The Cycle

From Sally Struthers to George Clooney, celebs do open wallets

Last week, ABC News online ran a story examining the financial impact of celebrity involvement with charitable causes. The article, “Celebrity Takes Up a Cause: Do Fans Follow?” questioned whether fans donate more generously to a philanthropic organization because their most beloved movie star, musician, or TV heartthrob supports it.

According to the ABC piece, it takes more than a famous-name affiliation to get people to write checks. But when high-profile celebrities do endorse charitable causes –- such as Angelina Jolie, who serves as a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador, and George Clooney, whose name is synonymous with ending genocide in Darfur –- that star power can equal massive media attention. And with that kind of media attention comes increased awareness among potential donors. (It can be a good PR move for the celebrity, too: Millions of mainstream American music fans are aware of Bob Geldof, for example, because of his famine-relief efforts.)

So doesn’t that work out to essentially the same thing? In a roundabout way, celebrities do, in fact, get people to write checks — and write them to specific charities, too.

Potential donors can’t send their money orders anywhere if they don’t know where to address the envelopes. But there are so many philanthropic organizations from which to choose, and they can sometimes be difficult to distinguish from one another.

Land-mine clearance, for example: Scores of land-mine clearing advocacy groups exist, but only Adopt-A-Minefield (AAM) is supported by Paul McCartney and his now ex-wife Heather Mills. That support has help draw more attention to its efforts, and made its name more familiar than other land-mine charities. Fair or not, donors may even consider AAM more “legitimate” than other mine-clearing organizations because of its celebrity affiliates. Similar cases can be made for charities calling for contributions on behalf of everything from AIDS research to animal rights — and let’s not forget the children. How many humanitarian nonprofits are there that dedicate resources to bettering the lives of underprivileged youngsters? Lots. But which one can most of us name in an instant, thanks to years of Sally Struthers’ teary-eyed endorsements?

You know the name. You can look it up. And then, you can send a contribution. The celebrity affiliation made a genuine financial difference.

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