Hands Out

Others may call it charity or philanthropy, but one entrepreneur looked at San Franciscans' penchant for giving away money and called it a business opportunity. Behold: Benefit, a glossy new magazine devoted to S.F.'s "lifestyle of giving."

People who write $50 checks to Amnesty International won't find themselves reflected here — there are no stories about what to do with all those free address labels. Instead, the 96-page premiere issue is stocked with society photos of tuxedoed men and gowned women smiling politely at various charity galas. It's a magazine about people who give away wads of cash and look fabulous while doing it.

The bimonthly publication is essentially a vehicle for nonprofits to advertise their good works to wealthy city residents, who may then be inspired to shower them with dough. Tim Gaskin, Benefit's editor in chief and CEO, says the cause of raising charity money is preeminent, and the rest is just packaging.

"It must engage you like a city magazine," explains Gaskin, insisting that his audience expects fancy touches like society pictures and fashion spreads. "Forgive us for looking high-gloss and really professional. We have to fool people into reading it for the first time."

Benefit is also notable for its cozy mix of editorial and advertisements. The cover article in the first issue buffed the image of Gavin Newsom as philanthropist, pages away from a full-page ad for the PlumpJack Group, the thriving business Newsom founded. A full-page ad for Harry Denton's Starlight Room glittered in the middle of the first issue, while a fashion spread referenced the nightclub and the back pages held a feature in which Denton told the story of his success.

Is the magazine offering rose-tinted coverage in exchange for advertising money? No, says Gaskin; as an artist and the host of a cable show about gay San Francisco, he just happens to know the city's major players, donors, and socialites. "I went to my friends and said, 'Will you buy an ad in the first issue?'" he says. "Harry Denton was the first person I went to. Harry and I travel to Rio every year."

The magazine is a for-profit venture, and its ads go for $3,500 to $6,300. However, Gaskin says he plans to start a foundation within the next year to give away some proceeds — perhaps needy candidates should consider taking out an ad.

 
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