Philanthropy is cause célèbre for the celebrities in Hollywood. It is a parasitic relationship as non-profit organizations can use the might and reach of celebrities for their cause and for the famous it is another way to be clicked and for once for the right cause.
Not all celebrities are looking for publicity. There are many out there who genuinely want to use their reach to do some good. George Clooney, Sean Penn, Angelina Jolie, Bono, Brad Pitt, Ben Affleck, Don Cheadle Oprah Winfrey, Alicia Keys, Ben Stiller, Susan Sarandon and many more.
So much so that an entire industry has risen to manage the celebrities manage their cause. There are studios who employ people who sift through non-profit organizations and match them to the celebrities cause or interest. The talent agency CAA and United Talent Agency (UTA)has a whole department matching artistes they represent to the right charitable issue. There is Chris Talbott who runs Cause Effective Agency, John Pendergast who runs Enough Project. They act as matchmakers, diplomats, and media consultants. Oxfam and Red Cross have celebrity directors on their rolls.
All the main UN organisations, not just Unicef, now have “goodwill ambassadors” from Hollywood: Angelina Jolie represents the UN High Commission for Refugees, Drew Barrymore the World Food Programme.
The talent agencies and managers are the ones who have sometimes led these people into the right direction. When Angelina Jolie wanted to do something for war refugees after her experience in Cambodia while filming, it was Michelle Kydd Lee at CAA Foundation and John Pendergast who helped her.
Some retain firms like the Global Philanthropy Group, which, according to a representative, offers “comprehensive philanthropic management.”
Celebrities are a largely cost-effective way for not-for-profits to reach a lot of eyeballs, says Zack Brisson, who worked for John Prendergast's anti-genocide Enough Project. But cost effective isn't the same as cost free. There's a staffing cost, there's an intellectual cost, there's a time cost, there's a brand-risk cost. If you manage it correctly, the value you get is worthwhile. If not ...
Finding a Good Match
The obvious benefit is the feel-good aspect of helping others, says Paula Greenfield, vice president of The Celebrity Source, a Los Angeles-based agency that links celebrities to charitable causes. And, of course, they benefit from a public-relations standpoint. The more good they do, the more the public loves them.
It is good to remember that celebrities are a constant in public’s mind and to get a cause which fits their image means that it gets that much more attention from the public. Getting Mariska Hargitay of Law and Order t to talk about women abuse through the Joyful Heart Foundation made perfect sense and branding.
Educate and Advocate
The industry veterans advice the charitable organizations to handle the celebrities as any corporate donors or partners. First build a relationship with them. Educate and then advocate. PSI , a health non-profit organisation recruited Ashely Judd to work on malaria prevention and HIV infection and healthy reproduction. PSI organized an overseas visit with a representative to expose her to their cause. She now is a staunch supporter and undertakes visits, addresses the media and politicians for the cause.
As a PSI representative puts it, “We don't put them in front of media or leaders or donors until they're comfortable and we're comfortable.
Another big plus is the access that these celebrities , especially the A listers have to policy makers. They get appointments with presidents and ministers that no programme director can manage. So it makes perfect sense for non-profit organizations and charities to invest in them . Both in terms of intellect, time and money.
Not all celebrities operate on the international agenda of refugees, war strife and global poverty and upliftment. There are many who serve quietly and as effectively.
Keeping It Quiet
David Arquette, serves on the board of Feeding America, the country’s largest hunger-relief organisation. Ryan Reynolds ran the New York marathon to raise $100,000 for the Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research — Reynolds’s father is afflicted by the disease.
Then there are some who know how to use it as a fashion accessory like Paris Hilton who announced that she was going to go to Rwanda, right after she served a 23-day prison term. She never made it there though. Lindsay Lohan has tried to associate herself with child trafficking in India.
The positives of the effort far overshadow the publicity stunts that are carried out by some.