CHICAGO — Former President Barack Obama’s foundation set a goal last summer of raising $1.6 billion between 2021 and 2026 to pay for construction of his presidential center and an endowment to sustain it for years to come.
The foundation’s total revenue for 2021 of $160 million, almost all of it from fundraising, only gets it 10% of the way there, according to the foundation’s annual report, which is traditionally released each August.
It was the second lowest revenue total the foundation has recorded since its founding, according to the report. The lowest total was in 2019, when revenues amounted to $139 million. Two years earlier the foundation recorded its highest revenue, $232 million.
In its five years of existence, the foundation has notched a total of $866 million in revenues.
The foundation’s balance of pledges and grants receivable stood at $242 million for 2021 — a figure reflecting commitments from donors who pledge to pay out over a span of time.
At the end of 2021, net assets were $680 million, up 21% from the previous year. The foundation’s board also launched an endowment in 2021, seeding it with $1 million.
“It’s hard to believe that it’s only been five years since Michelle and I launched the Obama Foundation — especially because so much has changed since then,” the president wrote in the annual report’s introduction.
Obama noted those changes included pandemic, climate change and threats to democracy that have left “the future of our collective experiment in self-government hanging in the balance.”
“It’s a lot to wrap your head around, and enough to make anyone feel cynical. But we started this foundation five years ago as an antidote to cynicism — to prove that we have it in us to address the trends we’re seeing in the world, to make our institutions responsive to today’s challenges, and to give more people a better life. Today, that work is more important than ever,” Obama wrote.
Fundraising in recent years was hindered both by the COVID-19 pandemic and the long delays in approvals for the presidential center’s construction. After a long court battle, the official groundbreaking for the three-building, 19-acre campus in Jackson Park, took place in September.
Not long after the ceremony, the foundation announced a series of pledges from big-name donors, who dedicated spaces around the campus and in the main building to significant historical figures. Among them: Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who said he would give $100 million in honor of former congressman John Lewis, the civil rights trailblazer.
The foundation also added 130 donors to its contributor page who have either made new cash contributions or wrote commitments in 2021. That includes donations of over $1 million from corporations including Allstate, BMO Financial Group, CME Group Foundation, Google.org, the Goldman Sachs Foundation and Philanthropy Fund, lululemon, McDonald’s, Motorola Solutions, Walgreens and UL.
New individual members of the $1 million plus club include DoorDash co-founder Tony Xu and his wife Patti Bao, former Xerox CEO Ursula Burns, former Wheels CEO James Frank and his wife Karen, real estate developer Elzie Higginbottom, Cubs co-owner Laura Ricketts and her wife Brooke, and filmmaker Tyler Perry.
The foundation has said it would cost $700 million to construct the OPC’s buildings and campus, another $90 million to collect artifacts, design exhibits and prep for opening, and $40 million to operate it for a year after construction wraps up.
Construction costs through the end of 2021, according to the annual report, were just shy of $115 million. IRS forms show the construction manager, Lakeside Alliance, was paid over $20.5 million in 2021. Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects had so far been paid $1.5 million, and the exhibit design group Ralph Appelbaum Associates had been paid $1.2 million.
Since that groundbreaking, the foundation has trickled out some details of the campus and exhibits. Those include a new water garden named in honor of President Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham, and an exhibit of model White House rooms such as the East Room, the State Dining Room, and the South Lawn, named after Michelle Obama’s mother, Marian Robinson.
The annual filing of the foundation’s 990 tax form also revealed compensation details for top executives, including Valerie Jarrett, who was announced as CEO in late 2020. Jarrett was paid $581,305, plus “other compensation” from the foundation and related organizations of $11,600.