Paul Newman’s Philanthropic Efforts Posthumously Hit $300 Million Milestone

December 30, 2010 at 5:52 PM EDT
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WNPR reporter John Dankosky narrates a Connecticut Public Television report on how legendary actor Paul Newman's charitable food company is still thriving after his 2008 death. The Newman's Own Foundation evolved into one of the most-recognizable celebrity-run charities and recently surpassed $300 million in donations.

JEFFREY BROWN: And now another model for philanthropy, one pioneered by a well-known actor.

Our story comes from our colleagues at Connecticut Public Television. It’s narrated by WNPR reporter John Dankosky.

PAUL NEWMAN, actor: I will jump first.


PAUL NEWMAN: Then you jump first.


PAUL NEWMAN: What’s the matter with you?

ROBERT REDFORD: I can’t swim!

JOHN DANKOSKY, WNPR reporter: After decades on the silver screen, in 1982, Paul Newman turned his energies to a very different kind of venture, and the result is now familiar on grocery store shelves across the nation.

Together with writer and close friend A. E. Hotchner, he founded the retail food company Newman’s Own. The company continues to thrive, even though Newman died in 2008. That’s because it was never designed to be the runaway success it has become. At least, that’s how Newman saw it in 2007, when he was interviewed about his charitable giving.

PAUL NEWMAN: The food business literally got started because, one Christmas, I decided that Christmas presents to the neighbors, the bottle of wine and all that kind of stuff, was just kind of passe.

So, I had always made my own salad dressing, so I got wine bottles and filled it up with salad dressing and — and took it to the neighbors for Christmas presents. And about the 1st of February, I got people knocking on my door, saying, where’s the second bottle?

So, a germ of starting a small little boutique business of salad dressing got planted. I don’t think it was ever a business strategy, except to say that we were going to try to provide stuff with the best possible ingredients that we could lay our hands on.

And being in the motion picture business didn’t hurt. It gave us a leg up on name recognition right from the very beginning. And that was critical, I think.

JOHN DANKOSKY: Bob Forrester is president and CEO of Newman’s Own Foundation.

BOB FORRESTER, president & CEO, Newman’s Own Foundation: The moment it made money, that’s when he said, this is — this is crazy. This is just pure luck. Let’s give it all away.

JOHN DANKOSKY: And so a new philanthropic model was born. Newman’s Own, Incorporated was a uniquely structured company, designed to donate all profits and royalties to charity.

BOB FORRESTER: We are a hybrid. We are a business like any other business. We operate in one of the most competitive markets there is, the food industry. And then where we’re different and we look like a nonprofit is, unlike a commercial company, where they’re paying dividends and giving great big bonuses, we take our money and just give it away.

JOHN DANKOSKY: To date, Paul Newman and the Newman’s Own Foundation have donated millions of dollars to thousands of charities worldwide.

BOB FORRESTER: What Paul had is an enormously fine-tuned sense of food. And he was a great risk-taker. But, on the other side, he was an enormously conservative person financially. So, he didn’t build a large empire. That’s part of the success of Newman’s Own.

PAUL NEWMAN: We aren’t a huge foundation that gives away, like the Gates Foundation or Rockefeller, $300 million or $400 million every year. But we can move very, very quickly. When Katrina hit, we were there, I think, within three or four days with a sizable donation.

JOHN DANKOSKY: From Shining Hope for Communities, an organization that combats intergenerational cycles of poverty in Kenya, to the Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation’s German shepherd guide dog program for veterans, Newman’s Own Foundation supports nonprofits around the world and here at home.

One high-profile example of the philanthropy of Newman’s Own is the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, which Paul Newman founded in 1988 in Ashford, Connecticut.

JIMMY CANTON, CEO, Hole in the Wall Gang Camp: Paul Newman had the idea of creating a place where children whose lives had been turned upside down with serious illness could find a safe place in which they could just be themselves and be children again.

PAUL NEWMAN: The most interesting thing, aside from just watching children that have had the bad luck of being hit with a — a life-threatening disease, the reciprocity that occurs between the campers and the staff people.

WOMAN: The bushy tails? Do you want to sing? Do you want to do it? No, not today?

PAUL NEWMAN: The children demand a lot, but the reward that comes from the caregiver, you give as much as you get. And that was something of an astonishment.

GIRL: That was fun.

PAUL NEWMAN: What could be better than to hold your hand out to people who are less fortunate than you are? That’s simply the way I look at it.

BOB FORRESTER: When it came to philanthropy, Paul didn’t think he was doing anything special. He just thought everybody should be doing it. And that’s why he was never very noisy about it.

My promise to him was that, if you could figure out how to walk back in the room 20 years after you’re no longer here, you will basically approve what’s going on. You — you won’t know the people, but you will approve of how they’re thinking and how they’re doing things.

JOHN DANKOSKY: And Newman would likely approve of the latest milestone his organization hit. Last month, they reached the $300 million dollar mark in charitable giving.