as though she is beginning to build a more robust foundation, so chances are we will see a more diversified grantmaking portfolio in the next several years.
Oprah Winfrey Charitable Foundation
℅ Michele Vaughn
110 N. Carpenter Ave.
Chicago, IL 60607