Truly sustainable philanthropy requires more than regular tax-deductible donations, especially if the assets aren’t 100% locked in to begin with.
Angelina Jolie’s net worth is sometimes reported at $160 million. Of course that’s really career earnings and her work has been more non-profit lately than anything else.
She’s started a lot of charities over the years, helping to build next-generation villages in Africa, conserve Cambodian jungle, fight cancer and help orphans everywhere.
They’re great causes. But her endless divorce from Brad Pitt has raised questions about their sustainability.
For starters, cash has gotten tied up while the settlement drags on.
There’s currently zero clarity on where the marital property will end up. Apparently the prenup wasn’t comprehensive.
After all, Pitt and Jolie were together nine years before they finally felt comfortable enough to get married. During that time they built a family and bought a vast amount of stuff.
There are houses all over the world, joint ventures, foundations in both names and benefiting from their combined star appeal.
She wants to liquidate everything and roll it into the foundations. He’s a little less ambitious, wanting to keep sentimental assets and make sure trusts are in place to take care of their six kids.
Until they decide on a final list of what stays, who goes and who keeps what, long-range philanthropic planning is impossible.
Distracted and underfunded
And in the meantime, the foundations are starving.
One of the British offices is on life support, $2 million in debt with under $100,000 in assets. The debt comes due by the end of the year.
Jolie can deliver another cash infusion in the next few weeks to keep the entity solvent, but this isn’t the first time it’s skirted bankruptcy.
Meanwhile the core Jolie-Pitt Foundation here in the U.S. runs so lean that the accountants have to reassure the world that “there are no plans for dissolution.”
As the 2016 tax filing pointed out, the foundation is shrinking. Jolie wrote a $2.8 million check that year to replenish the account and small donors kicked in another $200,000.
But with $2 million going out, there’s still only $2.5 million left on the books, enough to keep the doors open another year on its own.
That’s just not a sustainable organization built to outlive anyone. There’s no plan at all here. It’s just a cash flow line item for the family.
And with the principals busy hashing out the separation, the biggest decisions they’ve been able to make lately revolve around whose name stays on the letterhead.
Pitt is disappearing from the official documents. Jolie stays. But as he vanishes, nothing seems to be filling the gap.
Again, that’s not the best succession plan. Jolie can run the organizations as long as she wants, but sooner or later they’ve got to either wind down or go on without her.
Maybe the kids are being groomed to step up someday. Either way, for that to even be a reasonable option, there’s got to be a little more heft on the balance sheet.
Figure the assets aren’t really invested. They’re parked in interest checking that pays at best 1%.
To continue that approach, Jolie needs to cram at least $200 million into the accounts in order to keep spending $2 million a year in perpetuity.
The couple theoretically has that much in joint wealth. On paper, it’s no problem.
However, we just don’t know how much of the “net worth” numbers will go to her after the split finally finalizes.
Part of the concern here is that while Pitt has kept working, Jolie has spent most of her time with the kids and the charities.
She’s done one truly high-profile film in the past decade. Granted, it earned her $20 million, but that’s not even enough to cover the foundation’s bills over that timeframe.
The other roles have been mostly voiceover in cartoons or support in niche projects.
It might not cost her a fortune to run her household, but it helps when at least a little wealth keeps trickling in year by year.
A lot of philanthropies start when someone has made so much money that the family will never need to work again for generations to come.
Under normal circumstances, Pitt and Jolie would be there. A lot of families are comfortable with a few million dollars.
But those families don’t spend a few million dollars every year to run a foundation. At best they make deductible donations when the tax accountants flash the green light.
Of course good investments help stretch any net worth farther. Again, the Jolie Foundation has most of its assets in interest checking, which is no way to reduce drag over long time periods.
Maybe the family is simply waiting for resolution before making concrete plans. Jolie could always take on bigger roles in the meantime to ensure that one way or another her causes will live on.
Instead, she seems to be living in semi-retirement. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course.
Still, when you’re half of a power couple that’s earned about $400 million over their lifetime, every year represents a lot of leverage when it come to changing the world.
One $20 million movie a decade is amazing by most standards. One a year or even every few years racks up cash a whole lot faster than it’s been going out.
Then there are endorsements, TV opportunities, business ventures, even old-fashioned stocks and bonds. Earn 10% a year instead of 1% and you move up the date when you retire and help people around the clock.
She can change the world. But it needs to be done smart.