‘Idol Gives Back’: Where Did Last Year’s $76 Million Go?

While most of the funds appear to have been pledged, $5 million remain undistributed, The New York Times reports.

As “American Idol” fans prepare to watch the second annual “Idol Gives Back” show on Wednesday, a report from The New York Times on Monday (April 7) questioned where the $76 million raised by last year’s Emmy-winning show has gone.

According to the Times, officials at the “Idol Gives Back” charity have so far declined to release a full accounting of which charities benefited from last year’s all-star event. A spokesperson for the company that oversaw the fundraising and distribution of the funds, Charity Projects Entertainment Fund, said financial statements were still being audited and would be released by May.

The Times report doesn’t suggest anything nefarious, noting that interviews with officials involved in the charities that received pledges of money from the show and unnamed people associated with the program showed that most of the money raised has been given to or pledged to anti-poverty organizations in Africa and the United States. It did note, however, that nearly $5 million of last year’s proceeds and interest remains undistributed.

The 2007 show received $55 million from call-in viewers and $14 million in donations from corporations; corporations and foundations also gave $7 million in direct or matching grants to the designated charities. So far, the Times said about $68 million has been pledged to nine charities, but because that money was scheduled to be distributed over two years, just over half of it has been doled out so far.

The breakdown for the distribution of the 2007 proceeds — which were almost evenly distributed between charities working in Africa and in the U.S. — included pledges of $7.5 million for four American charities, including America’s Second Harvest, Save the Children, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and the Children’s Health Fund, with another $37,500 distributed to smaller domestic charities. Five African organizations received pledges of $6 million, among them: the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria; the United States Fund for Unicef; Nothing but Nets; Malaria No More and Save the Children. The Kibera Initiative, which helps kids in the Kibera slum in Nigeria, received $1 million, and $340,000 was distributed among other African charities.

Around $5 million was used for administrative costs — everything from paying for phone lines to legal costs — but that is only about 7 percent of the contributions, which, according to experts, is lower than the amount of overhead for most charities.

“Sometimes celebrity or entertainment-industry-based charities might not be the most sophisticated organizations in distributing the money they raise,” Dr. Irwin Redlener, president and co-founder of the Children’s Health Fund, told the paper. “But the ‘American Idol’ group got up to speed more rapidly than I’ve ever seen before. And they did a tremendous amount of investigation and due diligence among the organizations that could be potential recipients.”

The money from last year’s show was raised and distributed by the Charity Projects Entertainment Fund, headed by British screenwriter/director Richard Curtis, a veteran of celebrity-studded fundraising events such as Comic Relief and Live Aid. This year’s proceeds will not be overseen by Curtis, but instead will be directly steered by “American Idol” producers under a newly formed charity, also called Idol Gives Back, according to the Times.

Though a spokesperson for “Idol” had no comment on the Times report at press time, one of the show’s executive producers, Cecile Frot-Coutaz, told the paper that the change was meant to focus the efforts of the fundraiser on the show’s charitable causes, with more money going to charities in the United States.

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