Aligning the stars with your cause

During the past several weeks, quite a bit of press has been given to three celebrities who have committed time and financial resources to animal-related organizations.  Paris Hilton—heiress to the Hilton Hotels fortune, known for her extravagant lifestyle, wild partying, and varied pursuits within the entertainment and fashion industries—recently revealed a more earnest side when she volunteered some of her 200 hours of community service to the Las Vegas-based Animal Foundation, which operates one of the busiest shelters in the U.S. and inspired her to adopt a 3-year-old Chihuahua in December.  Also in the spotlight is Pamela Anderson, made famous by her numerous television and film roles and her tumultuous relationships, who has aimed for a higher purpose over the years by serving as an animal activist—the U.K. chapter of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) just named her its 2010 Person of the Year.

That being said, the ideal scenario for charitable organizations working with celebrities is being able to share the prestige generated when those individuals’ achievements within their chosen fields are widely honored and celebrated.  Such was the case with Betty White, whose acting career extends more than sixty years and whose involvement with the Morris Animal Foundation—dedicated to advancing animal health and welfare around the world—spans close to forty.  In December, the Associated Press voted her 2010 Entertainer of the Year, and the press release picked up by myriad news outlets nationwide mentioned White’s current role as trustee of the Foundation.  This is bound to have a powerful positive impact on visibility and respect for the organization among the general public.  White has been featured in promotional videos for the Foundation, which have most likely received far greater attention in the last several weeks.  One such video is presented here:

Attracting and sustaining celebrity attention is no easy task, but fortunately, there are a few resources that offer insight for organizations hoping to give it a shot.  Among the most useful is a Philanthropy Front and Center-New York blog post summarizing a panel discussion held at the Foundation Center-New York in October.  Much of the advice shared at the event, “Star Power: Effective Engagement of Celebrities for Your Arts Organization,” is equally applicable to organizations working outside the arts, and can be easily adapted by those that improve the lives of animals.  The Foundation Center’s GrantSpace Knowledge Base also features a resource-rich section dedicated to celebrities and philanthropy, providing an annotated listing of relevant books, articles, Web sites, and other tools, including the Foundation Center’s Celebrity Foundation Directory.

As the Academy Awards ceremony scheduled for Sunday, February 27 draws nearer, news coverage of celebrity giving is likely to expand, and with it, new opportunities for engaging entertainment icons in charitable efforts.

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