This post was originally produced for Forbes.
“If you do a gesture for charity, you should always make sure that it’s from not a press spin, but a natural, organic effort,” John Travolta said at the City Summit and Gala organized by social entrepreneur Ryan Long.
Travolta said his interest in philanthropy began with Katrina. “It was organic. It really was. When Haiti happened, when Hurricane Katrina happened, I had a plane. Nobody was helping them. Why wouldn’t you do it?”
He also made the case for transparency in charitable work, “Make clear where the money is going so no one ever questions it. You have to have an integrity because it is a known area that could be suspect. You have to have a lot of integrity about admitting and exposing how this gets displayed or distributed.”
Halle Berry, who delivered the keynote address at the Summit, said, “I’ve been an advocate of philanthropic efforts as long as I can remember—for most of my life.”
Berry offered advice for humanitarians, “My advice: take the media training that your team provides you! I recall so many times I’ve walked away from an interview and said to myself, ‘Now why did I say that?’ So prepare for your opportunities, but if you do that, the press can be a powerful way to share the programs you are passionate about.”
Long has come a long way from his roots to be hobnobbing with the rich and famous.
The City Gala was first held in 2015 and this year expanded to include a full-day Summit. The 2017 event was held on February 11 and 12. This year Berry and Travolta delivered speeches. Quincy Jones was presented with an award. John Paul Dejoria, founder of Paul Mitchell and number 214 on the Forbes 400 list, also presented.
Long chose two charities as the primary beneficiaries of the Gala, “We are tremendously honored to present the 2017 program in support of the International Arts & Philanthropy Foundation (IAP), which provides funding in support of arts, education, early childhood development, as well as the Breed Life program which supports and facilitates the gift of life through live organ donation.”
Jeff Timmons of the Grammy-nominated pop group 98 Degrees served as the emcee for the Gala.
City Gala is registered with the State of California Attorney General’s Registry of charitable trusts as a Commercial Fundraiser. Long says, “The entire mission and vision of the City Gala program is to bring business and entertainment heroes together united by their passion for overcoming hard obstacles and for supporting startup and not yet well-known philanthropic causes.”
The event included “a red carpet, silent auction, and a day-long set of presentations and panels by business luminaries from organizations such as NASA, Google, Virgin Galactic and many others,” Long says.
Long says the event was a big success, selling out and raising “hundreds of thousands” for charity. This despite the fact that the scheduled headline celebrity canceled in December due to a conflict, requiring Long and his team to scramble.
For 2018, the Grammys will be moving to New York City so the City Gala will move to Oscar weekend.
On Thursday, March 2, 2017 at noon Eastern, Long and Timmons will join me here for a live discussion about the event, its challenges and impact. Tune in here (at the top of this article) then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.
Update March 9, 2017: After posting the article and conducting the interview posted above, a reader wrote to Forbes suggesting that Long donates only 5 percent of revenue collected at his events to charity and that he “pays off celebs and the ones that participate have no idea what they are walking in to.” The reader directed us to Rip Off Report where a variety of related accusations were made. In a rebuttal, Long acknowledged that as of February 2015, he was behind on his taxes and had filed for bankruptcy in 2010 as a result of the 2008 recession. He also acknowledged several arrests and criminal convictions. He also defended the legitimacy and success of past events, saying that $350,000 was donated to charity after the 2014 event.
In an email response, Long noted that his accuser is known to him. With respect to the money for charity, he says, “I lost money personally/professionally again this year… but managed to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the charitable organizations. After years of trying/failing/trying failing, I have evolved and know that it’s simply a matter of time before visions/reality becomes true.”
Dale Godboldo, founder of International Arts and Philanthropy, said by email in response to an inquiry, “IAPF/Breed Life did receive funds from the event and according to our agreements.”