Oprah Winfrey has just announced that Oprah's Angel Network will no longer be accepting donations. She's also discontinuing the Network's grantmaking program. Oh, Oprah. Say it ain't so. But her quiet announcement on the website of Oprah's Angel Network makes it clear that her Angel giving has come to an end. Por que? Oprah does not say.
In 1997, she formed Oprah's Angel Network to collect donations from her viewers. "I want you to open your hearts and see the world in a different way," she told them. "I promise this will change your life for the better." She started by asking for spare change to create "the world's largest piggy bank" to fund college scholarship for needy students. In less than six months her viewers had donated more than $3.5 million in coins and bills to send 150 students to college, three students from every state. Even the White House contributed, and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton flew to Chicago to appear on Oprah's show with a piggy bank full of coins she had collected from employees.
Oprah had been deeply affected by the 1997 death of Diana, Princess of Wales, and wanted to assume Diana's humanitarian role. "We are ... grieved by Princess Diana's death," Oprah said on Today, explaining Oprah's Angel Network, "and the world was talking about what she did charitably -- and I wanted people to know, you can do that yourself in your own space where you are in your life.... You can be a princess ... by taking what you have and extending it to other people."
Oprah partnered her Angel Network with 10,000 volunteers from Habitat for Humanity to build 205 houses, one in every city whose local television station broadcast The Oprah Winfrey Show. When Habitat for Humanity built a house for Oprah's Angel Network, they called the project Oprah's Angel House, and after the tsunami of 2004 and the 2005 hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Oprah Angel Houses sprang up like mushrooms. She took her show to New Orleans, pledging $10 million of her own money, and from 2005 to 2006 she raised $11 million more through her Angel Network for rebuilding. She paid the operating expenses of Oprah's Angel Network so that all donations went directly to the charities she selected. By 2008, her viewers had contributed more than $70 million to 172 projects around the world that focused on women, children, and families; education and literacy; relief and recovery; and youth and community development--all selected by Oprah and donated in Oprah's name. She fully understood the goodwill that accrues to those who give, and so when she gave, she did so very publicly. Her philanthropy was not quiet or anonymous.
"She certainly makes an effort to do good deeds," Steve Johnson wrote in the Chicago Tribune, "even if there is often an accompanying effort to make the effort known." It is true that most of Oprah's giving was followed by an Oprah press release, plus mentions on The Oprah Winfrey Show, but perhaps she was setting an example for others to follow and not just being self-aggrandizing."
Now with her syndicated show in its last year of operation, Oprah is discontinuing "the world's largest piggy bank," which is dismaying to a needy nation, especially those in the Gulf of Mexico experiencing horrendous disaster from British Petroleum's oil spill. Oh, Oprah. I hope she reconsiders and keeps galvanizing her legions of angels to continue giving.
She'll soon be starting OWN (OPRAH WINFREY NETWORK) and have potential access to 80 million viewers, ten times the number she's attracting now. Think of what Oprah can still accomplish.