The New York Times recently reported on the growing number of celebrities donating their paychecks and time to various charitable organizations, garnering praise from celebrity news blogs and tabloids.
But as this trend increases and seeps into a range of organizations and cause marketing initiatives, so does the skepticism from the media and public about the degree to which celebrity involvement and philanthropy genuinely coexist.
Publications like The Chronicle of Philanthropy, which tracks stars' partnerships with charities, nonprofits, and grants, are setting the bar higher when news of a celebrity's altruism takes center stage in the media.
The Times reports that humanitarian work is actually being questioned by individuals like Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle, who raises her eyebrow when judging a publicist's pitch for a star's recent charitable contribution.
Why does it matter?
This is generally a good PR move when it is genuine and when it fits, explains Maria Conti, director of celebrity services for Matter, an Edelman entertainment company. But it can be a bad PR move if otherwise. "The negative publicity garnered from a news story about a celebrity whose ethics are not aligned with the cause can tarnish the organization's credibility and reputation," she notes.
Celebrities must do their part in educating the public about the causes they support and be knowledgeable about the causes' business ethics and the benefits they provide, Conti says. It's also important for stars to be aware of how much of the donations are actually being distributed to those in need, as well as the background of the board members. "If a celebrity is lending his or her name to the cause, it must have a stellar reputation and align with the celebrity on moral and political issues," she adds.
1 As the main sponsor of Brad Pitt's partnership with Global Green (pictured) to help rebuild New Orleans, The Home Depot funded the project and provided materials.
2 On September 11, celebrity guests joined brokerage firm BGC's third annual Charity Day, helping to raise money for such causes as the Books for Kids Foundation and the Cancer Research Institute.
3 An active humanitarian, Angelina Jolie is known not only for her roles in movies, but also as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Refugee Agency.
4 In February, celebrities and chefs teamed up with Barilla, the pasta company, to raise money for America's Second Harvest to help fight hunger and introduced The Celebrity Pasta Lovers' Cookbook.
5 The Chronicle's list of "America's Most Generous Donors" in 2006 shows Oprah Winfrey at number 36 for the fourth straight year. Number one was Warren Buffett.