Obama Foundation raises $232.6 million in 2017, best year ever

SHARE Obama Foundation raises $232.6 million in 2017, best year ever

Former President Barack Obama points out features of the proposed Obama Presidential Center, during a meeting at the South Shore Cultural Center in May 2017. | Getty Images

WASHINGTON – The Barack Obama Foundation raised a record amount in 2017, $232.6 million, according to a report released on Thursday.

It’s the biggest single year haul since the foundation was founded in January, 2014, when former President Barack Obama was still in the White House.

The Sun-Times reported in May, 2017 that with  Obama out of office for his first year in 2017, donations were expected to skyrocket due to the lifting of a self-imposed $1 million cap Obama had in place while in the White House.

Once out of office, Obama was free to make the direct pitch for contributions he declined to make while president. Obama and former first lady Michelle did no overt fundraising while still in the White House, though they stroked potential donors with invitations to dinners and events.

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, 2017 dinner he hosted at Cindy’s rooftop restaurant at The Chicago Athletic Association Hotel.

Potential and actual donors were invited to  events such as the first foundation global summit which ran last year from Oct. 31 to Nov. 1 at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place.

Most contributions last year came from individuals, 94.9 percent or $220.7 million.

The remaining 5.1 percent or $11.8 million  came from corporate and foundation sources.

Total 2017 revenue – which sweeps in interest and other income – was $232.9 million, according to the report.

The foundation included broadly stated information about its finances in its first-ever annual report.

The financials in the report lack the detail that the Internal Revenue Service demands each year from tax-exempt organizations. For the past three years, the Obama Foundation has filed its IRS form 990 in May.

The foundation has delayed filing the 990 for the year 2017.

The foundation lists the exact amount donors give in its 990. The Obama Foundation website accounts for contributions without specifics.

The foundation has been adding to its ranks of mega corporate and individual donors who gave or pledged more than $1 million.

In April 2018, the foundation listed on its web site 47 gifts of at least $1 million. In July,  there were 56 contributions of at least $1 million with Oprah Winfrey the latest big name donor.

A Sun-Times examination of prior year 990s shows the staggering increase in donations – including pledges – to the foundation in 2017.

2017: $232,592,542

2016:     13,175,732

2015:         1,916,247

2014:        5,434,877

TOTAL TO DATE: $253,119,124.

According to the report, the foundation spent $22.1 million in operating expenses in 2017:

*$12.6 million for programs.

*$5.3 million to cover general and administrative costs.

*$4.2 million for fundraising.

The foundation said it currently has nine professional fundraisers on the payroll. There are about five or six other staffers involved in vetting, researching and dealing with other aspects of fundraising development. Fundraising consultants are based in Los Angeles and New York.

The other major expense was spending in connection with the design and  construction of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park. Pre-construction costs in 2017 amounted to $12.8 million. The cost to build the campus will be at least $350 million, according to the foundation. About $1.5 million was paid to cover professional services from consultants in Chicago, not named in the report.

As of Dec. 31, the net assets of the foundation were $224.2 million.

The Obama Foundation is headquartered in Hyde Park. It has offices in Washington and on the campus of Columbia University in New York.

Obama Foundation CEO David Simas said in a statement in the report, “As a start-up on the South Side with one of the world’s most recognizable names on our door, we have a scrappy mindset and a broad ambition. We will have triumphs and we will have setbacks, but together, we will create a movement of engaged citizens who are changing their communities, nations, and ultimately, their world.”


The foundation in the report emphasizes its pledges of diversity and inclusion, from its program content to setting aside at least 50 percent of Obama Center construction subcontracts  for minorities, women, veterans, the disabled and members of the LGBTQ community.

The foundation opened the door to examine its own hiring practices when it said in the report, “A third of the Foundation’s leadership team identifies as a person of color, two-thirds are women, and among those we also have LGBTQ representation.”

The staffers self-identified, the foundation said, providing no further documentation.

The IRS requires a non-profit to disclose its highest compensated employees and independent contractors.

The Obama Foundation 990 filing for 2016 listed eight top paid staffers; six of them the Sun-Times has identified as white.

That snapshot will likely change to reflect more diversity in the 2017 IRS report, because of new hires at the top ranks of the foundation.

The Latest
Artistic director — the first woman to lead the 98-year-old theater — revealed an eclectic lineup for 2023-24.
An appellate court in Maryland reinstated Adnan Syed’s murder conviction and ordered a new hearing after finding that a lower court failed to give the victim’s family sufficient notice that his conviction was going to be overturned.
The Hawks mustered extremely little offense, taking nearly 14 minutes to get their first shot on goal, in a 4-1 defeat against the Stars on Tuesday.
The Chicago native played one season with the Bulls. Pau Gasol also gets in.