- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
Beyonce strutted across the stage, belting out “I Will Always Love You.” It’s no shock that the evening at the Shrine in March 2016, hosted by Will Ferrell and Billy Crystal, received a ton of buzz. What is surprising — unless you’re familiar with L.A.’s private-school fundraising arms race — is that it was an elementary school benefit.
The Center for Early Education’s 75th Anniversary gala may have been L.A.’s biggest-ever school fundraiser (“They got a little grief because it was so showy,” says one insider; CEE head of school Mark Brooks counters that performances can garner “lots of talk, but the purpose is to raise money so students can have better programs”) — yet it’s barely out of the ordinary for the annual galas and auctions, which cost $100 to $500 to attend and aim to raise between $500,000 and $1 million.
Parents on gala committees start planning the summer before to “make sure it’s more fun and more profitable than years prior,” says education consultant Jamie Bakal. Performers have included Adam Levine for Brentwood, Stevie Wonder and blink-182’s Travis Barker for Turning Point and Rihanna, also for CEE (no kids, but Jay Z owns her label). This year, Sharon Stone and LL Cool J hosted Campbell Hall’s spring ball at the Beverly Hilton, while Modern Family‘s Julie Bowen has been emceeing at Laurence for a couple of years. “I’ve been known to crawl between tables and beg,” she says. “I am not afraid to make a fool of myself to help the bidding.” And the more exclusive the location, the better. “The big-ticket live auctions take place at insider venues like the Four Seasons, Brentwood Country Club, a famous person’s mansion, or Universal or Paramount studios,” says private school expert Christina Simon. (Ironically, multiple insiders say that when it comes to giving cold hard cash, stars are often the worst. “They don’t return calls,” complains one fundraising mom.)
“Peer pressure at the auctions is out of control, not only to bid, but to donate items,” says one dad. This year, guests of Viewpoint bid on a luxury villa vacation in Cabo, with jet and yacht access. In March, Campbell Hall offered a Neil Sedaka sing-along. The National plays for Wildwood parents this year, and one of the hottest items at John Thomas Dye was a private concert by Coldplay’s Chris Martin.
Schools obsess over 100 percent parent participation, including at events, “which is why you’d see Victoria Beckham manning a refreshments booth,” says one former Curtis mom. Even quietly wealthy parents can’t hide: “We’d Google families and Zillow their houses to figure out how much they should be able to give,” says an ex-chair of fundraising. Most schools release annual reports of donor amounts — and, by default, shame those who didn’t or weren’t able to give. “Many people don’t understand where the money actually goes,” says Bakal. “The annual fund supplements tuition and enables the school to be the dynamic institution parents want for their children.”
This story first appeared in the Aug. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day