Do Charities Need Celebrities?

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.

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The Front Door for Many Charities

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.

UK Celebrity Alexandra Burke with her large entourage of aid workers (aid workers not fully seen in frame so as to avoid showing the logo of the charity)

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?

Which celebrity isn't endorsing some charitable cause? Do you care?

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.

26 Responses to “Do Charities Need Celebrities?”


  1. 1 Claire McKenna

    I completely agree. As much good as celebrities bring when they go and use their fame to raise awareness, the next week half of them are on a tabloid front page in another scandal.

    Hopefully some charity will come to their senses and see the good you can bring to the table. I believe you’d have a far greater impact than most of the celebrities visiting Haiti.

  2. 2 Claire McKenna

    I completely agree. As much good as celebrities bring when they go and use their fame to raise awareness, the next week half of them are on a tabloid front page in another scandal.

    Hopefully some charity will come to their senses and see the good you can bring to the table. I believe you’d have a far greater impact than most of the celebrities visiting Haiti.

  3. 3 Gill

    Hi Shawn – I have a link to your blog on my little blog – and vist your page regularly. It it hard to be an ‘ordinary’ pioneer – but your efforts are like a ripple in a pond – just keep on making ripples – I think you are a brilliant example of ‘the citizen spokesperson’ – keep tweeting and blogging and creating value. x

  4. 4 Gill

    Hi Shawn – I have a link to your blog on my little blog – and vist your page regularly. It it hard to be an ‘ordinary’ pioneer – but your efforts are like a ripple in a pond – just keep on making ripples – I think you are a brilliant example of ‘the citizen spokesperson’ – keep tweeting and blogging and creating value. x

  5. 5 Bill Martin

    Agreed, Shawn. It’s a real pain in the arse, too. Times change and it seems more and more as they do more and more people don’t know or get how to change with them.

  6. 6 Bill Martin

    Agreed, Shawn. It’s a real pain in the arse, too. Times change and it seems more and more as they do more and more people don’t know or get how to change with them.

  7. 7 Melisa

    I also agree, Shawn. But this is the reality of what’s really happening; charities think they could draw more public support from popular celebrities endorsing their campaigns or programs.

    Personally, I do think that one’s social influence counts. If you’re popular, it means many people follow your career/profession/life–what’s going on in your life–because they’re simply interested in you. So if you’d ever endorse something, your “followers” would take interest in it as well, esp. the die-hard ones, and you’d be able to channel public awareness of the campaign/product/program. But then again you would have to consider your own life, what kind of life you’re living. Because while there are many people who care less about your background as long as they love your music or your movies or your books or your talent or just your pretty face, there are also lots of people–the ones capable of making intelligent life-changing decisions and have the power to make a little shift in the process–who do care about your whole being as a celebrity in any field. These people know how to consider things sensibly. So if you’re a celebrity with scandals behind you, that won’t make you a credible endorser of social campaigns, and I guess that’s what most charities are not seeing.

  8. 8 Melisa

    I also agree, Shawn. But this is the reality of what’s really happening; charities think they could draw more public support from popular celebrities endorsing their campaigns or programs.

    Personally, I do think that one’s social influence counts. If you’re popular, it means many people follow your career/profession/life–what’s going on in your life–because they’re simply interested in you. So if you’d ever endorse something, your “followers” would take interest in it as well, esp. the die-hard ones, and you’d be able to channel public awareness of the campaign/product/program. But then again you would have to consider your own life, what kind of life you’re living. Because while there are many people who care less about your background as long as they love your music or your movies or your books or your talent or just your pretty face, there are also lots of people–the ones capable of making intelligent life-changing decisions and have the power to make a little shift in the process–who do care about your whole being as a celebrity in any field. These people know how to consider things sensibly. So if you’re a celebrity with scandals behind you, that won’t make you a credible endorser of social campaigns, and I guess that’s what most charities are not seeing.

  9. 9 Domingo Senion

    Is it just me, or are there an awful lot of commonalities between the deaths of Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley?

  10. 10 Domingo Senion

    Is it just me, or are there an awful lot of commonalities between the deaths of Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley?

  11. 11 Jane Doe

    I have recently gotten into humanitarian aid and i must commend you for your efforts. Because every charity uses celebrities, it becomes no longer novelty, and less people care. It is very sad that people need a deemed ‘cool’ person to support a charity to be able to do it themselves. When it comes down to the nitty gritty, it seems like less love occurs, where you go and help complete strangers, most others must know the person. Your love for your fellow humanity is spreading. Keep it up.

  12. 12 Jane Doe

    I have recently gotten into humanitarian aid and i must commend you for your efforts. Because every charity uses celebrities, it becomes no longer novelty, and less people care. It is very sad that people need a deemed ‘cool’ person to support a charity to be able to do it themselves. When it comes down to the nitty gritty, it seems like less love occurs, where you go and help complete strangers, most others must know the person. Your love for your fellow humanity is spreading. Keep it up.

  13. 13 Elvie Mendler

    sweet post. I’ve been telling me friends about this blog. They love it!

  14. 14 Elvie Mendler

    sweet post. I’ve been telling me friends about this blog. They love it!

  15. 15 Maree

    I totally agree with this. Although on the other hand, these charities also need more funding in order to help more people and having a celebrity with them is one of the ways to do that. But I don’t think that charities should wait for celebrities to help people. Charities should drive celebrities to volunteer on their own and help, not the other way around.

  16. 16 Maree

    I totally agree with this. Although on the other hand, these charities also need more funding in order to help more people and having a celebrity with them is one of the ways to do that. But I don’t think that charities should wait for celebrities to help people. Charities should drive celebrities to volunteer on their own and help, not the other way around.

  17. 17 Ariana Coleman

    No one will beat the king which is Elvis Presley.:’,

  18. 18 Ariana Coleman

    No one will beat the king which is Elvis Presley.:’,

  19. 19 Gabriella Mancini

    Just like the many others who have commented. I too agree with what you’re saying. I will admit that I too have that charity filter and don’t care what celebrity went where. What I feel is that to get wide spread attention is through new media, like what you’re doing. You are one of the citizen’s spokespeople and with you and hopefully the growing amount of people spreading the word we can all help.

  20. 20 Gabriella Mancini

    Just like the many others who have commented. I too agree with what you’re saying. I will admit that I too have that charity filter and don’t care what celebrity went where. What I feel is that to get wide spread attention is through new media, like what you’re doing. You are one of the citizen’s spokespeople and with you and hopefully the growing amount of people spreading the word we can all help.

  21. 21 Bobbykingpin

    the best thing you can do is find an area no one else has touched and give everything you can to it. no one wants to team up because they have their streamlined (one can hope) processes that get aid to stricken areas, which will only be disrupted and slowed when they go some other route. this isn’t to discourage you, rather the opposite. you don’t need large groups. find a few passionate, like-minded people, get a plan, and start growing it. (i do admit i’ve seen enough roma downey, and anytime i hear that sarah mclaughlin song, i just want to mclaugh)

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  24. 24 Canchisdena

    I don´t know how to begin…. and I really hope someone can help. I am a college student in Guatemala(central america) I live by myself, pay my own bills and work 10 hour shifts from Monday through Friday, I wish to get support paying my school as it is very expensive and almost half my salary, I am falling behind and will not be able to attend soon, this has been my dream for such a long time, finish my degree and apply for a scholarship and then come back to my country after saving money to put up a business and give people jobs. This is a very poor country, where people spend more than what they earn and every day, there are less and less job opportunities and very low salaries, your chances of getting a job increase a little when you speak a different language,but now my rent went up, I don´t have a car and public transportation here is very very dangerous, if someone can help me or knows who can help me, please let me know. College tuition is around $280 a month I have 2 years and a half left. Please help me.

  25. 25 michelle

    It’s
    always great to see celebrities using their fame for good causes.  I think the most successful pairings tend to
    be formed when a celebrity joins forces with an organisation or a cause that he or she
    is really passionate about. Think Bono and raising awareness about poverty in
    Africa, George Clooney and Darfur or Angelina Jolie and her work with refugees. DeVyne Stevens work
    with the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America is another great example of
    a powerful pairing aimed at doing good. DeVyne supports the organisations One
    Community One Cause, an initiative targeted at raising awareness and attracting
    fund for research into treatments. The disease afflicts 1 in every 500
    African-American births yet few people know about
    it, but hopefully that will all change soon thanks to the support of
    celebrities like recording mogul DeVyne. Undoubtedly his celebrity and status
    in the recording world will help raise awareness about this cause that he
    supports.

  26. 26 spy text messages

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