When you think of celebrity activists, what forms of activism come to mind? Is it someone writing a check or stepping out of their comfort zone to grab a loudspeaker? Is it a deep-rooted cause a celebrity believes in or just a tax write-off?
In the end, it doesn’t really matter. Both money (philanthropy) and action (activism) get important work done, that otherwise would languish. Yes, there may be a snowball effect when a celebrity lends his or her name to a cause, such as increased awareness and brand strength, but who really cares if good-for-humankind is the end result?
America is obsessed with money. Forbes Media celebrates entrepreneurial capitalism and purports to be leading systemic change in business, culture and society. It has developed an annual list of the 100 Highest Paid Celebrities, a Highest Paid Athletes list, and a Billionaires list, among other assets. Yet Forbes publishes no list of the 100 Most Generous People or Businesses, nor is there a column in any of the aforementioned looky-looky lists indicating how much money the uber rich donated to good causes. Instead, we are often simply fed anecdotes in a piecemeal manner by social or traditional media, providing a few nanoseconds of attention and then, poof, the feel-good tweet or story (if you can call it that) disappears.
Mr. Federle, CEO of Forbes Media, I have an important message for you:
“You oversee every aspect of your Company. I challenge you to create a new list about entrepreneurial capitalism’s creation of good for humankind, not just wealth. Can you do it?” (Melinda Head)
I’ve done a quick study of the Top 5 Highest Paid Celebrities, the Top 5 Highest Paid Athletes and the Top 5 Billionaires. Counting football (soccer) stars Ronaldo and Messi only once (as they appeared both on the Highest Paid Celebrities and Highest Paid Athletes lists), collectively all of these folks were rolling in $782,458,000,000 - can you even say that? It’s almost a trillion dollars. Let’s take 3% of this amount, a percent that is often tossed around as the amount of income an average American donates to charity annually – woah, that’s $23.4 billion. We know that the uber rich give away much more than 3%, so this is just the tip of the iceberg … but how much and to which causes? Should $23.4 billion worth of goodness (likely much more) be a secret? In my mind, it is a missed opportunity to spread the word and to serve as an example for others to follow.
I agree with the words of Jim Calaway, the son of poor tenant farmers in Texas who made millions in oil and gas, eventually focusing his semi-retirement efforts in building wind farms to generate renewable energy. He is comfortable saying exactly whom he’s given money to and exactly how much. By promoting his contributions, he hopes to encourage other people with the means to do the same:
“Making a lot of money and spending it on yourself is not a lot of fun. What is a lot of fun is to live modestly so that you can give to the common good. That’s where happiness really lies.”
And let’s not forget Warren Buffett’s famous words (he famously “milked” Forbes’ list to support his Giving Pledge):
“If you’re in the luckiest 1% of humanity, you owe it to the rest of humanity to think about the other 99%.”
Elon Musk tops the Forbes Billionaires list, using Twitter incessantly to deliver social, political and philanthropic messages. We like your spunk, Mr. Musk
Many donors now say that issues (not companies) affect their giving decisions. And we know that volunteers give twice as much as those who only write a check – so both giving and doing should be the ultimate goal.
The word “philanthropy” derives from the Ancient Greek words “philein”, meaning “to love”, and “anthropos”, meaning “humankind”. Let’s all show our love for humankind during these troubling times and beyond. Celebrity or not, let’s all make a heroic effort to do more good.
Now take what you’ve learned and play today’s Celebrity Activists Quiz of the Day:
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