Charitable celebrities

June 27, 2012

I stumbled upon this celebrity behavior a while ago, and to be honest I was amazed. Or maybe I’m naive and “this is how the world works”. Say there is a celebrity who wants to do some charity work (to feel good or look good, who knows). So she proposes to a bunch of business people:

  • Let’s do an event in your town, sell 500 tickets at $200 for a total of $100k, and “100% of the proceeds go to charity”. Are you in?
  • But for me to show up to the event, for you guys to be able to claim “We got her to come visit for charity”, you’ve got to pay me personally $1M.

How do you feel about this?

  • Praise the people who paid $200, which is going straight to charity?
  • Praise the business people who paid $1M to generate $100k for charity?
  • Damn the business people for being so star-struck that they paid $1M to the celeb, instead of straight to the charity they claim to care so much about?
  • That celebrity is a lot of things, but a giving personality concerned with charity she ain’t?

I’m feeling a mix of all four. How about you?

I promise I’ll get back to cycling in my next blog.

30 Responses to “Charitable celebrities”

  1. Joe Papp Says:

    examples? (just curious) I mean, this is real behavior, right, and not some Internet urban legend? B/c it seems too unbelievably foolish and cynical for real life even…

    • LauraLyn Says:

      For those of us who believed what Lance Armstrong had told us and who now know that his life story is a fraud and that his so-called cancer organization, aptly named “The Lance Armstrong Foundation, aka, LiveStrong”, for those of us who worked hard for our money and then donated it to his “charity” because we believed what he told us, is there any recourse now open to us to have our money returned or re-allocated to a true cancer organization that is involved in cancer research and cares about cancer?

      Is there a class action lawsuit against the Lance Armstrong Foundation we can join to have our money redirected toward the fight against cancer?

  2. Rooie Says:

    It smells Lance. Or Beyonce when in Libya.

  3. amavel Says:

    I used to work at Orange NL. who supported charity War Child. We all worked for nothing to support the show which raised money. I then heard the big Dutch pop star MB who was the main supporter was paid 200000 for his support. I was disgusted and never helped again


  4. Celebrities should volunteer to raise money for charity. Not doing it because it is fashionable or it raises people’s view of them.

    Charity means the practice of “benevolent” giving and caring.

  5. Gary H Says:

    Levi Leipheimer puts on a great event in his hometown (look up Levi’s King Ridge Gran Fondo). I believe he does a good service to the charities in Sonoma County.

  6. Andrew Says:

    Does Livestrong not also fund raise in the same way? It sounds like it from reports I was given when he visited my country.

  7. Jeff Says:

    I was surprised myself a few years back to learn how much Lance got paid to ride a post race criterium in Oslo where the main objective was to raise money for… you guessed it – CANCER!!

  8. Paddy Says:

    One of the biggest cons in this respect is city marathons. I live in the UK but I think it is the same everywhere. I have run for years at club level and undertaken a few marathons. However, it is one of my pet hates to pay a very large entrance fee for some of the bigger races like say the London Marathon, and then as a mere mortal I am expected to raise money for charity through sponsorhip. There are thousands like me, and many who want to run to raise money for a good cause.

    However,the problem is that at the same time celebrities(usually multi millionaires’ and elite athletes (who are quite often millionaires’) are paid huge sums of money to run out of my entrance fee. To make matters worse, the organisers having paid out these huge sums (and the organisers large wages) then boast about how much the event has raised for charity. It is totally hypocritcal.

  9. Joe Papp Says:

    Well I agree that it’s utterly shameless, cynical, hypocritical (?), scuzzy, fake, and just plain noxious and it shows why the best way to support a cause is direct action or direct contributions and not one made through 3rd party (like an event organizer).


    • I think you’re right.

      Somewhat unrelated, it’s also an approach Patagonia follows. for members of their 1% for the Planet movement, instead of donating money to a central charity, members have to find local causes to support, often with money and manpower.

      It creates a stronger bond between donor and recipient, and you can actually see what’s happening with your money.

    • Mike_Yanagita Says:

      A bit unrelated, but I’ve never been a supporter of whatever-thons, including the AIDS ride. The idea that people want to be “sponsored” for doing exercise or do what they’d do anyway is damn peculiar. I understand the psychology (“I’m not just a fred riding 100 miles a day for no reason — I’m making the world a better place!”), and I agree direct action or contributions are the way to go.


  10. First of all, praise to the people who start a charity event. Charity should mean all participants take part free of charge and pay an amount for charity, including the celebrities. Paying the celebrity a million to raise100K is plain stupid. The million could go to charity as well.

  11. Adam Says:

    Livestrong IS NOT a charity. Livestrong is a farce. Livestrong turned cancer into a brand. The non-profit doesn’t even give it’s funds raised to cancer research. The for-profit pays for Lance’s jet. The fact that a non-profit and for-profit can exist under the same name, licensing and branding seems sketch. Confusing to the public as to what or who they are actually supporting. I’m sick of the facade.

  12. Evan Shaw Says:

    Navaho people believe that in order to create harmony no one should accumulate more than others. Thus all of us are interdependent and care for each other. Charity is a misguided and lame compensation for a society of great wealth for a few and little or no safety net for lost all.


  13. Gerard, I can relate to your ambivalent thoughts concerning the proposition. Like some people have already said, the perks of the charity are overshadowed by the 1M fee your star asks for herself. I´d question her motivation for asking such a disproportional fee. I can understand celebs are seen as carriers to charity organisations and celebs may very well be compensated for their time, repütation and image, but within reason, which is obviously not the case here. I´d say I´m in, if she agrees to lower her fee to 10k, or I´m out. // Reno


    • Well, the argument on the 1M will obviously be that the exposure will create eventual income for the charity beyond the 100k initial revenue through the event itself.

      • Henry Says:

        The reason it’s attractive to companies is if they donate the money directly to the charity no one knows about it. Get a big celebrity involved and the companies brand gets lots of positive attention. It’s part marketing, part charity. The same for the celebrity. Brand building and advertising off of a good cause. A little sleazy but at least it motivates them to give.

  14. Pete N Says:

    Gerard
    If you are naive so am I – that is shocking behaviour and reflects badly on all concerned except the people who bought the tickets.

    @Paddy
    So the “celebs” who run the London marathon are paid to do it ? – I had no ide

  15. Spencer Says:

    Isn’t this a business transaction like any other? If the promoter does not want to pay the appearance fee, then don’t. Or find a less expensive celebrity. If the promoter pays, then the promoter has justified the expense because of the marketing value, ripple effects from the appearance, access to the celeb, and added credibility. Perhaps other reasons.
    Celebs get paid in the US to show up at dance clubs. Same decision to be made by the club owner. If the market pays and both sides go into the deal with eyes wide open, I have no problem.


    • You are probably right, it IS a business transaction to some, but not others. I think that’s where the uneasiness is, you have celebs who show up and donate 1M and those who show up and take 1M.

      Yet the public can’t see the difference as the celebs rarely publicize they’re getting paid. Of course they have every right not to, but it gets a bit rich when they endeavor to appear generous when in fact, as you say, it’s a lucrative business transaction.

  16. James Drake Says:

    Gerard, don’t you think that your thinly disguised attack on Livestrong/Armstrong will cause a negative backlash from the “Patron” himself?! :-) I fully agree with your view, and I think that charities should be forced to publish how contributions are spent. Transparency always has a way of keeping people honest, and those stars masquerading as saints can be shown as the sinners they are. Sadly it’s an old chestnut that the wealthier you are the less likely you give back. Barring a few exceptions (buffett) and in any event always looking for the tax write-off.. I like the Navaho ideal, a bit too Communist but in reality something we should strive for in this unbalanced and overly consumeristic world. And you Gerard, what are you doing in this regard? Hopefully giving us durable products that we don’t need to endlessly upgrade!? And really.. $3000 carbon bikes?! Are we not all too greedy?

  17. Mark Phillips Says:

    Although this scenario obviously feels entirely wrong, the core problem here is just plain and simple bad business.

    Firstly it’s not 100% to charity. It’s 100% after costs (admittedly some of which may had been reduced because it was a charity). And as these costs need to be met, income not just find raising is needed.

    So to raise the income, revenue generation is needed requiring publicity, merchandising, etc. And these require media coverage which sadly these days almost always means celebrity. But thus a business plan is built.

    Where it goes wrong is the event organiser who forgets he/she’s actually running a business and guesses that £1M appearance fee will generate sufficient income. That’s just bad business unless it has a properly thought through and executed plan (which is also evaluated afterwards). Sadly this is about as common as dodo’s riding up Alpe d’Huez.

    No-one should should ever invest in a business that buys an asset at that level without making sure there was a plan that made the return worth it. So how come charities keep on doing it…? Charity shouldn’t be an excuse, it’s a cause not because.

    Lastly one of the first signs a celebrity really doesn’t want to do something is when they through out a massive fee. Weirdly there are some muppets who still think it’s worth it. But depending on how they evaluate it, sometimes it might just be…

    PS Paddy, London Marathon only pays elite athletes to run, like any other major athletics event. The celebrities queue up each year to do it, although whether they actually raise any money for the charities that give them their places is sometimes debatable.

    • Jane Hargraft Says:

      mark!!! You and I share a brain! How interesting that we posted the same thing at the same time.


    • Hi Mark,

      I understand that attention is important, and celebrities can unfortunately provide it. So my question is, what percentage of celebrities supporting charities do so for pay rather than “for charity”?

  18. Jane Hargraft Says:

    Gerard, interesting that there are no professional fundraisers weighing in. I am one, so here’s my assessment of this. Special event fundraising is often considered the fifth circle of hell in fundraising because it’s a great deal of effort for usually a low net return. Think about regular fundraising – I can have a major gift officer raise 500K-3M a year from 20-50 people on 10 cents on the dollar or less. Its very efficient. The expenses for a well run charitable activitiesmshould run btwn 18-25% of revenues for all streams together (individuals, corporate, foundations and special events).

    Special events often use phrases like 100% of your donation goes to the charity. But use your head. The event costs money to put on (including appearance fees). So claims like this are disingenuous at best or a lie at worse. Even if these fees are underwritten, it’s extremely inefficient to spend $1M to raise $100K. So there has to be another reason to do the event. PR is often the reason and that’s not bad. High profile attention to low profile causes helps the goals of the overall organization. However, in my world as a fundraiser, if a special event meant to raise money for the organization has expenses over 30% of the gross revenue, it’s not worth doing.

    Finally, I think it’s useful to look at celebs who are headliners at events as part of the event, not the charity. And as such, there is a cost. Just like catering, venue fees, printing and postage. And really, once you put this expense on the same level of postage, you can make a business decision about whether it’s worthwhile to make the investment. Personally, if I had a donor who’s had a million bucks to underwrite a celebs appearance fee, I would wonder why the donor wouldn’t skip the event and put the million dollars to transformational change for the charity?


    • Hi Jane, I agree with you, I think, it’s just amazing how the communication often goes.

      Of course running events to raise charity costs money, so I understand that if you put on an event with 400k in fees collected, the event costs 100k, then 300k goes to charity. The participants should be OK with that as well, after all they got not just a donation, they also got an event.

      However, because the charity vows that the delta between money collected and costs goes to the good cause, it has a responsibility to manage those costs carefully. If there is fluff or unnecessary appearance fees in the costs portion, then simply saying “but the net profit is 100% going to the cause won’t cut it.

      Aside from that, my beef is actually more with the other side, with the celebrity going “look at my good deeds for charity” while he or she is getting a massive cheque do do so. That’s not a good deed, that’s a good selfish move. Yes, it may be a net positive for the charity’s revenue as well, it may be a good business decision for them, but it’s disingenuous on the celebrity’s part.

      • Anonymous Says:

        I agree with your beef. You can’t suck and blow at the same time. It’s fair to say I am appearing with XYZ charity to help them raise money, but to say you are supporting them while taking a fee is lying.


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