Facebook CEO donates $100 million to charity

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 NetworkMark Zuckerbergbased 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.”

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11 Responses to Facebook CEO donates $100 million to charity

  1. mwilson9 says:

    It definitely was a good PR move to make such a noble donation at the time he did. But the notion still raises questions. For starters, why did he wait two weeks before the movie release to do it? He could have done it a month ago, but he waited until it he was just about to be portrayed in a negative light to pull the wool over his audience’s eyes. However, had he waited until anytime after the movie was released, many would have labeled it a reaction to the film.

    As far as it being a wise decision, not really sure, it raises some moral questions. But at the end of the day, like you said, donating $100 million to an absolutely great cause is note worthy — no matter how calculated it is.

    I have mixed feelings about this. From a PR perspective, it seems like good crisis control/management for his personal brand. From a moral standpoint, it makes me wonder if there might be some truth to the film. It makes me want to see the allegations and also makes me question his integrity.

    A person worth $6.9 billion should have no qualms giving back to the community. The real test of his character will be whether this is a one-time thing. For that reason, I must disagree with you when you say that he is now on par with other charitable billionaires. He isn’t quite there yet.

  2. alervin says:

    Of course his timing was a wise decision. I have yet to see the movie, but if it really does portray Zuckerberg in a bad light then it was a great PR strategy to boost his reputation. I seriously doubt that he did not think of this.

    Regardless, I think his donation was a great thing. People like Bill Gates, Oprah and Zuckerberg have more money then they really know what to do with. I find it honorable that they would give some of their wealth to help those that are in need — regardless of the motivation. Oprah doesn’t donate without making it known to all, and she uses it as a way to improve her personal brand. Mark Zuckerberg is also still very young and is working on creating his own personal brand so I think he will latch on to any good PR he can get his hands on.

    I don’t think that there is any such thing as a completely selfless act when it comes to these sort of donations. Even when it is done with the best intentions, the person donating also reaps the benefits of a good public reputation.

    I hope they don’t stop.

  3. kzinn says:

    I fully agree in that the timing of Zuckerberg’s donation must have been in relation to the release of The Social Network. I feel fairly confident in saying that there was likely a team of PR professionals urging him to do so in accordance with the film in order to negate the way his is portrayed in it. It is unlikely that he would just coincidentally make $100 million donation, which isn’t exactly a casual activity, right at the same time as if he had nothing better to do and no idea about what he was doing.

    From a PR standpoint, I agree that it was a wise decision to remain public with his contribution because of the negative press the movie will give Zuckerberg. Doing a good deed at the same time people might be talking about him will only help to balance out if not cancel out some of the negative buzz that will soon be surrounding the Zuckerberg name.

    Granted, the move is a little transparent due to the timing and might give people reason to believe that the only reason he chose to donate was due to the movie’s premiere. I think it would serve him well to follow up on this donation consistently over time. Whether that means donating some of his time to the school district, donating more money to other organizations or speaking out on issues that need to be heard — Zuckerberg will need to remain an adamant philanthropist over the coming months to establish himself as a “good guy” and not just someone who gave away $100 million to make himself look good for a moment.

  4. latipton says:

    I absolutely think that his large donation to the school system was smart, and no, he probably was not thinking about doing it anonymously.

    Christopher Dawson made this situation seem negative in his blog (http://www.zdnet.com/blog/education/why-is-mark-zuckerberg-donating-100-million-to-newark-schools/4240).

    Dawson said things like the money was “burning a hole in his pocket,” that the situation was “too staged,” and that “Newark Public Schools are being used as a publicity stunt.” I’m sure that the Newark Public Schools probably feel taken advantage of … or not.

    A billionaire probably wouldn’t be a billionaire without making smart decisions. Of course Zuckerberg did something to flatten any negative publicity that he might receive. He used the movie and book as “opportunities” to interact with his audience. The money donation counteracts his recent portrayals as a “greedy, back-stabbing programmer.” The $100 million he donated was smart, and I’m sure the schools really appreciated it!

  5. bmalex says:

    I think this is one of the most fascinating PR plays of the year. I completely agree with you, mbgiles, that Zuckerberg’s announcement had some correlation to the upcoming release of the film he inspired.

    One thing I wonder about is the significance of the donation, especially being connected to icons of charity like Bill Gates. Recently, Bill and Melinda Gates announced their “Giving Pledge” initiative. If you haven’t heard about this, the Gates’ convinced 30 other billionaires to donate half their fortunes to philanthropy. (Find more at http://givingpledge.org/#enter). While Zuckerberg was not on this list, his contribution to Newark definitely hit the media spotlight just like a Gates, Buffet, or Bloomberg donation does.

    Big donations seem to be the hip thing to do these days, and I’d argue it helps the donor’s personal brand and PR image. Who doesn’t look like a nice, helpful person when they donate anything, much less $100 million? Do you agree? Is large-scale charitable giving by billionaires here to stay for the foreseeable future?

  6. hdfulton says:

    I don’t know anything about Mark Zuckerberg and I haven’t seen The Social Network (yet), but from what you’ve written, it does seem like he made the donation to boost his reputation.

    The fact that it’s the largest donation he’s ever made, and it’s coming right after the launch of a movie about the good and bad that made him famous, makes his motives seem less genuine.

    From a PR perspective, I don’t think he’ll get too much backlash. I mean, he still donated $100 million to a worthy cause. Who can complain about that?

  7. cbaumgar says:

    After seeing The Social Network last night, I can tell you that my first, and final, impression of Mark Zuckerberg is not the greatest. I mean, yes, he is an absolute genius for what he came up with, not only because everyone uses Facebook, but because of the code and time that went into making it. The movie did not portray him well other than the fact that he is an absolute brainiac. He is a terrible friend as Zuckerberg lies and steals from his best friend during the entire creation of Facebook. What’s worse — he does not even seem to care or feel the need to apologize to his friend.

    Because of the way the movie portrayed Zuckerberg, I without a doubt, think this PR plan of his donation is set to align with the movie’s release. Many people after seeing the movie will think he’s a total jerk, so why not do something extraordinary to make up for it? I think this is a smart move by him though because it may be able to boost his reputation (even if he claims in the movie to not care about boosting any broken reputation he has had).

    If he had donated this money at any other point, whether before or after the movie release, I still believe people would believe it is to make him look better after how the movie portrayed him. He picked an excellent choice of where to donate his precious money because education is how he got to where he is. I think it was definitely centered around the movie release, but that it was a smart move done by his PR team.

  8. jhickam says:

    This donation definitely wasn’t a coincidence. I’m really glad that you brought this topic up Madeline because I think it’s a really great one. It was obviously a PR ploy, in my opinion. As the Sony Pictures intern for Phoenix (Sony is the studio responsible for the new movie The Social Network), I can tell you that Facebook was definitely giving the studio a hard time about the movie (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1285016/). There was a well-known debate about a cocaine scene in the film where Sean Parker, played by Justin Timberlake, is in a room with a few sorority girls as they snort lines.

    Ultimately, the scene was left in the film, much to Facebook and Zuckerberg’s displeasure (http://thresq.hollywoodreporter.com/2010/08/sean-parker-cocaine-facebook-movie.html). In fact, as a Sony employee, I was advised not to mention anything about the film on my personal Facebook page. If I wanted to discuss the film, I was told I’d need to state first that I was a Sony employee before I could make any mention of the movie. This was a safety precaution since Sony was worried Facebook might sue.

    Why is Facebook so upset about this film? Because it portrays their founders in a negative light. How do you counteract this negative light the film will bring? You have your CEO donate $100 million to schools. Problem solved? Probably not. People will think it was a nice gesture sure but that doesn’t mean they won’t flock to the theaters to see The Social Network and it doesn’t mean their entire opinion of Zuckerberg will change.

  9. srmccab1 says:

    I couldn’t agree more with your analysis. The timing of Mark Zuckerberg’s donation was completely, and in my opinion cleverly, planned. Countering the less than pleasant representation in The Social Network with such a benevolent gift was a smart PR move in the long run. However, I don’t think it can be a one-time thing. If so, it will come off as solely a PR tactic instead of generosity, which could really hurt his reputation. And so while I do think this will help quell potential backlash, I think Mark really does compassionately care about giving back. So can it be both a PR move and a genuine gift? I think so.

  10. kmcasey1 says:

    It was a wise a PR choice for Mark Zuckerberg to make his $100 million donation when he did. It is a good situation for everyone involved. The school district will receive much-needed aid, and if the movie does do extra well in the box office because of the donation, then it will result in an overall boost to the economy. More people going out for entertainment will generate more spending. After re-watching the clip from Oprah on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xck8ZPELWhU), I got the impression that he did try to remain anonymous but he was pushed to go on the show. He seems like a down-to-earth guy, renting a modest home in Northern California with his college sweetheart. This makes me believe that Zuckerberg has good intentions but he ultimately gives in to what his PR professionals say. On the show, Oprah brings up that some people will criticize the timing of the donation, and he responds by saying, it’s a movie, it’s fun. I do not think he had any underlying intentions with the timing of the donation, but his PR team did plan this out.

  11. slarsonm says:

    I don’t think the $100 million donation made him seem any better to the general public who, even if they have never seen the movie, now know Zuckerberg as an idea thief.

    I read the news of him donating to charity before I learned about the plot of the movie. After I found out that the whole basis of the movie was that he stole Facebook from a fellow student, I looked at the donation as a way to promote himself in a good light; not because he was a generous man.

    Of course he wouldn’t make a $100 million donation anonymously, anyone who gives that much would want the publicity. It seems to me that it was a public relations ploy prior to the film. I don’t know how effective it was. Had he donated the money after the film debuted, it would have seemed even more obvious he was trying to dispel the negative attitudes.

    But more important than Zuckerberg’s ego or the movie about something we will be Facebooking about later, is that New Jersey schools received a big boost — something they desperately needed.

    Whether he is a greedy backstabber, Zuckerberg contributed to something that will hopefully better communities across New Jersey. So, good for him.

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