Never underestimate the positive power of bad publicity.
Back in 2010, Mark Zuckerberg appeared on Oprah to announce that he was donating $100 million to Newark's troubled school system. Coincidentally, the announcement came on the heels of the cinematic release of The Social Network, which portrayed the Facebook head honcho in a not-too-favorable light.
At the time, many people made the case that the two events were linked. And thanks to a recent article in Fast Company, we know that this connection wasn't lost on the Zuckerberg/Facebook PR machine. According to a recently unearthed September 2010 email from PR professional Victoria Cassady, "Overall the coverage and tone is generally positive—reflecting that though the donation could be seen as trying to thwart a negative image of Mark from the movie, it doesn’t matter and this is a really commendable donation.”
We cite this anecdote to help contextualize the recent news that the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation—yep, the same hedge fund billionaire Steve Cohen who's been investigated by federal authorities in recent years—gave a $110,000 grant to the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut. This comes on the heels of a recent $5 million Cohen Foundation give to the USC School of Cinematic Arts to provide need-based scholarships to qualified undergraduates with significant financial struggles.
Now, we're well aware that the Cohens were big philanthropists before any allegations arose in regard to insider trading. This is a couple that's long believed in giving, and did so many years, at a high level, without drawing attention to themselves.
But lately they've been ramping up their giving, and we can't help but think the government investigation will turn out to be a great thing for nonprofits in the Cohens' core interests of education, healthcare, and—of course—the arts.
Before we say more about that link, let's quickly summarize the nature of this gift. The grant will support and expand the museum’s arts education and family programs, as well as new Bruce initiatives such as Family Studio workshops and existing programs such as the Neighborhood Collaborative program for at-risk youths and the Lifetime of Looking program for visitors with memory loss.
Funds will also support the exhibition-themed Family Days, presentations by art historians and scholars, and the Youth@Bruce teen mentoring program. Taken in total, it's a lot of bang for the $110,000 buck.
But is the gift ultimately a tactic to divert public opinion from Mr. Cohen's ongoing escapades with Uncle Sam?
We don't think so.
Call us optimists (or naïve) but the foundation would likely be handing out grants regardless of any investigation. And at the end of the day, as Machiavellian as it may sound, the ends justify the means. To paraphrase the aforementioned logic from Ms. Cassady: Who cares why Zuckerberg or Cohen—or anyone for that matter—shells out thousands or millions to charity? What counts is that they did it and that the general public can benefit from it.