Sara Weinstein knew from a very early age that she wanted to make a positive difference in the world. Fresh out of Hamilton College, she cut her teeth working for then-Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.). Weinsten next secured a position with NARAL Pro-Choice NY where she ran the Low-Income Access Project to ensure that needy women had access to a full range of reproductive healthcare services under Medicaid. She would go on to work for New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.
It was after the birth of her first son — who is now 11 — that Weinstein decided she could use her skill set in a way that would both provide a “work-life balance” and also make a significant impact in the philanthropic arena. Thus began her foray as an independent consultant, venturing to provide solutions for charities that needed assistance with corporate sponsorships.
It was a friend whom she’d met during her tenure with the Bloomberg administration that suggested Weinstein meet Harrie Bakst, a fiery young gun just out of NYU who was also starting his own consultancy firm in the philanthropy space. Bakst also happened to have been a gifted athlete in college, with a keen eye on marrying those two passions: charity work with sports.
“Harrie had a similar vision for a way to connect cause organizations with the private sector, and how to do it under the umbrella of pop culture,” says Weinstein. “But he was looking at it through the lens of sports, and as soon as I heard the sports part, I politely thanked [my friend] and said, ‘Sure, I’ll meet him at some point.’ And then I moved on.”
Two years later, Weinstein was having coffee with another friend who also suggested she meet Bakst. This time, Weinstein agreed. They met, felt an instant connection in terms of shared career goals and philosophical outlook, decided to merge companies and never looked back.
Weinstein Carnegie Philanthropic Group was born in 2010. Among their first clients: PCI Media, which creates social-action campaigns through the use of media; A&E network; and Iraq-born humanitarian and women’s rights activist Zainab Salbi.
“It was an instant match where I really met someone who had the same vision of what I knew could be possible but hadn’t done yet on my own,” says Weinstein. “And I think our shared vision from day one was always that we could be these great connectors for causes, for companies and people who are in pop culture, whether that’s through sports, or entertainment or any other segment.”
Bakst’s own impetus for venturing into the world of philanthropy PR is itself a remarkable and inspiring tale. A senior at NYU, he was set to travel to South Africa to present his university honors thesis on how the 2010 FIFA World Cup was helping the local South African community from tourism and economic perspectives when a doctor diagnosed him with a rare form of salivary gland cancer called adenoid cystic carcinoma. Instead of heading to South Africa, Bakst spent his second semester senior year “as a cancer patient” at Memorial Sloan Kettering. But through grit and determination, save for one week of school during which he had surgery, Bakst did not miss any classes, graduating summa cum laude.
“This is really an influential point in my life, as it gave me a very important perspective on the non-profit industry” Bakst says. “I kind of joke and say, it gave me the ground-level view of being a cancer patient, of being a beneficiary of the organizations for which people raise money for. The cancer I had was rare, and it doesn’t get the funding it should from the government, from donors. And I didn’t accept that.”
Once Bakst was well again he started volunteering as a fundraiser at Memorial Sloan Kettering.
“I decided to pick up the phone and call the Coca-Cola office in Westchester, New York,” he says. “I reached the switchboard, asked to speak to someone in the marketing department, told them my whole story and they gave a $10,000 donation. It was nothing big, but Sloane Kettering comes back to me and it was like I pulled a rabbit out of hat, because they had never gotten money out of a corporate budget. They were like, ‘How did you get this money?’ ”
That was just the beginning. Per Weinstein, “over the past 10 years, WCPG has assisted their clients in raising hundreds of millions of dollars and architecting impact campaigns that unite brands, talent and charities for good.”
Among those charities: Beyond Type 1, founded by Nick Jonas; the James Black Foundation, founded by the tennis star to raise money for early detection of cancer research; the 2019 AKTIV Against Cancer Award with Chip Gaines; the 2019 Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement’s Move for Minds initiative; Save the Children, which champions the rights of children worldwide; Give Love, Patricia Arquette’s ecological sanitation organization; and Community Organization Relief Effort (Core) — formerly J/P Haitian Relief Organization — founded by Sean Penn following the devastating 2010 Haiti earthquake, which killed 250,000 Haitians.
Today, Core, co-founded by org CEO Ann Lee, is on the ground working with individuals around the world as they cope with events ranging from natural disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires to the ravaging effects of COVID-19.
“Working with Sean and Core has become the professional pleasure of my life — and I’ve been with them for 10 years,” says Weinstein. “Our company and their organization have grown up together, and I’m really proud to have been with him the whole time.”
To date, WCPG has helped Core raise more than $40 million.
“Core was built on a foundation of like-minded partners and individuals,” says Penn. “Sara and WCPG have been some of our longest-standing partners, who not only supported us from the very conception of the organization, but have continued to evolve with us and the changing landscape over the past 10 years. WCPG has a dedicated capacity to serve organizations and a commitment to the greater good that we have seen firsthand, especially in our COVID-19 relief efforts over the past six months.”
Over the past decade, Weinstein and Bakst have turned a desire to do social good into a business venture that has bettered the lives of countless individuals.
“Through Cycle for Survival, we’ve been part of a team that has helped raise $260 million for Memorial Sloan Kettering,” says Bakst of the nationwide indoor cycling event. “It’s obviously a cause very near and dear to me, and the impact has been amazing. All that money gets spent within six months of being raised, poured directly into research labs.”
In 2014, Fast Co. named WCPG as one of the World’s Top 10 Most Innovative Companies in sports.
Looking ahead, WCPG is widening its breadth by launching a content division. This new vertical will be based out of the company’s L.A. branch, run by Zoe Katz, who joined the team in 2015, and focus on five main areas: cause integration, mission-driven storytelling, brand integration and promotions, impact funding and cause campaigns.
“When we first started, I think we struggled to articulate what our mission was,” says Weinstein of WCPG’s early days. “But then we had an ‘aha’ moment when we started to refer to ourselves as a cause agency, in the same model as a PR agency or a marketing agency. Because people really understand the agency model and we’re no different, except we exist just to help good causes grow.”
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