The Philanthropic Side of Elvis Presley
Do you have a bucket list? For many years, going to Graceland, the home of the late Elvis Presley in Memphis, Tenn., has been at the top of my bucket list. I spent many hours creating excuses why I could not go on this visit. Finally, I decided to go. I am writing this blog post from the Guest House Hotel at Graceland, next to the Graceland estate of Elvis. This new hotel just celebrated its first anniversary.
I have spent the past several days touring his estate and the new multi-million-dollar addition to the Graceland property that opened in March. If you love Elvis, you would enjoy seeing this amazing array of his memorabilia. I spent hours looking at his clothes, records, cars, airplanes and many other items. Besides Elvis the entertainer, I was naturally interested in his philanthropy. His display on philanthropy aroused my interest.
In his home on the Graceland estate, there were numerous awards regarding his philanthropy. These came in a variety of forms. He made significant donations without writing them off as tax deductions. Elvis would purchase items and give them away to benefit charities through auctions. He made guest appearances to benefit charities. He played many free concerts with the proceeds going to charities. He quietly gave money to those in need. There are countless stories of his giving that was rooted in his family values.
The following excerpt was taken from a display at Elvis Presley’s Memphis Graceland facility:
“When Elvis first achieved his extraordinary level of fame, he used it to help raise money and awareness for many causes. He lent his name and image to the American Cancer Society, American library Association, March of Dimes, USS Arizona Memorial and other organizations. He gave thousands of teddies bears that fans sent him to be distributed to children’s hospitals.
In 1961, he started a tradition of distributing checks to more than 50 charitable organizations, donating more than $100,000 a year. He supported St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis. He also gave anonymously. He paid off people’s debts and mortgages. We can never really know the full extent of Elvis’ charity.”
To further his philanthropy, the Elvis Presley Foundation was established as a 501(c)(3) organization. It was first known as the Elvis Presley Memorial Foundation. It was formed in 1984 to honor his memory (he died in 1977) by promoting philanthropy. The foundation, for example, created the Elvis Presley Endowed Scholarship Fund at the University of Memphis to assist students in music, film, television and theater. The foundation also assists other charities in the Memphis community, especially focusing on arts, education and children’s programs.
Elvis’ only child, Lisa Marie, founded the Presley Charitable Foundation in 2007. The organization established the Presley Place-New Orleans, a transitional housing facility for homeless families. The foundation provides rent-free housing, child daycare, career and financial counseling, family management guidance, and other tools for the homeless. Through this process they gain self-esteem and independence. The Presley Place-Memphis opened its doors in 2001. Proceeds from a Lisa Marie Elvis song, “In the Ghetto,” went directly to the charitable foundation. The Presley Charitable Foundation is also a 501(c)(3) organization.
According to IHeartElvis.net, some of Lisa Marie’s best memories of her father stem from his generous nature. She remembered him giving to people to help those in need. Elvis gave more than 200 Cadillacs to others during his lifetime. Every Christmas, he gave to more than 50 charities in the Memphis area including the Salvation Army. He loved everyone more than he loved himself. His first free concert was probably when he was 19 on the Louisiana Hayride. He never turned down the opportunity to help the less fortunate.
In Luke 12:48, it says “… to whom much is given much will be required.” Elvis Presley was given a great deal and returned it to others during his lifetime and through his foundation that lives today. In philanthropy, he set an example for other celebrities to follow by giving in so many ways. Because of my career, I constantly seek to learn about those who give joyously and without expectation of return. In researching Elvis, you can find numerous stories of his generosity. While I will always remember Elvis as a great entertainer, I will have even greater admiration for his “anonymous philanthropy” and giving spirit.
I will always remember my visit to Graceland and learning more about Elvis Presley. It is always fun to check off an item at the top of a bucket list.
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last nine years and has had the CFRE designation for the last 25 years. He has also been a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals for over 35 years. He received his doctorate from West Virginia University with an emphasis in philanthropy, masters from Marshall University with an emphasis on resource development and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with emphasis in marketing/management. Currently he is executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org.