Bono battles the AIDS epidemic. Leonardo tries to make the world a greener place, and Martha has a soft spot for animals.
For today’s celebs, charity work is almost as much a part of the job as walking the red carpet. Famous names have become affiliated with preventing domestic violence, curing breast cancer, fixing smiles and saving farms from development.
“You have to care about something other than what’s going to make you money,” said Morris L. Reid, managing director of Westin Rinehart, a firm that does brand strategy for public figures. “You have to be charitable. It shows that you care about someone other than yourself. It also shows that you are in touch with the average American’s needs and plights.”
With no shortage of charitable organizations (there are more than 1,000,000, according to GuideStar), and many of them reaching out to celebs for their help, choosing which causes to support is a tough decision, said actress Julianne Moore. She said she is approached often to add star power to a cause.
Her signature causes are Tuberous Sclerosis, a rare genetic disease, and fighting poverty in the United States with Save the Children.
“For causes, I choose something with a personal interest,” said Moore, who was on a Burt’s Bees-coordinated press tour to push a natural-product standard. “With TS, I met a family. They really needed somebody and they met me. With Save the Children, I really thought someone should be talking about what’s going on with poverty in the U.S.”
‘I was taught not to take it lightly’
Many stars choose causes that have personally touched them.
The singer Fergie had friends die from AIDS, and is now the voice for the MAC AIDS Fund’s Global Youth Prevention Initiative. Proceeds from the sale of her Viva Glam VI Special Edition lipglass go to the cause.
In her new role, Fergie, 33, said she hopes to raise awareness about HIV prevention. She spent an afternoon earlier this month at Safe Space’s Manhattan Youth High-Risk Drop-In Center, where the youth performed skits, poetry and sang songs about the awareness and prevention of HIV/AIDS.
“I was taught not to take it lightly,” she said, referring to sexual activity. “That was because of my upbringing. I might dance sexy in the videos and do all that, but this in issue I take very seriously. That’s for show. There’s performance and then there’s real life.”
There’s a commercial side to the goodwill, too; large companies benefit from the celebrity connection, even if they’re giving money to charity. The Estee Lauder-owned MAC has had 18 Viva Glam spokespeople, including Fergie, Elton John and Boy George. Lauren Conrad of “The Hills” has collaborated with mark to create the girls’ m.powerment campaign.
Still, it’s not all about cash registers.
Many charities are choosy about the celebrities they work with. They don’t want the star to overshadow the cause, and some celebs use charity work as a launching pad for a career, said Anthony Mora of Anthony Mora Communications. Plus with so many celebrities championing causes, it’s easy for people to tune them out, he said.
Celebrities with firsthand experience tend to be more passionate and knowledgeable about an issue. When the Callaway Golf Foundation wanted a man to read a public service announcement about ovarian cancer, they turned to Kyle MacLachlan, whose mother died of the disease. (Halle Berry is also involved in the Callaway campaign.)
Charities get strategic
Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s outreach is also strategic, said Emily Callahan, managing director of marketing communications for the organization.
“We believe in working with people who have been directly impacted by our mission and people who help us meet an audience we may struggle to reach on our own,” she said.
For example, the group worked with Cynthia Nixon, who is a breast cancer survivor along with her mom and can reach younger women and the gay community, said Callahan. Spokeswoman Gabrielle Union can reach younger women and African-American women, who are more likely to die from the disease.
Many celebs seem genuine in their efforts to raise awareness.
Conrad said in an e-mail that she feels it’s important to let young women know that those ages 16-24 experience the highest rates of intimate partner violence.
And Mel B of The Spice Girls is helping to raise at least $250,000 for Susan G. Komen Pose for the Cure. She is also auctioning every single item in her UK home off on MelBSale.com, with proceeds benefiting CLIC Sargent, a program in the UK for children with cancer.
“It makes life much more enjoyable for me knowing that I am helping a woman and a child out there by donating my time, my energy, my belief and my support,” she said. “It can’t get any better than that.”