Sometimes I wish I was a celebrity. Not for the fame. Not for the fans. Not even for the money. But rather, if I was a celebrity and wanted to help people in any country, all I’d have to do is pick-up a phone and a charity would be at my beck and call.
The sad reality is that, even when I’m on location, it can be an uphill battle to team up with large reputable charities. This is regardless of how many times I get my foot in the door, regardless of how many views I can help them get on YouTube, or how many of your donations I can send their way.
I’m not going to bad-mouth any particular charity. But, needless to say, in the hours, days, and weeks since an earthquake struck Haiti, I’ve been working to contact every reptuable international charity out there. If you can think of them – I’ve probably called, emailed, tweeted, or talked to them.
All of them, with maybe one (or two) exceptions, are not interested in teaming up.
At first, the reasons sounded entirely understandable. Some point out things are busy in Haiti and they don’t have the manpower to handle visitors like me. Others insist they are only sending “essential” personnel and resources at this time. Many don’t even reply.
I soon realized that when a charity refers to “visitors like me” they actually mean “non-celebrities like me”. The same charities that were insisting they are sending only “essentially personnel” were also busy hosting, escorting, and helping celebrities get their photos and interviews taken in Haiti.
If it sounds like I’m jealous – that’s not what I’m getting at. If “celebrity drive-bys” (being someplace long enough to have your photo taken and have a walking interview like the one pictured above) translated to more awareness, support, and donations for a charity – I’d be all for it.
But I’m not convinced it actually helps.
On social media sites, these photos, videos, and blogs tend to flounder. In most cases, they are lucky to get even a 100 views. And that matters because it’s only on internet where it’s easy to translate views into actual support – because the donate button (and charity’s website) is just a click away.
You could argue that when celebrities make photo-ops like these, they get picked up on the news. But, I think most of us have a built-in filter when it comes to what we see on TV. Don’t believe me? Let me ask you: if you are in the UK, did you know Alexandra Burke (pictured above) went to Haiti? If you are in the USA, did you know American Idol’s Kris Allen went and sang songs for mothers living in tents in Haiti?
Better yet – did you actually care? Or did you just see this as another PR stunt?
For the three of you that did care and did know about this – I stand corrected. For the other 99% of you, this highlights a theme that I’ve been talking about for a while: charities just don’t get it. Many of them are stuck in an era when all you needed to get a spotlight on a cause was to snag a celebrity. Let me ask you this: is there a celeb out there that isn’t supporting some charitable cause?
But this is far worse than charities merely being stuck in a bygone era. This is about charities having two-tiers – with regular folks being second class citizens. For regular folks like you and me, it’s just about us sending them money.… and maybe getting us to bug our friends to send money as well. A charity’s “social media strategy” consists entirely of asking us retweet this, blog that, or to post something on our facebook profile.
But, if you’re a celebrity, you just have to pick up a phone and you’ll have an entourage of aid workers in any country you wish. This is despite the fact that, thanks to social media, if regular folks had half that privilege they could probably raise more awareness, generate more engagement, and (bottom line) help more people.
For charities to enter the 21st century, they’re going to have stop focusing on celebrities – and start focusing on the citizen spokesperson.