Charity And Service: Giving Like The Stars

You don’t need celebrity status to be a force for good–you, too, can make a difference in many of the same ways actors, athletes, and other high-profile people do. Here’s how to get started.

On January 12, all retailers and manufacturers that do business in California will be required to publicly disclose their efforts to eradicate slavery and human trafficking from their supply chains; actress Julia Ormond was one of the key forces behind passage of the new legislation. 


“Julia Ormond, a tireless humanitarian activist and founder of the Alliance to Stop Slavery and End Trafficking (ASSET), was absolutely instrumental in the passage of California’s landmark legislation to combat labor trafficking through transparency in business-supply chains,” said U.S. Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ), a longtime champion of human rights. 

When I met Ormond at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Annual Meeting last September, she talked about having met slaves, including young children, in California and abroad. She explained that every day, we dress in clothing, talk on phones, and eat meals that are tainted by slavery. Ormond also described the solution: once companies are required to disclose their practices in eradicating slavery and human trafficking in their supply chains, then we as consumers can use our purchasing power to have influence. Additionally, she said, investors can provide incentives to companies to “elevate human rights and place them right at the heart of their strategy.” (Read Ormond’s testimony before Congress.)

Ormond, along with many other celebrities and athletes, leverage their recognition and put in time and effort to change the world. But you don’t need celebrity status to be a force for good–you, too, can make a difference in many of the same ways that these major media stars do.


Here’s how to get started. 

1. Choose a cause that you are passionate about. 

As you think about the cause you will devote yourself to, “You need to know who you are, what you believe in and why,” counsels Bryan Clay, the Olympic gold medalist who established the Bryan Clay Foundation to help young people to achieve their potential–physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. “When I was a kid, the only emotion I had was anger,” he said in an interview. “Eventually, through track, I realized I could accomplish something. Now, I want to help kids to harness their energy, channel it, and accomplish their dreams…to be what they want to be.”

Andrew D. Morton
, Sports & Entertainment Law Group, Handler Thayer, LLP, agrees that “for celebrities and grassroots supporters alike, effective philanthropy begins with identifying a personal connection to the chosen cause.” 


“Focus your contributions on one place,” said Paul Haggis, Academy Award winning screen writer and director, who founded Artists for Peace and Justice (APJ) to provide an education for impoverished children in Haiti. In a private interview, he urged that people know where their money is going and that the funds are well managed. Haggis was inspired by the work of Father Rick Frechette who had worked with the poor in Haiti for 25 years when he and Haggis met. 

APJ built elementary schools and now the first public high school in Haiti (with Haggis, pictured right). Haggis has raised millions of dollars for APJ, often by inviting friends to parties in his home. He has also taken friends on trips to Haiti to meet Father Rick, see the schools, and meet the children.

According to fundraising expert Terry Alexander, there is nothing more powerful than inviting prospective donors to on-site visits. “Let them hear the stories of the lives your organization changes,” Alexander says. “Let them experience the incredible dedication of the staff and the real day-to-day challenges.” 


2. Think about the variety of ways you can help. 

“A day doesn’t go by that Stephen Colbert doesn’t do something for DonorsChoose,” Charles Best told me over a recent lunch. Best is the Founder and CEO of DonorsChoose, an online charity that makes it easy to help students in need through school donations. Colbert serves on the board. 

Best explained that every evening, Colbert gives a DonorsChoose gift card to his Colbert Report guests. The gift cards, for which Colbert has already paid, gives guests an opportunity to go online to choose where the contribution will go. The idea is that once guests start looking at the teachers and their requests on the DonorsChoose site, they will continue giving on their own, and perhaps even start giving gift cards themselves.


You, too, can give DonorsChoose gift cards to business clients, friends and family. There is also a lesson here for board members to think about how you can be useful, every day, to the organization where you serve.

3. Protect your nonprofit organization and the people it serves. 

Philanthropy attorney Andrew Morton provides legal counsel to celebrities and athletes to help them establish their foundations and provide ongoing fiduciary oversight. Ormond, Clay, and Haggis are among his clients.  I asked Morton about scandals relating to a number of celebrity foundations. He responded as follows: 

“Before investing in a for-profit enterprise, few would hesitate to secure legal counsel and other experienced professional advisors. Yet these same successful individuals routinely believe they can charge into the nonprofit sector with no expertise whatsoever. The common thread among scandals involving celebrity philanthropy invariably is a lack of competent professional oversight. Few seem aware that the majority of American nonprofits are established as corporations, with essentially the same legal responsibilities for compliance, governance, and reporting as Microsoft or Exxon-Mobil. An organization with professional advisors on retainer and appointed to its Board carries far less potential for misconduct, whether stemming from intentional abuse, or just well-intentioned neglect.”

Morton’s advice to his clients is equally relevant to any one of us who serve a nonprofit board. 

4. Make vital contributions. 


The following are just a few ways that we can learn from these celebrity stories:

  • Buy gift cards for your clients, friends, and family members on DonorsChoose or GlobalGiving. It will take a matter of minutes and might be among the most rewarding and lasting presents they receive.
  • Choose a cause that is personally meaningful and a nonprofit that is effective in its work. Give your support through charity and volunteer service.
  • Invite friends to a party at your home to ask for contributions to your charity. Even better, invite them to visit the organization you support and to contribute.
  • Become aware of companies that are attentive to their social and environmental practices and vote with your wallet–as a customer and investor. 
  • For those of you who serve on nonprofit boards, ensure that the board is engaging with legal and fiduciary experts to understand and fulfill its oversight responsibilities.

Looking for new ways to give back? Help fight slavery and trafficking by contributing here and following ASSET on Twitter @assetcampaign. Help provide an education for very poor children in Haiti by contributing here and following on Twitter @artistsforpeace.  Help young people to have greater opportunities in life by donating here and following @bryanclay on Twitter.


About the author

Korngold provides strategy consulting to global corporations on sustainability, facilitating corporate-nonprofit partnerships, and training and placing hundreds of business executives on NGO/nonprofit boards for 20+ years. She provides strategy and board governance consulting to NGO/nonprofit boards, foundations, and educational and healthcare institutions. Korngold's latest book is "A Better World, Inc.: How Companies Profit by Solving Global Problems…Where Governments Cannot," published by Palgrave Macmillan for release on 1/7/14


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