May 12 (Bloomberg) -- The Robin Hood Foundation could sell its donors a bridge.
In a sense, it did at its annual benefit tonight in New York, typically the city’s biggest charity fundraiser. The span was built in the middle of the cocktail area and labeled “a bridge from poverty to possibility,” serving as a theme for the evening.
Lloyd Blankfein didn’t go on it (“I’m in the risk management business,” the chairman and chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. joked as dinner got under way, including an artichoke salad and braised short rib.)
Daniel Och was spotted underneath it, and Peter Kiernan, a longtime Robin Hood board member, was found on the 198-foot span, 10 feet above the ground, with his family.
“This is not a bridge to nowhere,” Kiernan of Kiernan Ventures LLC said as some 4,000 guests flowed into the party including Steven Cohen, Laurence Fink, Henry Kravis, John Griffin and Daniel Loeb. “We have a no-spitting rule.”
Yucks aside, Kiernan explained that the bridge decor “carries the theme of Robin Hood. We’re here to request a constant source of support for those in need. There’s no trickling down. The S&P is at an all-time high, and the needs of the poor have never been higher.”
The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index closed today at a record 1,896.65 as U.S. stocks rallied anew.
Big digital screens around the room broadcast those needs: nearly half of New Yorkers living in poverty are immigrants or children; 50 percent of poor children will not graduate high school; and 22,000 children will sleep in a New York City shelter tonight, according to the foundation.
The bridge was packed and provided good views of these messages, said Nathan Stoppelmann, who works at S&P Capital IQ.
One could also see giant Robin Hood archer disco balls floating from the ceiling, and the marching band that ushered guests into the dining room at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.
“Good evening rich people, good evening,” said John Oliver, host of a new show on HBO, as he began the program. “It is an honor to help you raise money this evening. Give yourself a round of applause, and give yourself an even bigger round of applause for being so successful that being in this room was even an option.”
Met with near silence, he retorted, “Don’t get bashful, billionaires.”
Cohen, the former hedge-fund manager who recently stepped down after a decade on the foundation’s board, was sitting up front with artist George Condo and former Senator Joseph Lieberman for a surprise performance by the indie pop band Fun. Comedian Jim Gaffigan and NBC News anchor Brian Williams were scheduled to go on stage after the main course to facilitate fundraising during the event.
Robin Hood has no endowment. The $80.7 million raised at the 2013 event accounted for 61 percent of the $132 million the foundation disbursed during the year to more than 210 organizations funding charter schools, soup kitchens, affordable housing and job training, to name a few examples.
All the money raised at the party and throughout the year goes to programs as the foundation’s board covers administrative, fundraising and evaluation costs. The benefit typically brings in the most money of any single New York fundraiser by tens of millions of dollars, according to the foundation, and it draws the largest number of guests, about 4,000, or more than twice the capacity of the largest hotel ballroom in New York.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute Gala, often called the party of the year, last week raised $12 million with 580 guests, and the United Jewish Appeal-Federation of New York Wall Street Dinner honoring Blankfein in December raised $26 million with 1,700 guests.
Robin Hood itself throws smaller fundraising efforts. A recent gathering for the foundation’s Philanthropic Young Things hosted by hedge-fund firm D.E. Shaw & Co. managing director Dan Michalow raised more than $100,000 with cocktails at rooftop lounge PH-D.
Robin Hood’s main benefit didn’t start off this big. The first one in 1990, two years after the organization was founded by money manager Paul Tudor Jones and others, drew a few hundred guests and hauled in $700,000. Word spread and demand for tickets grew, resulting in a parade of billionaires and celebrities to a rather unlikely gala spot off the West Side Highway, one whose beige-and-crystal decor requires transformation into a Robin Hood universe.
So the theme carried into the dining room, where the table centerpieces were bridges and copper mylar tape hung above guests in an “abstraction of bridge cables,” said designer David Stark.
Here guests settled down to a dinner. They included co- chairmen Jeff Bezos, David Tepper and Alan Howard, as well as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, tennis great John McEnroe and Julian Robertson, Bill Ackman and Michael Novogratz from the finance world.
Guests were set to depart with a black tote bag that can be flaunted in the coming weeks as a sign of attendance. It features the words “feed, teach, shelter, train, heal” in a Gothic calligraphy font, and was created by Jennifer Fisher, a jewelry designer known for using brass and making stamped dog tag-like name plates.