Not all that long ago, we were talking about David Geffen’s massive gifts to Los Angeles nonprofits—most recently, a $25 million grant to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and a $100 million scholarship fund for the University of California at Los Angeles.
Now it seems that Geffen has shifted his attention to the east coast—at least for the moment. Geffen's much-heralded $100 million gift to the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts will be used to completely renovate its largest concert hall. It should come as no surprise that the hall will be renamed in his honor in September 2015. The new David Geffen Hall will be a classical music venue that’s home to the New York Philharmonic.
The hall is currently known as Avery Fisher Hall, and has been since 1973. Elsewhere, we've explored how Lincoln Center bought off Fisher’s children, who accepted $15 million to remove Avery’s name from the hall last fall. We don't see that kind of maneuver every day, and some have wondered whether Lincoln Center had already lined up Geffen before it made the offer. (It denies that's the case.)
Close Geffen watchers might go a step further, and wonder whether Geffen himself came up with the idea. It's the kind of thing he might have dreamed up back in his days as a legendary wheeler and dealer, known for sharp elbows.
Anyway, back to the question of this post: Going forward, is David Geffen mainly going to focus his philanthropy in Los Angeles or New York? It's not an academic matter given that Geffen is currently worth $6.8 billion and has been ramping up his giving.
The answer is that Geffen is likely to give a lot of money in both places.
The music and media executive philanthropy has been centered on Los Angeles, but he hasn’t forgotten his roots. Geffen grew up in Brooklyn as the son of Jewish immigrants and he owns an apartment on Fifth Avenue.
Related: IP’s Profile of David Geffen
“As a native New Yorker, I recognize that Lincoln Center is a beacon to artists and musicians around the world,” Geffen said in a press release. “To be involved with such a beloved and iconic institution is deeply satisfying.”
Satisfying and apparently also novel: Some observers have noted that Geffen has previously not been involved in classic music or Lincoln Center.
On the other hand, this certainly isn’t the first time that Geffen has supported local organizations in New York, and most of that funding has been in the realm of arts and culture. He has given over $200,000 to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, as well as grants to the New York Public Library, the New York Landmarks Conservatory, and several theaters around the city.
Meanwhile, his health, social services, and Jewish organization giving has remained centered on L.A. His record-setting donation to the UCLA School of Medicine, now the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, was the single largest donation of its kind to a medical school in the United States.
Now 72 years old, Geffen seems to be giving larger gifts with greater frequency lately—which makes sense for someone at that age with his kind of money. Geffen hasn't signed the Giving Pledge, but he also doesn't have any heirs.
Assuming a good chunk of his fortune is eventually destined for philanthropy, the fact is that Geffen has plenty of money to give heavily in both Los Angeles and New York City. We could imagine Geffen focusing his future health and human services philanthropy in LA while giving big for arts and culture in New York. For one thing, who wants to compete with Eli Broad, the dominant arts giver in Los Angeles and a billionaire even richer than Geffen?
Because many mega-donors tend to make additional gifts to institutions they've already supported, we wouldn't be surprised to see more Geffen money going to places that now bear his name.
In the near term, perhaps Geffen will bump up his commitment to Lincoln Center, since his generous gift only covers a fifth of the half billion dollar cost of renovating the concert hall. And the last thing any billionaire wants is his name on a construction site.
Otherwise, now that Geffen is apparently hobnobbing more with Gotham elites, and with quite the checkbook, there may be no end to people hitting him up for causes in the city. How often can a guy with seven billion dollars say "no"?
Unfortunately for grantseekers, the David Geffen Foundation doesn’t have a website or seem to be friendly to unsolicited requests for funding. Grantseekers might try staking out Geffen's Fifth Avenue pad. (Joke!)