Former Prof Turns Charity Matchmaker

In an effort to raise funds for the re-launch of DoubleTake magazine, a non-profit journal founded by Pulitzer Prize-winning author and former Agee Professor of Social Ethics Robert Coles ’50, one generous philanthropist will win a date with Matt Damon.

In an online auction that commenced yesterday, Charity Folks, an Internet-based auctioneering company currently working with DoubleTake, is offering up 32 lots for online bidders until June 15. Charity Folks’ website, www.charityfolks.com, features the high-profile roster of celebrity participants—which includes a behind-the-scenes evening spent on the set of The NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw, a day at the home of the Kennedys and a tour of ABC News with Diane Sawyer—and allows registered users to cast online bids.

“It’s like eBay,” said Charity Folks President and CEO Coppy Holzman.

The creators of DoubleTake decided to contact Charity Folks after the magazine’s creators saw an auction that Charity Folks handled for Chevy Chase, and approached the company to begin talks about raising funds for the magazine’s re-launch, planned for the fall. Holzman said that the magazine’s mission and prospects convinced them to take on the project.

“We’re using technology to help charity [but] we have to believe in the cause,” said Holzman. By choosing to run charity auctions for causes in which they believe, “we can make a difference in the world,” he said.

Coles created DoubleTake in 1995 with idealistic intentions. Before its recent hiatus—DoubleTake ceased publication in May 2003 in the face of serious funding problems and the threat of lawsuits from unpaid contributors—the magazine was an amalgam of photoessays, poems and personal narratives. According to the magazine’s promotional materials, DoubleTake aspires to “offer a rare opportunity for a kind of serious, patient consideration of the perspectives, visions, and concerns of others, and in turn, acts as a catalyst for community-service efforts.”

In order to find willing celebrity participants for the auction, Holzman said they drew from Coles’ long list of friends and supporters.

“Glenn Close [one of the voluntary prize dates] is a close, personal friend of Bob’s,” said Holzman.

According to R. Jay Magill, executive editor of DoubleTake, Matt Damon has been a fan of Coles since the two collaborated on an independent study during Damon’s days as an undergraduate at Harvard. For those celebrities previously unfamiliar with the magazine, DoubleTake’s upstanding reputation proved persuasive, said Magill.

COMMERCIAL COMPROMISE

Several bouts with financial troubles that threatened the magazine’s demise have challenged DoubleTake’s reputation in the past few years.

Since the magazine’s inception in 1995, DoubleTake’s financial problems have garnered substantial media attention—and this is not the first time a celebrity has volunteered to help the magazine stay afloat. In Febuary 2003, Bruce Springsteen played two benefit concerts to raise money for the magazine. The shows, both of which sold out, allowed the magazine to pay off sizeable debts to contributors, some of whom had been waiting years for payment.

But Magill insists the magazine is on its way to becoming a viable endeavor.

While DoubleTake’s creators were previously unwilling to allow any commercialization of the magazine’s content, they now say compromise may be necessary in order to achieve long-term success. After working with publishing consultants over the past year, DoubleTake has crafted a five-year plan in which it hopes to gain more mass appeal, while preserving its integrity.

“We’re willing to cede way more to advertising,” said Magill, “while trying to maintain the magazine’s independence.”

DoubleTake hopes that the online auction will generate $100,000. It will hold a larger auction in the fall—with roughly 150 lots—as it works towards its goal of $2.5 million, the projected amount needed for the re-launch.

—Staff writer Morgan R. Grice can be reached at mgrice@fas.harvard.edu.

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