Madonna’s Malawi magnanimity meltdown and the Seattle philanthropy connection



First, let’s clear up the misunderstanding that Madonna’s charity, Raising Malawi, is being investigated by the feds for raising $15 million to build a girl’s school in Malawi — and then abandoning the project.

According to USA Today, Madonna says there is no federal investigation of her charity. Hey, that’s good enough for me.

But there is indeed a big, mysterious mess here, however, which is too complicated to explain in a simple blog post. It involves an extremely wealthy Jewish religious organization that practices its version of Judaism according to the “esoteric teachings” of the Kabbalah.

It also appears to involve some fairly shady business practices. Too many to go into but provided in detail in a lengthy NewsWeek article called Madonna’s Malawi Disaster.

You can read all the weird details there, which I only got around to doing recently.

What caught my eye wasn’t all the expensive homes, cars and swimming pools purchased in the name of practicing spirituality. No, what caught my eye was reading that my old buddy Trevor Neilson was hired by Madonna. Here’s how Newsweek put it:

Madonna hired Trevor Neilson, another Clinton White House veteran whose Global Philanthropy Group specializes in star donors who need a public-relations face-lift.

Actually, Neilson really got his start in philanthropy messaging working as the first media relations guy for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Before that, he handled media issues for the Seattle School District.

He left Seattle to go try his hand promoting a number of blue-ribbon philanthropy endeavors but ended up creating this new business Global Philanthropy Group, which appears to be largely focused on helping celebrities do philanthropy.

Neilson’s new endeavor has offices in Los Angeles, New York City and Seattle.

Here’s his video pitch:


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Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.