Ray of Light Foundation is a private grantmaking foundation funded by pop music star Madonna Louise Ciccone, known by the stage name Madonna. The foundation’s grantees are a mix of traditional charitable non-profits and left-of-center advocacy groups, especially pro-Palestinian groups. It also provides substantial funding for projects influenced by Madonna’s interest in Kabbalah, a Jewish mystical sect.
The foundation shares its name with Madonna’s seventh studio album, released in March 1998, just before the foundation was established. 1
Activities and Grants
Ray of Light Foundation has a substantial international program, funding projects such as disaster relief in Haiti, programs for street children in the Philippines, and girls’ education in Pakistan and Afghanistan. 2 It has also supported charter schools and a boxing gym for at-risk youth in Madonna’s native Detroit. 3
The foundation supports projects in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and pro-Palestinian advocacy groups. It pays the salaries of teachers in UN-funded schools in the Gaza Strip, stepping in after the Trump administration cut funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA),4 which the administration called an “irredeemably flawed operation” and an impediment to peace efforts. 5
It also funds a women’s farm microloan program through the Palestine Fair Trade Association. 6
In May 2019, during the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest held in Tel Aviv, Israel, Madonna was criticized on the one hand for funding these grantees by pro-Israeli commentators, and on the other by the anti-Israeli Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement for attending the contest. 7 In the United States, the foundation has supported the radical-left anti-war group Code Pink,8 which advocates for Palestinian interests and BDS, though it later criticized Madonna for appearing at Eurovision. 9 The foundation also supports Americans for Peace Now, which advocates for diplomatic recognition of the Palestinian territories as a sovereign state. 10
In response to the 2016 Islamist terror attack by Omar Mateen on the Pulse Nightclub, Madonna announced a partnership with the National LGBTQ Task Force to expand that group’s “violence prevention work, especially as it affects transgender women of color.” 11
The foundation gave nearly $4.4 million between 2001 and 2006 to the Kabbalah Center in Los Angeles;12 Kabbalah is a form of Jewish mysticism that Madonna became involved in in the 2000s. In 2007, the Foundation followed up those gifts with more than $2.6 million, the vast bulk of its giving for that year. 13
With Michael Berg, co-founder of the Kabbalah Center, Madonna founded Raising Malawi, a charity that funds orphanages, schools, and clinics in the East African country. 14
Ray of Light Foundation is a frequent contributor to Raising Malawi, including a $1.3 million grant in 2016. 15 In 2011, the board of Raising Malawi was terminated and the organization abandoned plans to build a girls’ school when auditors discovered “outlandish expenditures on salaries, cars, office space and a golf course membership, free housing and a car and driver for the school’s director.” 16 Of the $3.8 million spent on the project, only $850,000 was paid out in Malawi—the rest being spent in Los Angeles by Berg and the Kabbalah Center—and no construction ever occurred. 17
The foundation’s only director is Madonna’s sister, Melanie Ciccone. 18
- “Ray of Light.” Madonna.com. Accessed December 16, 2019. https://www.madonna.com/discography/album/7/.
- “Organizations.” Ray of Light Foundation. Accessed December 16, 2019. http://www.rayoflight.org/organizations.
- McCollum, Brian. “Madonna pledges up to $100,000 for Detroit Prep charter school.” Detroit Free-Press. November 1, 2018. Accessed December 16, 2019. https://www.freep.com/story/entertainment/music/brian-mccollum/2018/11/01/madonna-detroit-prep-charter-school-donate/1824864002/.
- “Ray of Light 2018 Impact.” Ray of Light Foundation. Accessed December 16, 2019. http://www.rayoflight.org/news/.
- DeYoung, Karen; Eglash, Ruth; and Balousha, Hazem. “U.S. ends aid to United Nations agency supporting Palestinian refugees.” Washington Post. August 31, 2018. Accessed December 18, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/us-aid-cuts-wont-end-the-right-of-return-palestinians-say/2018/08/31/8e3f25b4-ad0c-11e8-8a0c-70b618c98d3c_story.html.
- “Palestine Fair Trade Association.” Ray of Light Foundation. Accessed December 16, 2019. http://www.rayoflight.org/palestine-fair-trade-association/.
- Trew, Bel. “Tourists come face-to-face with Eurovision’s darker side: ‘No pride in apartheid.’” The Independent. May 22, 2019. Accessed on Westlaw on December 16, 2019 (2019 WLNR 15059607).
- Ray of Light Foundation, Return of a Private Foundation (Form 990-PF), 2014, Part XV, Line 3.
- “Don’t artwash Israeli crimes: Cancel your performance at Eurovision.” Code Pink. Accessed December 16, 2019. https://www.codepink.org/madonna.
- “A New Path Towards Peace.” MadonnaTribe.com. May 14, 2019. Accessed December 16, 2019. http://news.madonnatribe.com/en/2019/a-new-path-towards-peace/.
- “Madonna Supports the National LGBTQ Task Force.” National LGBTQ Task Force. June 26, 2019. Accessed December 16, 2019. https://www.thetaskforce.org/madonnasupportsthetaskforce/.
- Murray, Paula. “That’s how much money Madonna has given to sect: $4,379,397.” Glasgow Daily Record. July 14, 2006. Accessed on Westlaw on December 16, 2019 (2006 WLNR 12464191).
- Ray of Light Foundation, Return of a Private Foundation (Form 990-PF), 2007, Statement 9.
- Caruso, Michelle. “Madonna Opens Her Heart to African Kids.” New York Daily News. August 4, 2006. Accessed on Westlaw on December 19, 2016 (2006 WLNR 22240421).
- Ray of Light Foundation, Return of a Private Foundation (Form 990-PF), 2016, Part XV, Line 3.
- Nagourney, Adam. “Madonna’s Charity Fails in Bid to Finance School.” New York Times. March 24, 2011. Accessed December 16, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/25/us/25madonna.html.
- Barrett, Wayne. “Madonna’s Kabbalah Disaster in Malawi.” Newsweek. April 13, 2011. Access December 18, 2019. https://www.newsweek.com/madonnas-kabbalah-disaster-malawi-66447.
- Ray of Light Foundation, Return of a Private Foundation (Form 990-PF), 2017, Part I, Line 25 and Part II, Lines 10a-b.