Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently shared his plans to donate $100 million to help improve schools in Newark, N.J. Zuckerberg announced his contribution on Friday, Sept. 25, on The Oprah Winfrey Show with Newark’s mayor and New Jersey’s governor. This sum marks the largest contribution Zuckerberg has ever made.
According to an article on Mashable, the timing is in sync with the Oct. 1 release of The Social Network, based on Ben Mezrich’s book The Accidental Billionaires, neither of which portrays Zuckerberg in the most favorable manner. The donation could also be aimed at counteracting any negative stigma that could arise from his new rank on the Forbes 400, where Zuckerberg is ranked at 35th on its annual list of wealthy Americans. Forbes estimates that Zuckerberg is now worth $6.9 billion.
According to eWeek, when asked whether the donation was timed to boost his reputation ahead of the movie, which essentially paints the young CEO as a greedy, back-stabbing programmer, Zuckerberg said:
“The timing was driven by the needs of Newark. The governor and the mayor can speak to this. As Oprah mentioned on the show … the bit I was actually most sensitive about with the movie timing — I didn’t want the press about The Social Network movie to get conflated with the Newark project, so I was thinking about doing this anonymously.”
From a PR perspective, I highly doubt that the timing of his announcement had nothing to do with the upcoming release of The Social Network. While Zuckerberg said he “thought” about doing it anonymously, the fact of the matter is he didn’t. And from a public relations standpoint, I think that was wise. In my opinion, regardless of how Zuckerberg is portrayed in the film, I think donating $100 million of his personal wealth to one of the worst school systems in the country (to which he has no personal ties) puts him on par with other respected and charitable billionaires such as Bill Gates. If he steadily continues to donate large sums of his own money to charity, I absolutely think his negative rep can diminish for good over time.
What do you think? Was it a wise PR decision for Zuckerberg to announce his donation near the release time of The Social Network? Post your comments … and remember, “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.”