Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, is donating $100 million of his own personal wealth to Newark’s public schools. Much of the publicity around this generous gift, however, has focused on Zuckerberg’s motive.
Let’s start by putting things into perspective. Back in 1995 when it came to light that Newark’s public schools were among the country’s most troubled, the state of New Jersey took control over the school system. Today, fifteen years later, the scenario is not much different. Test scores and graduation rates are among the lowest in New Jersey.
Zuckerberg’s $100 million investment will help improve Newark’s public schools. It will give literally tens of thousands of students from a largely low-income community (over a third of the children under 18 years old in Newark live below the poverty level) an opportunity for a better education. This, in turn, will contribute to a better, stronger community in general. So the question is, does his motive really matter?
At age 26, Zuckerberg is part of the Millennial Generation, a generation known for its young entrepreneurs and their support of social causes. But it is a mistake to assume philanthropy is inherently altruistic. Yes, some people may give for purely altruistic reasons. Others, if not most, give for a complex range of motives — some altruistic, some not. When corporations establish foundations they do so because it is good business — it can increase sales and customer loyalty. When a wealthy individual makes a substantial gift to a college or institution in order to have a school or building named after them, it is no small part a need to be recognized or gain a feeling of importance. When a person buys a ticket to a high profile fund raiser, it may be because they want their picture taken with a celebrity or to network with certain types of people. The goal of a good fund raiser is to connect to the donor’s motive, to figure out what the donor needs or wants from making a gift. There is as many different motives as there are donors.
Which brings us to Zuckerberg. $100 million is no doubt generous. Should we care his personal motives for his generous gift? If indeed Zuckerberg is trying to counteract negative publicity from the movie The Social Network, is this better or worse than other motives he (or any other donor) might have? And what if he is trying to deflect criticism that may flow from his new rank on the Forbes 400 list1? Is that bad? Would it change your mind to know that many people on that list, including Steve Jobs, Apple’s founder and CEO, are well-known for their lack of philanthropic contributions. I, for one, am willing to applaud Zuckerberg for his generous gift while letting his motives remain his own.
And no. I am not saying that we should applaud a mass murderer that makes a huge gift in order to improve his public image. In Zuckerberg’s case, however, we are talking about a young millionaire that is making a tremendous contribution to a poorly run, troubled school system.
Let’s celebrate Zuckerberg’s 100 Million gift. Let’s embrace this wonderful news for what it is: a chance for more kids to receive the education they deserve.
Zuckerberg’s Philanthropy through Facebook
Facebook, unlike Apple, has always allowed nonprofits to create their own profile pages, social applications and ask for donations within its social networking platform. Millions of dollars have been raise to support the work and missions of nonprofits.
One of the most popular Facebook application for nonprofits is Causes. This application allows users to tell friends about specific causes, ask them to donate and get the word out about nonprofits and the work they do.
Facebook has a designated person who works on marketing and nonprofit initiatives. Early this year, Chase and Facebook announced five charities selected to receive major grants after the final round of Chase Community Giving. Facebook users voted for a broad range of charities with worthy missions, from assisting the families of children with special needs to offering health care in rural areas to supporting people struggling with depression. Based on fans’ overwhelming response and passion for local charities, Chase has committed to continuing this program in the future.
As Elliot Schrage, Vice President of Global Communications, Marketing and Public Policy at Facebook points out, “harnessing the power of social networking to give individuals and communities a voice in corporate philanthropy has proven to be a great motivator and will have a significant role in the future of giving.”
The fact is that Facebook allows its users to express their passion for smaller nonprofits and gives a national voice to charities that historically haven’t received funding from corporate philanthropies.
And let’s not forget that two years ago, Facebook introduced Charitable Gifts. They worked with 16 charitable and advocacy organizations to create gifts that were available in its gift shop (closed as of August 1, 2010). The organizations participating received 95 percent of the proceeds from each gift sale. So, while the Gift Shop didn’t make it, we can certainly agree that Facebook has shown a culture of Philanthropy and giving since its inception.
Regardless of what the truth may be regarding the motivations behind the timing of this donation, the fact still remains that he is using his personal wealth to improve education in Newark.
1. #35 with an estimated fortune of $6.9 billion.