Dolly Parton donation strategy: ‘I just give from my heart’

NEW YORK (AP) — Dolly Parton laughs at the idea that she is some sort of secret philanthropist.

Sure, social media sleuths did piece together this week that the country superstar had been quietly paying for the band uniforms of many Tennessee high schools for years. And yes, it did take decades for her to reveal that she used the songwriting royalties she earned from Whitney Houston’s version of “I Will Always Love You” to purchase a strip mall in Nashville to support the surrounding Black neighborhood in her honor. Oh, and it did eventually come out that Parton had donated $1 million for research that helped create the Moderna vaccine for COVID-19.

“I don’t do it for attention,” she told The Associated Press in an interview, shortly before she received the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy at Gotham Hall in New York City Thursday night. “But look! I’m getting a lot of attention by doing it.”

In fact, Parton believes she gets too much attention for her philanthropic work, which ranges from promoting childhood literacy to supporting those affected by natural disasters and providing numerous college scholarships through her Dollywood Foundation.

“I get paid more attention than maybe some others that are doing more than me,” Parton said, adding that she hopes that attention inspires more people to help others.

<p>Dolly Parton poses for a photo before the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy ceremony Thursday in New York.</p>

AP Photo/Andres Kudacki

Dolly Parton poses for a photo before the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy ceremony Thursday in New York.

In her Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy speech, Parton said she doesn’t really have a strategy for her donations.

“I just give from my heart,” she said. “I never know what I’m going to do or why I’m gonna do it. I just see a need and if I can fill it, then I will.”

One need Parton does focus on filling is fostering a love of reading in children. Her Imagination Library initiative sends a free book every month to children under five whose parents request them. Currently, Parton sends out about 2 million free books each month.

“This actually started because my father could not read and write and I saw how crippling that could be,” she said. “My dad was a very smart man. And I often wondered what he could have done had he been able to read and write. So that is the inspiration.”

That program continues to expand. And last month, the state of California partnered with Imagination Library to make the program available to the millions of children under five in the state.

“That is a big deal,” she said. “That’s a lot of children. And we’re so honored and proud to have all the communities that make that happen because I get a lot of glory for the work a whole lot of people are doing.”

Parton said she’ll accept that attention because it furthers the cause. “I’m proud to be the voice out there doing what I can to get more books into the hands of more children,” she said.