Behind every modern-day celebrity is a roster of important relationships. Each star needs to be connected with an agent, a manager, a personal trainer, a full-time assistant and a significant other, be it a celeb-level husband/wife or a girlfriend/boyfriend.
Then there is the crucial affiliation with a charity.
For your average citizen, charities offer a way to give back to society, feel connected to a common cause and even do some socializing — or, in some cases, social-climbing. For celebrities, philanthropy offers all of the above, plus the potential for major image and career enhancement.
There are, of course, good intentions behind celebrities’ relationships with philanthropic causes. And being able to throw your star-studded weight behind a cause you believe in must be gratifying. But it certainly doesn't hurt to have the public think of you not just as a beautiful person but as a nice one, too.
“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.”
Celebrities aren't the only ones feeling the love. The best thing about celebrity-charity relationships — aside from the lack of prenuptial agreements — is that they are mutually beneficial liaisons.
Nahela Hadi, executive director of the United Nations-affiliated organization Adopt-a-Minefield, which boasts Paul McCartney as a major supporter, describes a “ripple effect” from celebrity involvement with a charity.
“When people come to charity events and they see a celebrity, they want to know why the celebrity is there,” she says. “They become interested and want to learn more about the charity and support the cause.”
And that can have a serious affect on donor figures. After Christopher Reeve was paralyzed in a horse-riding accident in 1995, he became connected to the American Paralysis Association, which over the next three years saw its revenue double to $5 million, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy. In fact, the charity is now known as the Christopher Reeve Foundation.
“Celebrities get involved with charities because either they or a loved one has suffered from the same illness that the charity supports or because their friends and colleagues currently support or have supported that charity in the past,” observes Adlai Wertman, a former investment banker who is now chief executive of Chrysalis, a Los-Angeles based charity that helps the homeless.
Angelina Jolie, whose work as goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Refugee Agency is well known, has generated plenty of attention for the plight of refugees around the world. And over the past few years, she has made more than $3 million in her own contributions to the organization, it says.
So how exactly does a charity go about finding the perfect celebrity match?
One option is for the charity to be coy and wait for a celebrity to approach them. But more often than not, charity directors use their personal connections to contact a celebrity. One thing leads to another and, if all goes well, a beautiful relationship blossoms.
Operation Smile, which provides corrective surgery to poor children with facial deformities, reached pop star Jessica Simpson through her celebrity hairdresser, Ken Paves. While working on Simpson's hair, Paves took the opportunity to show her an Operation Smile video, and after months of quiet courting, Simpson became Operation Smile's international youth ambassador. According the organization, she has generated $4 million in television news coverage alone.
For local charities, personal connections can be especially important.
“Hollywood doesn't ‘do’ local charities,” Wertman observes. “They care about getting national attention. So it's very hard to get big names to support smaller charities since there's not as much publicity involved.”
Chrysalis has been the exception to the rule. Last year, the organization received $1.2 million from Hollywood donors, and that figures is expected to increase by 10 percent to 15 percent per year.
It was an invitation to a fundraiser that sparked the relationship between Chrysalis and Brett Ratner, the director of Rush Hour. Through Ratner, the organization connected with various celebrities, including Salma Hayek, Ice Cube and Nicholas Cage. Action star Jackie Chan gave $100,000 to the charity, the largest single donation Chrysalis has ever received.
But sometimes it takes a major crisis — personal or public — to get prominent figures and A-listers to dip into their wallets. After the tsunami in 2004, NBC aired Tsunami Aid: A Concert of Hope, a charity program littered with celebrity performances that raised over $18.3 million in a single night. Celebs from up and down the lists opened their hearts and wallets for the cause.
Billionaire entertainer Oprah Winfrey, who is so generous with her earnings that she has set up two nonprofit organizations and last year alone donated more than $50 million, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, gave $11 million to help rebuild areas decimated by Hurricane Katrina. Of that, $10 million was in the form of a personal check, while her foundation kindly left a tip of $1 million to provide food for hurricane victims.
Now that's what we call giving back.