Could Institutional Philanthropy Follow Prince’s Example?

Effective philanthropy

Living in Minneapolis I’ve followed the life of our dearly beloved Prince perhaps more than others have.  I’d heard nothing, though, about Prince’s philanthropy.  So at his untimely death, I was very struck by Van Jones’ powerful story on CNN’s Don Lemon show. What a wonderful story of personal philanthropy!

But listen carefully at 2:40.  What if institutional philanthropy – official foundations with boards and staffs – could allow themselves to work like this? Not necessarily all the time, and probably not for everyone. On the other hand, why not?


Here’s Vox’ report:

One close friend of the music icon Prince is saying it’s time to “quit talking just about the music” by letting the world know music is just one part of his legacy. Prince was also a secret humanitarian.

“[Prince] did not want it to be known publicly, but I’m going to say it because the world needs to know that it wasn’t just the music,” said CNN political commentator and close friend Van Jones in an interview with Don Lemon. “The music was one way he tried to help the world. But he was helping every day of his life.”

Jones added, “There are people who have solar panels on their houses right now in Oakland, California, that they don’t know Prince paid for them.”

Some of Prince’s other hidden efforts included helping create programs like #YesWeCode to help give urban youth access to tech, and using Jones as the public face for his work with Green For All to make green living accessible for all.

According to Jones, Prince also used benefit concerts in Chicago and Baltimore as covers to work with the city’s community organizations in need.

Indeed, the full extent of Prince’s charity may never be known, in part, Jones said, because Prince was a Jehovah’s Witness and was not allowed to speak about his work.

But one thing is clear: Prince gave the world many gifts, and his records were only a few of them.



Steven E. Mayer, Ph.D / Effective Communities Project / April 24, 2016

Lightly revised July 3, 2020


Original date: April 24, 2016

Author: Steven E. Mayer, Ph.D.