$15 Million in Minutes at Robin Hood, But Who's Counting?

(Bloomberg) -- Every year, the Robin Hood Foundation concludes its fundraising gala by counting up millions of dollars in donations on big screens at the cavernous Javits Center in New York.

On Monday night, auctioneer Jamie Niven counted 15 pledges of $1 million each in a matter of minutes. Then, abruptly, the tally stopped.

Paul Tudor Jones, a co-founder of the anti-poverty charity, gave an explanation -- dressed in tights, boots and a cute green Robin Hood hat. The amount isn’t important -- “to hell with that,” he said -- it’s the work that matters. “How many miracles have we done, how many destinies have we changed?” he asked.

And so the total amount raised remains a mystery, for now.

To be sure, the evening had its share of billion-dollar moments. There was David Tepper, who’s going after ownership of the Carolina Panthers, and Pro Football Hall of Famer Harry Carson. Steve Cohen, Bill Gates and Jones chatted over fennel-braised beef. Oprah Winfrey read a poem by Maya Angelou. Lloyd Blankfein conferred with Ashok Varadhan, who hours earlier became the sole head of the Goldman Sachs securities division.

Jennifer Lopez sang “Jenny from the Block,” an anthem about not forgetting one’s humble origins, after taking off a plush white coat, and Jones, in his Robin Hood get-up, crooned “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” by the Hollies. The lyrics are about treating “anyone that holds their hand out for help like they’re family,” he said. “If you think of poor people as the others, they can never be your sister or your brother.”

Jones indicated his big expectations for the night. “In 2008, in the midst of the worse financial crisis ever, this room had a 72 percent participation rate,” he said. “In the best of times, if we can’t trounce that, this ain’t New York City.”

Still, he added, if all the money the crowd had spent on beauty treatments and Viagra over the previous 30 years had been directed to Robin Hood, then poverty would no longer exist.

Robin Hood CEO Wes Moore, a Rhodes Scholar who served in combat in Afghanistan and worked at Citigroup, said the goal of the organization is to provide recipients a springboard, not just a safety net. He said philanthropy alone wasn’t enough, and that the group would strive to make systemic changes so that individual success stories were not the exception.

“It’s good you guys are trying to fix things, ‘cause everything is broken,” comedian Michelle Wolf told the crowd.

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