Saturday, May 18, 2024

No Labor Day Telethon: MDA, $23 Million in the Red, 60% Down in Contributions, Lost without Jerry Lewis


Once upon a time, Labor Day weekend was all about the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon and Jerry’s Kids, thanks to Jerry Lewis. That went on for nearly half a century.

But in 2011, the scourges at MDA dumped Jerry unceremoniously and the charity went into a nosedive from which they’ve never recovered.

Lewis died in 2017 at age 91 but the MDA fundraising had been dead for six years.

For a while MDA tried having smaller telethons without Lewis. They were disasters. Now they have nothing at all.

Last year’s Form 990 — for the year 2020– paints a very sad picture for MDA. They finished the year with MINUS $23 million in net assets or fund balances. MINUS.

In 2019, MDA listed total revenue at just shy of $100 million (that includes mostly corporate donations).

In 2020, revenue was at $51 million.

The most serious MDA numbers are in donations and grants they make to organizations and people in need. In 2019, like 2018, that number hovered around $26 million. In 2020, it was down to $15 million.

Even salaries, which once soared, are in the toilet. In 2020, total salaries were $31.2 million, down from $47.8 million. But that number reflects people out in the field. MDA still listed a dozen execs making between $169K and $435K. The staff has not suffered.

Say what you will about Jerry Lewis, a tremendously talented performer and filmmaker. He was rough on his family and worse on his friends. He made a lot of people miserable. He also made them laugh. And he loved MDA and those kids. He would be sorely disappointed about the failure of MDA to maintain itself.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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