Pari Livermore, a matchmaker to many Silicon Valley elites, has become famous for the unconventional bargain she strikes with her clients: Instead of paying her directly for her services, they instead donate to her chosen charities. Glowing profiles in the New York Times and GQ, among others, have attested to the thousands of singles who paid to attend her "Red & White" parties and to private clients who paid $10,000 a year or more for her services. She often says her introductions have led to hundreds of marriages.
Over the years, Livermore has championed a variety of charities, but at least since 2007 she has directed some clients to support an organization called Spotlight on Heroes, which she described as a charity helping underserved kids in Northern California and other causes.
But BuzzFeed News has found that Spotlight on Heroes is not in fact a charity.
A page from the Red & White Ball's website explaining the charities that will benefit from the event.
State regulators in California, where Livermore's business is located, and in Pennsylvania, where she lives part-time, said Spotlight on Heroes has never been registered as a charity with their offices. The Internal Revenue Service does not recognize it as a charity, an important distinction for donors since it means their contributions are not tax-deductible. The address to which Livermore has instructed at least some of her clients to send their checks is not an office but the six-bedroom home that she shares with her husband.
Responding to questions about the organization's status, Livermore pleaded ignorance. "I'm a great fundraiser," she said, "but not a good businesswoman."
She said she had assumed Spotlight on Heroes could operate as a charity because of its affiliation with the California Study, a small educational nonprofit for which she has raised money. "I made a mistake and was naive and too busy to question the California Study about including Spotlight in their nonprofit," she said in an email. "It was not their fault but misjudgment on my part."
Ken Nemzer, the California Study's treasurer and Livermore's long-time friend, also described the matter as an innocent mistake. Praising her generosity, he added, "I'm sure it was also a matter of not really understanding, as most people don't, the importance of having a paper record of the matter" that demonstrates donations are going to a tax-exempt charity.
But if Livermore claims only a hazy understanding of the organization's tax status, she struck a very different tone in a recent email exchange with a potential client.
That potential client was Nancy Levine, director of business development at an executive search firm. She was wary of online dating, she said, so after reading about Livermore in the New York Times, Levine decided to reach out.
"She asked me for $1,000," said Levine. "That's a lot for me. But I thought, OK, for disadvantaged kids, OK, it's worthwhile." Just to be sure, however, she checked with the California attorney general's office, which told her that Spotlight on Heroes was not registered.
"Hi Pari," Levine wrote in an email. "I'm mailing you a check today. For my records, is this tax deductible?"
Livermore replied, "It is definitely tax deductible."
Livermore told BuzzFeed News that regardless of Spotlight on Heroes' official classification, she had used the money as donors would have wanted — to fund programs at an underserved school and to cover the costs of fundraising for other causes. "During the last 30 years, I have been able to do some pretty wonderful things thru my matchmaking and nonprofit efforts," she wrote in an email. "When I married those two worlds, it became a win-win situation for everyone."
She pointed to the Minnie Cannon Elementary School, two hours north of San Francisco. Lisa Corsetti, a secretary there, said Livermore "has done several scholarships," for the school as well as special events like a daffodil planting and a Christmas celebration.
Livermore said that she raised between $50,000 and $60,000 for Spotlight on Heroes, only a small portion of the $5 million she said she has raised for prominent nonprofits over the past 30 years.
Asked to provide documentation of how much money Spotlight on Heroes had distributed, or to whom, however, Livermore declined, citing first a concern for her clients' privacy and then, the next day, the health of her husband, who she said "has been extremely ill."
Last week, dressed in a sheer lace gown, Livermore, sat on her porch in the Philadelphia suburbs and described her extraordinary personal journey. Raised in a suburb of Chicago, she became a flight attendant for TWA and was promoted to management at a time, she said, when few other women were. Charming and intelligent, she made her way into San Francisco's rarefied social circles, eventually marrying Putnam Livermore, a member of one of the old-money families in the area.
Her compelling personal story — a lonely suburban teenager who became a socially prominent philanthropist — has helped her win attention for her matchmaking services. Some elements of that story have proven difficult to confirm, however. An article in the San Francisco Examiner said that she received an undergraduate degree from New York University and a master's degree in literature from the University of California at Berkeley. Asked to confirm those details, she said, "My credentials have been vetted by many magazines, newspapers and television stations in the U.S."
But both universities say they have no record of either Pari Livermore or Pari Caldwell, her name at birth. Asked about the discrepancy, Livermore hinted that the degrees were granted under a third name, but she declined to say what it is.
Since Levine, her potential client, first raised concerns with state and federal regulators, Livermore said she has gotten in touch with donors to explain that donations to Spotlight on Heroes were not tax-deductible.
A couple will file amended returns, she said. Others told her they never took a deduction. But she said most people come to her for love, not a write-off. "One dashing attorney confided that the only two women he ever loved in his life were introduced to him by me," she wrote in an email, "and that is worth 1000 times more than any tax deduction."