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Jeryl Brunner Headshot

Why Is the Robin Hood Foundation So Cool?

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Perhaps Seth Meyers had a good point when he took the stage at the Robin Hood Foundation gala last week and declared, "how refreshing it is tonight to finally perform for the people who run the country." (For those who don't recall, he was (relatively) fresh from the White House Correspondents' Dinner.)

The un-schlubby crowd who filled the Javits Center did include Jeff Immelt, Lee Ainslie, Glenn Dubin, Jeff Bezos, Doug Morris, Bob Pittman, Paul Tudor Jones II, John Paulson and Alan Schwartz. Then add some super hot stars for good measure. (Think Sarah Jessica Parker, David Letterman, Naomi Watts, Liev Schreiber, Gisele Bündchen, Tom Brady and gala host Brian Williams).

No doubt, it was a stimulating and seriously eclectic evening. Tony Bennett crooned a smooth "Maybe This Time" from Cabaret. A low-key Kid Rock sang a tune he penned for the night as he was joined onstage by 300 servicemen from every branch of the armed forces. Tom Brokaw did a live interview with Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Lady Gaga, in her singular way, made her way to the stage chariot-style via the inside of her glowing egg-ship and belted Nat King Cole's "Orange Colored Sky." The giant cream-filled cupcakes were delish. And even Triumph the Insult Comic Dog was in top form when, during the bidding 101 portion, he advised (via video), "your contributions are completely tax deductible which might be of interest to you, if you actually paid taxes."

But what stunned me most from my seat at the Hilton Worldwide table was that the Robin Hood Foundation seemed to raise $47 million in a nanosecond. Granted, the foundation targets poverty in New York City and funds the most effective anti-poverty programs dealing with housing, job training and health care. (And there's now a special program to assist New York City's impoverished veterans.) But even with the impressive crowd and Lady Gaga's sass, that's a lot of cupcakes.

I had to learn more. David Saltzman, the Robin Hood Foundation's executive director, patiently answered some questions.

Q: Why is the Robin Hood Foundation so cool?

David Saltzman: We are extremely lucky to have a group of board members and donors who are passionate about Robin Hood's mission. These endorsements attract others. But it all comes back to making sure that we deliver on our promise to make every donor dollar work as hard as possible to improve the lives of poor New Yorkers.

Q: How do you help people?

David Saltzman: For more than 20 years, Robin Hood has fought poverty in New York City. We find, fund and partner with programs that have proven they are an effective remedy to poverty and are a consistent force for good in the lives of New Yorkers in need.

We employ a rigorous system of metrics and third-party evaluation to ensure grantee accountability. The board pays all administrative and fundraising costs, so 100 percent of donations goes directly to helping New Yorkers in need build better lives. We work closely with our grantees to make them more effective, enabling them to assist even more people. In 2010, Robin Hood invested over $132 million in 200 programs and schools, directly touching the lives of over 650,000 New Yorkers.

Q: What wowed you most about the gala?

David Saltzman: I'm always personally moved by the scale of the generosity displayed at the benefit. Yes, we were able to raise much-needed funds to help our neighbors in need, but to see over 4,000 people show up to be a part of the community effort is very inspiring. And of course, when the 300 service men and women came in while Kid Rock was singing -- that was such a great moment for everyone.

Q: I love that Lady Gaga performed for free and that 100 percent of every donation goes directly to fund programs helping impoverished New Yorkers.

David Saltzman: We have an extremely generous board of directors who believes in making sure that every penny of every donation from the public goes to fight poverty in New York City. To ensure that, our board underwrites all of Robin Hood's overhead costs including the cost of the benefit. Our board member, Doug Morris, reached out to Lady Gaga and asked her to perform.

Q: It seemed that you raised more than $47 million pretty quickly. How did you do that?

David Saltzman: We sell tickets and tables in advance of the evening. We also invite those who can't attend to donate to our efforts. As a result of that outreach, we had raised close to $35 million before we opened the doors on Monday night. Once everyone was there, we explained that we were launching a new initiative to help the increasing number of veterans who are leaving the ranks of the military and joining the ranks of the poor in New York City. We invited people to contribute anonymously to help Robin Hood establish a fund that would be used to help these veterans get back on their feet. We were able to raise almost $12 million from the floor during that time. We also sold an auction item featuring the opportunity for the winning bidder to write and record a song with will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas. That ended up being sold for $400,000.