Daily Update: Getting celebrity philanthropy right

This week’s New Yorker featured an extensive article on the growing trend in Hollywood for celebrity philanthropy, one which holds lessons for philanthropists everywhere.

The central character of the piece was Trevor Neilson, founder of Global Philanthropy Group, whose clients include Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Ben Stiller, and Madonna. The good news is that celebrities’ commitment to their causes, for example basketball player Kobe Bryant’s support for deprived communities in Los Angeles, is in no doubt. Neilson, on other hand, is presented as essentially a publicity-seeker who does not translate his clients’ good will into hard outcomes. At one point, he and his colleagues discuss a new phone app to help people donate to local causes, but the line between innovation and gimmickry quickly becomes blurred.

The article could leave one feeling quite sceptical about philanthropy, but I think the real lesson is that when wealthy individuals need support, the groups and experts they engage should have a thorough understanding of how the charitable sector works. This means that philanthropy experts should understand outcomes, potential partner organisations and sources of match-funding, whilst giving clients an innovative edge. The celebrity-seeking is best left to celebrities.

The Craig Bellamy Foundation’s work in Sierra Leone is just one excellent example of how a public figure can use their profile and resources to make a difference. Do you know of any other examples? And do you think that, when it comes to giving, all publicity is good publicity?


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