Weaning Charities off Celebrities

Many charities think the best way to raise awareness of their work is to get a celebrity endorsement. Don’t get me wrong: Hollywood celebrities can do a lot for a charity – but not as much as you think.

As I’ve blogged about before, especially on the internet, charities may actually get more mileage by giving regular folks (with online supporters) the same opportunities that charities give celebrities.

I’ve been doing more than just ranting on this blog – here’s six (among many) charities that I’ve talked to about this.

Save the Children

In April, I was invited to speak at Save the Children USA‘s global headquarters. Just before speaking, I used a flip camera to make this video which I uploaded to YouTube. At the end of the talk, I showed them results.

In less than 2 hours, it had three times the views that their 2 week old video of some famous Hollywood celebrity in Mali trying to fundraise and build a school with Save the Children.

My take home point for them was this: if this is what someone like me can do for them in their parking lot, imagine what I (or fellow YouTubers) could do for them in the field.

In fact, to sweeten the deal, I mentioned that I’ve already fundraised enough to get us within striking distance of building a school. All I asked was that Save the Children give me the identical opportunity as this celebrity.

Thus far, there hasn’t been any indication that Save the Children is interested in doing this. They like me. They like my work. So, really, this is just about how sometimes a big multi-national charity can take a lot of time to come to a decision.

World Vision

If there is an example of a big multinational charity that doesn’t move slowly – it’s World Vision. They were one of the first to see the value of YouTube. Now, they seem to be one of the first that see the value of YouTubers.

World Vision is already actively approaching YouTube video makers (or vloggers). It’s still preliminary but it looks like they want to do something where vloggers get the same opportunities as their Hollywood celebrity spokespeople.

I’ve given input to the staff spearheading this, but I’m not involved in anything officially. I do hope there is room for me and my project in World Vision’s plans. Also, I hope that the end result creates something that is more than just a photo-op for video bloggers.

Red Cross

I’ve blogged about the Red Cross recently. Simply put: they get it. And, I’d actually say the Red Cross is really the leader here. As my conversations with some of their staff show, they feel there is a limit to how much the can do on the internet by themselves.

Many Red Cross staff believe that the key to their success is by creating relationships with people on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook with large online followings and bringing them into the field to tell stories about the Red Cross and their work.

The fact that Red Cross staff are thinking along these lines seriously gives me a lot of hope for the future of their organization. It’s really only a question of whether it’s the Red Cross or World Vision which gets the ball rolling first.

Charity: Water

If you know these guys, I think it’s safe to say they really are the leaders when it comes to connecting online communities to the work they do. They have over a million followers on Twitter, let anyone fundraise without taking a cut of donations, and show you where the money goes.

I got to talk to Charity: Water’s founder Scott Harrison during my trip to NYC in April. Scott seemed open to having non-celebs like me visit their operations on the ground, fundraise, and show people where the money they fundraised goes.

But, I guess the only reason they haven’t moved on something more solid yet is because of funding. For example, if I were to team up with Charity: Water, I’d have to pay the entire way – even down to the last mile.

Also, Charity: Water doesn’t actually have a presence on the ground in developing countries – it’s up to their charities on-the-ground that Charity: Water sub-contracts to do the work.


As the complete opposite to Charity: Water, UNICEF is probably the largest charity in the world – with funding right from your tax dollars and given via the United Nations.

UNICEF is actually one of the biggest spenders when it comes to social media. They have sent film crews around the world and have a large production staff which, in total, have produced over 1,700 videos on YouTube.

Yet – and I explained this to UNICEF when I was invited to visit their headquarters in New York – they are spending an awful lot of money to produce an awful lot of videos. But, most of those videos have around double digit views. Why so much for so little?

Not only that, UNICEF goes to great expense flying Hollywood celebrities like Mia Farrow into the field. But, as they showed me, their videos of Mia Farrow have maybe only a couple hundred views.

Based on my visit, I’ve written a formal proposal to UNICEF. I’ve pitched that they should use some of their massive investment towards teaming up with people like me. I’m nowhere near as attractive or articulate as Mia Farrow – but I promise their message would have a larger audience on YouTube.

World Food Program

If there is a dark horse in all of this – it would be the United Nations World Food Program. The staff I’ve talked to seem to be taking the best of all the other charities I’ve mentioned.

The World Food Program gets UN dollars, but they don’t spend it all on massive video production like UNICEF does. They go for a few interesting videos that they hope will catch on. They have nearly as many views as UNICEF – but with a mere fraction of the videos.

They also seem to “get it” like the Red Cross does. They already have an annual contest where anyone in the world can go into the field with them and video blog their journey. They also seem open to trying new things like a smaller charity like Charity: Water would do.

But, they still rely more heavily on celebrities and give more opportunities for celebrities to visit the field (such as in Haiti). I’m hoping that, even if it’s not with me, that will change and create opportunities for other non-Hollywood celebrities.

Final Thoughts

I’ve been away from Bangladesh for nearly a year now. Now you guys know what I’ve been doing all this time! I’ve talked to so many charities and made this pitch to so many of them – but there is nothing solid just yet.

It kind of makes me feel that, if you’re really passionate about helping others, you shouldn’t pack your bags and go to the developing world. Instead, you should pack your bags and try your luck in Hollywood!

I think the era where charities have two-tiers: one for celebrities & one for regular folks like you and me has to change. Especially on the internet, regular folks can do more for a charity than many celebrities can.

5 Responses to “Weaning Charities off Celebrities”

  1. 1 iamvatoni

    It’s “weaning,” not “weening.”

  2. 2 iamvatoni

    It’s “weaning,” not “weening.”

  3. 3 Shawn

    @iamvatoni – And this is why I’m a blogger and not some fancy journalist for a major newspaper 😉

  4. 4 Shawn

    @iamvatoni – And this is why I’m a blogger and not some fancy journalist for a major newspaper 😉

  5. 5 DeeBeck7765

    You’re naive. Try going to Charitable Intelligence and see how some of your “recommendations” spend their money.

  1. 1 Bangladesh: One Child to Rebuild a School :: Elites TV
  2. 2 Global Voices in English » Bangladesh: One Child to Rebuild a School
  3. 3 World Vision Vloggers | UP | uncultured project
  4. 4 Бангладеш: Дете обнови училиште · Global Voices

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