Obama Foundation donations jump to $13 million in 2016

SHARE Obama Foundation donations jump to $13 million in 2016

Former President Barack Obama makes his first post-presidential public appearance and chats with younger activists about community organizing and civic engagement at the University of Chicago’s Logan Center for the Arts on Monday, April 24, 2017. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Barack Obama Foundation contributions jumped to a little more than $13 million in 2016, according to an IRS filing released on Thursday, and donations are expected to skyrocket in 2017 with the lifting of a self-imposed $1 million cap and former President Barack Obama free to make direct appeals.

Obama discussed plans for his Obama Foundation with potential mega donors — and gave them a sneak preview of the model of his Obama Center in Jackson Park — at an exclusive April 24 dinner he hosted at Cindy’s rooftop restaurant at The Chicago Athletic Association Hotel.

The Obama Foundation is making the transition from reliance on political-style fundraising, which by nature is usually short term, to the longer term institutional giving a high-profile nonprofit will need to flourish in perpetuity.

The Foundation, headquartered at 5235 S. Harper Court in Hyde Park, with a branch office in Washington, is overseeing Obama Center construction as well as domestic and international program development.

Obama has a big lift ahead of him, with an estimated $675 million in spending needed for construction, operations and programming costs for the Obama Center between 2015 and 2021. Of that, potential donors have been told about $520 million to $550 million is the estimate to construct the Obama Center campus, to stretch along Stony Island Avenue near 60th, that will have a museum, library, event space, offices and plazas.


Among the 2016 $1 million donors, according to the Foundation IRS 990 filing:

• $1 million from former Obama Ambassador to the Netherlands Fay Hartog-Levin and her husband, developer Daniel Levin.

• $1 million from the George Lucas Family Foundation. Lucas, Star Wars is married to Mellody Hobson, the president of Ariel Investments, which was founded by John W. Rogers Jr., who is very close to the president and first lady.

• $1 million from former Obama Ambassador to Great Britain Louis Susman and his wife, Majorie. Susman and the Levins, from Chicago, were major fundraisers for Obama’s first presidential run in 2008.

• $1 million from Mel Heifetz, a Philadelphia-based major Democratic donor and real estate investor, through a donor advised fund at the Miami Foundation.

• $1 million from Reid Hoffman, the CEO of LinkedIn and his wife, Michelle Yee, through the Fidelity Charitable Foundation.

• $1 million from Mark Gallogly, the managing partner of Centerbridge Partners, an investment firm, and his wife, Lise Strickler who have been big donors in previous years to the Foundation.They gave through their New York Community Trust.

• $1 million from the Hutchins Family Foundation; Glenn Hutchins is co-founder of Silver Lake Partners and a co-owner of the Boston Celtics. Obama and Hutchins have visited and played golf on Martha’s Vineyard in 2013 and 2016.

• $1,013,232 from John and Ann Doerr. Doerr is a billionaire venture capitalist and a member of the Barack Obama Foundation Board.

Obama Foundation contributions since its founding in 2014:

• $13,175,732 in 2016

• $1,916,247 in 2015

• $5,543,877 in 2014


Expenses for the Foundation, created in January 2014, increased during Obama’s last year in office to $4.8 million as building and programming plans for the Obama Center ramped up.

• Obama Foundation Executive Director Robbin Cohen was paid $490,627 in 2016. That reflects a bonus paid for work done in 2015.

• The Foundation website is growing more robust, with much more content — foreshadowing ambitious digital plans — with $532,848 paid to Blue State Digital for marketing and communications in 2016.

The Foundation paid $372,937 to the Chicago based Grenzebach Glier and Associates, which specializes in high-end fundraising development strategy for universities, hospitals and the like.

• Longtime Obama fundraiser Jordan Kaplan, who now is the Foundation’s Chief Development Officer, was paid $96,000 as a consultant in 2016 through his firm, Lakefront Strategies. In addition, the Foundation also worked with the Sky Advisory Group, a firm specializing in Hollywood and other West Coast donors.

• The Foundation paid the husband and wife architecture team designing the Obama Center, Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, $305,244 in 2016.

• Office artwork from Project Onward, a Chicago-based organization that promotes adult artists with disabilities, cost $18,601.

• The Chicago law firm of Katten Muchin Rosenman was paid $838,568 for legal work.

The Latest
Farro is a hearty ancient wheat grain with a nutty, wholesome flavor.
3rd Coast Cruising, a sailing academy, has helped hundreds of Chicagoans — many over the age of 50 — discover new adventures on the lake.
Veteran lake swimmers offer tips and guidance on things you need to know before you jump in.
“They play on Fridays, they go to lunch on Wednesday, often bowl on Tuesdays, and sometimes go golfing on Thursday. That kind of structure and that kind of community that all of these guys have is gold,” says Greg Zerkis, nicknamed “Brinks.”