Both the COVID-19 pandemic and surging demands for racial justice are inspiring some emerging donors to step up their giving, either increasing support for groups they’ve backed in the past or finding new avenues through organizations responding in the moment. One such example is young Hollywood power couple Cash Warren and Jessica Alba, who recently got involved with REFORM Alliance—a criminal justice reform group that has attracted several high-profile donors. I recently spoke with Warren to find out more about their past giving, causes they support, and what we might expect in the future.
Los Angeles-area natives Alba and Warren married in 2008 in Beverly Hills. Alba currently stars in television police procedural “L.A.’s Finest” with Gabrielle Union. Warren, meanwhile, is a Hollywood film producer and co-founder of Pair of Thieves, an American basics apparel company that makes socks, underwear and shirts. Warren’s company recently partnered with Madonna’s Ray of Light Foundation, among others, to distribute 200,000 surgical masks through REFORM Alliance to Rikers Island, the Tennessee Department of Corrections and several other incarceration facilities.
Alba, 39, and Warren, 41, do not yet have a formal family foundation. Like many other emerging givers we cover, much of their social impact work takes place through their companies, including Pair of Thieves. However, with a combined estimated net worth of $220 million, the couple has the time and capacity for more giving down the line.
“My wife and I are very passionate about philanthropy. Criminal justice reform has been on our radars for a while, but now I’m excited to really step up here,” Warren said in our interview.
This has been a running theme in recent months—donors digging into their established interest areas to provide more support during a historic moment. Warren tells me Pair of Thieves had already donated over 100,000 masks to hospitals and folks working on the frontline. But when he connected with REFORM, he also began to understand the deep need for PPE and other protections in prisons and jails, as well.
Like nursing homes, America’s incarceration facilities are major hotspots for COVID-19 infection. The number of prison inmates known to be infected has doubled during the past month to more than 68,000, and prison deaths tied to the virus have also risen by 73% since mid-May, according to the New York Times.
For Warren, the education that REFORM Alliance has provided is key. “I can’t wait to work with them more. They really help educate you on what’s going on in jails and prisons and target areas where your efforts can be impactful. A lot of times, you’re dealing with a country that’s not empathetic enough toward this cause,” he adds.
I spoke with Warren right around the time that the George Floyd video was released, and he was especially emphatic about the need for urgent change.
The donation to REFORM might be the couple’s first in the criminal justice space, but their growing philanthropy has prioritized underserved populations. After Warren graduated from Yale University in 2001, and started as a budding film producer, he became volunteer No. 2 with LIFT, the national nonprofit that empowers families to break the cycle of poverty. Warren’s Yale classmate Kirsten Lodal founded the organization and Warren serves on the Los Angeles advisory board.
Warren and Alba are also keen on Baby2Baby, an L.A.-based nonprofit that provides new or gently used items to babies in need. Alba serves on the board of Baby2Bay, whose membership includes other celebrities like Kelly Rowland and Nicole Richie. During the COVID-19 crisis, the organization has already distributed more than 20 million basic essentials to children across the country, including diapers, hygiene products, formula and more.
Pair of Thieves runs a Blackout Whiteout Give Back Program, which has donated several million pairs of socks to those in need. Socks are the most requested clothing item in homeless shelters, and Pair of Thieves has worked with places like United Way and Knock Knock Give a Sock. Last year, the apparel company also worked with the Trevor Project for Pride, and has plans to work with them again.
“For us, there’s only so much time, but if we’re able to donate items and help someone’s mission, we’re all on board for that. For us, it’s about social justice and equality and breaking patterns and cycles,” Warren adds. Regarding his multi-decade involvement with LIFT, Warren says he likes how hands-on and customized their problem solving is. And because it’s not a huge organization, he feels like he’s able to get his hands dirty.
“We try to do our part. A lot of businesses these days, it’s also in their DNA to give back,” Warren says.
This serves as a good reminder that Warren and Alba’s giving is still in its early stages. Still very much engaged in Hollywood and other business ventures, they could roll out a family foundation and ramp up giving in years to come. However, this rundown of their interests to date provides some insights on what the couple might back with greater cash down the line. “What I try to do is find innovative business models that are trying to tackle large, systemic issues in different ways,” Warren says.