JJ Abrams’ big promise is just the latest installment of a power couple’s donations — Inside Philanthropy


The philanthropy of celebrities and athletes often strikes people as being too often performative, all black-tie galas and events, rather than real-money-infused hands-on work. Thanks to our Giving lavish cover, however, we’ve tracked the philanthropy of a number of Hollywood elites, some of whom have managed solid foundations for years or even decades.

The late Kirk Douglas and his wife Anne, for example, started their Douglas Foundation all the way back to the early 1960s. Other active and committed celebrity donors include Norman and Lyn Lear, Leonardo DiCaprio and Michael J. Fox, to name a few. As the nation has made new calls for social change, it’s tempting to dismiss a big-name donation as just a catch of good publicity. But again, there is often more than meets the eye.

Take, for example, writer-director-producer JJ Abrams and public relations executive Katie McGrath. The couple got plenty of coverage when they recently announced a five-year, $10 million commitment, through their foundation and Abrams’ production company Bad Robot, to “organizations and efforts committed to anti-racism programs that close gaps, help the poor and build a just America for all”.

But long before this timely donation, in the early 2010s, they launched their low-key Katie McGrath & JJ Abrams Family Foundation, which gave away around $5.1 million in the last tax year for which records are. available. Primary grantmaking interests include education, the arts, equity, and politics. Educationally, they seem interested both in supporting underserved youth in school and through after-school programs. And politically, they’ve backed progressive organizations like People For the American Way, an advocacy group co-founded by Norman Lear, another prominent Hollywood screenwriter who was one of the entertainment industry’s leading progressive philanthropists.

Although Abrams and McGrath don’t yet have a full political center named after them, like the Norman Lear Center at USC, they’ve been outspoken about the importance of fairness and social justice for some time now. . And with an estimated net worth of $300 million, Abrams, who is only in his early 50s, is probably just getting started.

Their great commitment to racial justice is perhaps a sign of even greater things to come. On Bad Robot’s Instagram, a statement about the pledge reads: “At Bad Robot, we are grateful to the many scholars, activists, organizers and leaders fighting on the front lines of change in our systemically unjust country. It is this constellation of thinkers and actors that has the project of a more perfect, just, equitable and benevolent union.

The initiative kicks off with $200,000 earmarked for Equal Justice Initiative, Black Futures Lab, Know Your Rights Camp, Black Lives Matter LA and Community Coalition. Lawyer and activist Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice initiative has garnered some support from major donors, including Wall Street couple Jonathan and Jeannie Lavine, and billionaires Jon and Pat Stryker. Abrams and McGrath, meanwhile, have been consistent supporters of the Community Coalition, which “works to help transform social and economic conditions in South LA.”

It’s a good reminder that one-time giving taking place during the pandemic and amid calls for social change is still often part of a given funder’s larger philanthropic framework. Abrams and McGrath have been consistent Community Coalition supporters, but doubled down during this critical moment.

Another grantee, Black Futures Lab, focuses on engaging black voters throughout the year and to strengthen this electoral bloc. And Know Your Rights Camp, started by Colin Kaepernick, aims to “advance the liberation and well-being of black and brown communities through education, empowerment, mass mobilization and the creation of new systems that elevate the next generation of change leaders. “Abrams and McGrath seem to like these kinds of grassroots organizations and in the past have supported California Calls, an alliance of grassroots community organizations.

Abrams, 53, is still very committed to his Hollywood career, fresh off his successful stint with the rebootedStar Wars,” among several other projects. But we can expect this Hollywood couple to have a growing footprint in progressive philanthropy in the future, well beyond their recent high-profile announcement.

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