The Power of Celebrity (Part I)


The other day I came across an interesting article about celebrities and their involvement with charitable causes. Now if you know me well, it shouldn’t surprise you that I was reading up on the topic. I live, eat, breathe and study the ways in which entertainers use their influence to change the world. Heck, it’s one of the pillars of reasoning behind my career change from communications to non-profit.

Anyway, usually celebrities are heralded for their efforts. The public perception is that the work they are doing is close to their hearts and they are giving it their all: going to great lengths to bring awareness (and most importantly, dollars) to a worthwhile cause. You’ll often find that in these features, journalists will stray from keeping a neutral tone to infusing bits of ‘warms and fuzzies’. At the end of the day, the celeb looks good, the media gains ad dollars and the organization or cause gets press. All is well with the world.

This article was quite different to what I am used to seeing. It questioned the intentions of African-American celebrities who are supporting numerous causes and hinted that none of the celebs are ‘married’ to a mission: they just float from cause to cause and the end results really don’t count for much. The author goes on to note that the famous folks of yester-year were activists: getting in the trenches to bring about change.

My feelings are strong on this issue. It is the case that when a celebrity supports a cause it’s a powerful endorsement. However, what you do after that endorsement is pivotal. I believe that there are many celebrities that have gotten it down to a science (more on them in another post). However, they are the exception and not the rule.

I’ve learned over the past years that in order for a difference to be made, it has to be tangible, measurable and on-going. One should not limit themselves to handing out coats during the winter, showing up on a playground to paint a mural or appearing at a gala to accept an award. In order for a true impact to be made, the results must be real. During times like these, non- profits feel it the most as they probably were operating with limited resources before the current state of the economy. Even the biggest, brightest and best are in need right now and will be the last to emerge from these challenging times. Financial support isn’t easy to come by and foundations and individuals are looking closely at bottom lines to determine who will get their dollars. They are asking questions such as, “What is the success rate of your program?”; “What is the overall operating budget of your program?”; “What is the 5-year plan for your program?”

Now celebrity, I am not saying that you should have the answers to all of these questions, but you should have a gist of them or certify that those running the causes which you support do.

So, how about asking an accountant from your record label to donate a few hours to helping an organization get their books in order? Tweet about your movie release AND the community center based in the heart of your hometown. Get a marketing rep to sit down with a non-profit’s Executive Director and go over their brand awareness strategy. The fact is, non-profit organizations need all of these things to keep their lights on, staff working and continue on with the business of saving the world.

Or maybe you should start up your own cause and hire those in the industry who are experts in making change…

At the very least, you can be like Mr. Bill Clinton and fly to another country to save two journalists from peril. Now that’s celebrity status at its best.


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