Why Not-For-Profits Should Enlist Celebrity Spokespeople Who Care

Why celebrity-seeking not-for-profits should find a friend like David Arquette.

Charities and causes have used celebrity spokespeople since the UN enlisted Danny Kaye in 1954 to educate the public about the plight of poor children abroad. Now every not-for-profit wants a Desperate Housewife to come to its gala -- some settle for a Real Housewife -- and every celeb wants a photo with a sick child to run in People. Dozens of stars have posed naked for PETA's antifur ads. Irritable bowel syndrome even landed a wondrous spokeswoman; I'll never look at Lynda Carter the same way again.

You know the best of these big-hearted boldface names: Angelina, Bono, Elton, and David ... Arquette. Yes, David Arquette. If I were making a Celebs Gone Good list, he'd top it.

The typical celeb do-gooder needs car service, script approval, bottled water from Iceland's glacial highlands, and artisanal acai candy hand-wrapped by Bolivian orphans. Not David. Two days a week, you'll find him at an L.A. food pantry, cooking, cleaning, or doing whatever else he's told to do. (Great training for his off-duty hours.) Often, he works with veteran volunteer Delfia Gonzalez. (He insisted I mention Delfia Gonzalez; now I've done it twice.) "Noncelebrity volunteers like her are the backbone of charities nationwide," he says. "They deserve the praise, not me."

But as long as we're going to obsess about celebs, let's focus on folks like David. His name may be B-list but his good works are A-plus. Here are five lessons from his partnership with Feeding America, the nation's largest coalition of food pantries.

Pick a celebrity who genuinely cares. This one seems so obvious, but many charities -- not to mention for-profits -- lurch at the first genetically gifted goddess they can find to be the face for their brand. David isn't sanitizing his reputation or being paid. Find someone who loves you enough to work for free.

Put it in writing. Feeding America VP Phil Zepeda, who works with David, suggests a written relationship agreement that can be renewed annually. David's agreement protects him as well as Feeding America, spelling out mutual expectations and boundaries. Can you use each other's names for publicity? How many events must he attend to be an official ambassador? Clarity about details keeps both parties accountable.

A celebrity isn't a one-man team. When David meets with his reps at the United Talent Agency -- think lots of suits at a long table, like on Entourage -- Rene Jones, who oversees philanthropy at UTA, is always there. The message: This matters to David. He wants everyone in his life to be part of it. Feeding America communicates with David's handlers regularly to clear schedules and sync goals, and I wouldn't be surprised if he has recruited his dry cleaner. And for celebs who might be less devoted to the cause, it's important to get their teams on-side and allied with your effort.

Let him be the QB, but you be the coach. David calls plays and inspires others. (Sheryl Crow wrote a song for Feeding America because he asked.) He can deploy his army of fans and friends. Don't forget that the celeb is working for your group -- but also don't forget that the best coaches know when to let the talent do their thing.

You don't want the Angelinas. You covet that shiny $20-mil-a-movie star. So do I. Not so fast, David says: "I'm lucky that I don't work as much as those guys. Because then I have the time to do stuff like this." And I'm glad he does.

Nancy Lublin is CEO of Do Something.

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8 Comments

  • Alejandro Bar

    And what can you guys say about Lindsay Lohan going to India? Will doing this save her career?

    "The “Labor Pains” star wants to end the partying lifestyle in Los Angeles for a bit and will be spending time with BBC to work on a documentary about the trafficking of women and children that happen in the country."

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  • Priscilla Hart

    Awesome! It's great you're putting some attention on the work David puts to Feeding America twice a week! When David is really passionate about something, he goes all out and commits to it. His wife seems pretty proud of him, and so great that David wants to put the spotlight on his fellow charity worker, Delfia, who has been working at their local pantry for 29 years! Truly those that do charity work without expecting any reward in return (besides the sense of satisfaction from doing a good deed) should be praised. Not someone like Angelina who seems to do charity work only to cover up that she is genuinely not a good person.
    Thanks for posting this and I hope to get one of David's T-shirts at his "Propr Store" in Venice, CA! =D

  • Angie Do-Tran

    Impressive article on David Arquette's dedication to work that he wholeheartedly believes in. I would love to see the t-shirt and get one for myself...does anyone know where in Venice is the launch located at?

  • Bree Johnson

    I saw a posting for an event to launch the T-Shirt on Dec. 17th in Venice.

  • Emily Bucko

    It is always refreshing to hear about celebrities who do charity work! I heard he's also launching a tee shirt with Save Darfur soon.

  • Jerry Pradier

    I guess it runs in the family. I co-chaired the Alabama Child Abuse Prevention Month commemoration for two years with Courtney. She was not paid.