New report reveals Obama Foundation fundraising dips; CEO Valerie Jarrett paid $592,905 in 2021

The Obama Foundation reported on its new IRS 990 that in 2021, the foundation collected $159.6 million, down from $171 million in 2020.

SHARE New report reveals Obama Foundation fundraising dips; CEO Valerie Jarrett paid $592,905 in 2021
Former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama participate in a ceremonial groundbreaking at the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park on Sept. 28, 2021, on the South Side.

Former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama participate in a ceremonial groundbreaking at the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park on Sept. 28, 2021.

Scott Olson/Getty

Fundraising for the Obama Presidential Foundation dipped in 2021 to $159.6 million, according to records released Thursday, which also showed the $592,905 compensation paid last year to its chief executive officer, Valerie Jarrett, who served as a top adviser in the Obama White House.

Information regarding the Obama Foundation — about its finances, programs and progress in building the Obama Center in Jackson Park — was disclosed in its annual report and Internal Revenue Service Form 990 covering the year 2021. The foundation also released a list of new donors. The IRS 990 is required to be filed annually by tax-exempt organizations.

Here’s what’s new:

Fundraising slowed

The new 990 report shows that since the foundation was created in 2014, when Obama was still in office, the foundation has raised $866.4 million

The foundation reported on its 990 that in 2021, the Obama Foundation collected $159.6 million in contributions and grants. That’s down from 2020 when the foundation gained $171 million in gifts — which was up from $139.6 million in 2019, according to the 990.

Expenses in 2021 were $40.5 million, about the same as in 2020. Expenses were $54.7 million in 2019.

Net assets for the foundation increased in 2021 to $680 million compared to $560.6 million in 2020 and $429.5 million in 2019.

The 2021 annual report shows that corporate and foundation fundraising dropped as a percentage of its revenue, with gifts from individuals up. In 2021, gifts from corporations and other foundations accounted for 47.58% of the revenue, or about $76.2 million. Individual gifts totaled 52.42%, or about $84 million.

In 2020, gifts from corporate and foundation sources accounted for 58.23% of 2020 fundraising, compared to 34.36% of 2019 fundraising and 15.5% in 2018.

The foundation, headquartered in Hyde Park, has 219 employees, up from 191 in 2020.

Some of the new mega-donors

The foundation does not list the exact amount of gifts. Among those listed as new donors of at least $1 million — and this is not a complete roster — include filmmaker Tyler Perry; Laura Ricketts, a Cubs co-owner and Democratic activist and her wife, Brooke; real estate developer Elzie Higginbottom; Wheels executive James Frank and his wife, Karen; McDonald’s; Walgreens; Allstate; Google; UL; and Lululemon.

Money spent on building Obama Center so far

In 2020, the annual report said the goal was to raise $1.6 billion “over the next five years to build and open the Obama Presidential Center, sustain our programming and operations and plan for the future.” That sum was to cover $830 million in startup costs: $700 million to build the complex — a museum and three other structures, a garage and open space; $90 million for museum items and other prep for opening; and $40 million to operate the center for its first year.

There was no update on that timetable or price tag in the 2021 report.

However, the 2021 report said so far, the foundation has spent $114.5 million on the building-in-progress. Construction started on the complex in April 2021, with the official groundbreaking on Sept. 28, 2021.

In the past months, the foundation has announced spaces in the Obama Center will be named for Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham, and Michelle Obama’s mother, Marian Robinson.

More on spending in Chicago, around the globe

The foundation oversees programs around the globe with an emphasis on work on Chicago’s South Side, where Michelle Obama was raised and where Obama launched his political career.

The annual report said that in 2021, the foundation spent $4.2 million on professional services, with $1.2 million of that with Chicago-based companies.

Fundraising at this scale is expensive: Overall, 21.95% of the foundation operating expenses were for fundraising, with 54.8% on programs and 23.22% on general administration.

Top staff pay

Jarrett, who served in the Obama White House for all eight years, became CEO in 2021, with reported compensation of $592,905. She is a longtime confidante of the former president and first lady.

Here are the totals for the top staffers working all of 2021, according to the 990:

• David Simas, president: $584,888. In 2020, when his title was chief executive officer, his compensation was $608,066 compared to $657,965 in 2019; $641,846 in 2018; and $614,636 in 2017.

• Robbin Cohen, executive vice president who is overseeing the Obama Center, $535,898. In 2020, when her title was executive director, her compensation was $551,913, compared to $589,971 in 2019; $589,971 in 2018; and $562,055 in 2017.

• Michael Strautmanis, executive vice president for civil engagement, $355,195. In 2020, when his title was chief engagement officer, his compensation was $331,851, compared to $313,493 in 2019.

Fundraising history

Gifts, grants and contributions totals since the foundation was created in 2014:

2021: $159,660,416

2020: $171,102,620

2019: $139,037,209

2018: $163,949,264

2017: $231,993,748

2016: $13,175,732

2015: $1,916,247

2014: $5,434,877

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