Each month, we highlight a celebrity in a specific charity and have them talk about their work on behalf of their cause. This month,we speak with actor and musician Kevin Bacon, who has parlayed the concept of the popular "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" pop-culture game into a social-networking site that motivates people to be more charitable.
Q: What is Sixdegrees.org and when was it officially launched?
A: It was launched the 18th of January. It’s a charitable site where anybody can go on and if there is anything that they read about or have some kind of an experience in their life that affects them and they’re interested in making a donation or trying to find a way to help out, volunteer, etc., we’ll guide them toward organizations that are supporting any cause. (There are) over a million causes, a million different charities that we have up on the site and (we) make it incredibly easy to donate and help out. It’s as easy as buying something online at Amazon or whatever. The other thing you could do is, if you’re interested in seeing what celebrities care about and are concerned about, we also have a pretty large and impressive group of well-known people and you can often make a donation to their causes. The third element of it is you could become a celebrity for your own cause and create what we call a badge, which is a little kind of card that adds you or a picture of you and links to organizations that you’re supporting, and you could talk about why it means something to you.
Q: What inspired you to create this organization?
A: I was looking at the fact that that this kind of Six Degrees concept just seemed to come up again and again and again and again. People make reference to it all the time when they’re talking about everything — business and sports and politics. People come up to me on the street and talk to me about it, and I was a point in my life where I was feeling like maybe I hadn’t really done enough in my life, in terms of just giving back. I was looking at Paul Newman first, since he raised so much money with the fact that he just likes to cook and make salad dressing. I looked at the work that Bono and others have done. So I was thinking, at this next kind of chapter in my life, what do I have that I’m very much branded with, and the Six Degrees thing just seems to keep coming up.
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So since I wasn’t getting rich on it (laughs), I figured maybe there was a way for some kind of a force for good. I went to sixdegrees.org and saw that it was available, that I could obtain the actual domain. I did and then sat on it for a while and tried to think about what I was going to do with it, and how. It was kind of like the site came first and the actual structure of it came second. I started to talk to a lot of people that I’d run into and a lot of people who were involved in different kinds of philanthropy and publicists and agents and managers, and just started to formulate what this might be. I was lucky enough to partner with AOL and with Network For Good and we launched sixdegrees.org.
Q: What do you feel is special about this charity-benefiting Web site?
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A:Well, when I looked Network For Good, which is basically our engine, they were sort of already doing what it was that I thought I was interested in doing — creating a place where people could take the things that they that they hear about or are concerned about and figure out a way to quickly help out. When I got in touch with them, they’re telling me the amount of money that they they’ve raised which is, I don’t know, over $100 million in just a year. I looked at the site and I said, well that’s incredible, but it’s also not what you would call an exciting Web site, you know? There’s very little on it that that has any kind of razzmatazz. So, I think that this Six Degrees thing is much more kind of "cause celeb." It has a lot of cause celeb content. We live in such a celebrity-driven culture. People are constantly picking up a magazine to see what kind of car somebody drives, what kind of handbag they use or what restaurants they eat at. So why not also find out about the charities that they’re supporting?
Q: What’s your role with the organization?
A: I am the spokesperson for it certainly. I funded it initially to get it off the ground. I plan on being a part of it hopefully forever, and I plan on continuing to encourage people to go on and to give. Obviously, I have sort of a built-in “attract” element. People will talk to me. I can go on television shows and discuss it and they'll have me. There are so many charities and so it’s kind of hard for the press to get their head around supporting one or another. But when you have a concept like this, that is kind of wide-sweeping, I think it’s a little bit easier for people to get behind it. Also, just from an entertainment standpoint, it’s kind of fun. People go “Oh, Six Degrees, yeah, that’s fun” or “That’s kind of cool.”
I wanted to make it as easy as I could for other celebrities to get involved because I know what it’s like to be on the other end of it. If you did everything that they asked you to as a well-known person, you would have to spend your entire life going to charity functions and donating money and showing up and singing praise or singing songs. I know that there’s a lot of demand on people to interpret that and I wanted to create a place where I could make it as easy as possible. Aside from the money people will donate to charity, I’ve never asked anybody for any money to support the organization because there is nothing to support. I don’t have any kind of ongoing costs or overhead, and whatever is there is covered by me. Nobody has to show up anywhere. All I need from the celebrities and from the "regular" people as well is just you fill out a form and tell us what it is that you care about. Tell us if there are any charities which support your cause, and we'll do the rest.
Q: I know that it’s fairly new, but is there a moving experience that you’ve had because of Six Degrees that you’d like to share?
A: There’s been so many that I should have gone on the site to really pick up a little thing. But I actually really love going on and reading about just regular people talking about personal experiences — you know, a family member who has cystic fibrosis or something that has affected them in some kind of personal way. It’s all on there. I think there’s a certain feeling of empowerment when you can get up there and post a plea for help from people. And it feels incredibly good to go on and give money. Going on and giving money, it’s something that feels good to me.
Q: Do you regularly go on to the site?
A: Oh yeah, I do all the time because I am also interested in checking the ticker. I go on every day.
Q: Why should people become involved with sixdegrees.org?
A: Well, I think if you take me out of the equation, the idea of sixdegrees is a beautiful and a powerful one. It’s something that’s very much in the great geist of our culture now and I think that there’s a certain reaction to the problems with the world and the problems with the environment. There are borders that are going up stronger and stronger and it feels like we’re getting more and more divided. I think there’s a reaction to that. We know that what happens to one of us affects somebody down the block and also on the other side of the world.
So often you know you pick up a newspaper and you feel a certain frustration about, you know, what can I do? How can I help? Americans are impressively generous as a culture and it’ something we should certainly be proud of. I think the average family gives something like 3.2 percent of its income to some kind of charity. That’s a pretty good number when you think about how many people are living below the poverty line. It is hard to let go of a buck. So it does feel good and it can make you feel like you’re a little bit in control of a world that somehow feels like its spinning out of control. You’re actually being a part of the process of change within this world. So, there’s always going to be need and we’re just providing a place where you can find out how to show that need.
For more information on Six Degreees, visit the organization's Web site.
Interviewed by Giacinta Pace of NBC News.