What: The food and beverage company Newman’s Own, started by actor Paul Newman and author A.E. Hotchner, which gives 100 percent of its profits to education and charitable purposes:
Why: Newman’s Own is a producer of salad dressing, salsa, fruit juice, cookies, popcorn, cat food, and quite a bit more. It’s not a charity; to succeed, it must make a profit. Newman owned the company, and received all of the profits. And then he gave every penny of those profits away to nonprofit entities including the Hole in the Wall Gang summer camps. At last count, the donations were over $250 million, or $10 million a year. This works because the trade between the donor and the recipient is so positive for both sides. Everything Newman’s Own makes is good. It’s better than any major brand name at least in the salad dressing, spaghetti sauce, and lemonade categories. With Newman’s Own, you’re never choosing between taste and charity. Like with Girl Scout cookies, you satisfy your stomach and soul at the same time.
Impact: I had this on my list of things to write about sometime in the future, but today’s news of Newman’s death made this more pressing. My guess is that if he had a choice of being remembered for playing Butch Cassidy, Henry Gondorff, Fast Eddie Felson, Reggie Dunlop, and Cool Hand Luke, or for starting Newman’s Own, he’d pick the latter. It’s not subtle: Newman’s caricature is on all the products, and the slogan is “shameless exploitation in pursuit of the common good.” That’s a trade of celebrity for charity. And so in addition to creating a business model of a charitable for-profit corporation, Newman elevated the standard for a Hollywood actor. Don’t think anyone’s going to surpass that for a long time.
Personal Connection: As of this moment, three bottles of salad dressing and three bottles of Sockarooni! spaghetti sauce in my kitchen. Surprisingly no salsa or lemonade. I need to go shopping.
Other Contenders: Doctors Without Borders, which shows there is no upper limit to how much someone can give; Save the Music, which fights to keep music programs in schools; Boomtown Rat Bob Geldof showing the lesson today is how not to die by launching Live Aid, still unsurpassed as a music spectacle; Child’s Play, the children’s charity founded by our dear friends at Penny Arcade, and just about the coolest thing any gamer geeks have ever done.