These days charitable fundraising has become pretty big business, and it’s impossible to turn on your TV or open your paper without seeing adverts for the latest plea. Whether it’s a long term global issue or the latest in an unfortunate string of natural disasters, people around the world seem constantly in need of help for a variety of reasons. And when you look closely at individual households, you’d probably be hard-pressed to find a family that doesn’t make some sort of contribution to a charity, whether it’s as much as a regular monthly donation or as little as their spare change in a shop collection tin. Businesses are even getting in on the act, buying into tax schemes that save their companies money while their employees can donate to certain charities direct from their payroll.
All this means that when it comes to promoting themselves, charities get serious. They advertise, they doorstep and they letter drop, because every opportunity to get into the public eye means more donations. And this is why having a celebrity sponsor is something every charity wants. The higher profile a supporter has, the more fans they have. And more fans, means even more money.
So why are celebrities so eager to sponsor charities in the first place? The sceptics amongst us might suggest that they’re doing it for the publicity, the thrill of the paparazzi and the free dinners at high profile charitable events, but in fact it appears that the majority of celebrities support charities for the same reasons as the rest of us – they’ve been personally affected by the causes they’re contributing to.
Take Canadian born singer Celine Dion, for example, who has been a long-time supporter of the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation since she lost her 16 year old cousin to the disease, while Alicia Silverstone is the public face of the PETA campaigns in America, fronting their promotional vegetarian adverts in deference to her own lifestyle choices. Scots actor Ewan McGregor joined the ranks of the rich and famous supporters of various Meningitis research charities after his baby daughter Clara nearly died from the deadly disease back in 1997, just as Hugh Grant uses his combination of celebrity status and personal tragedy to bring greater recognition to Pancreatic Cancer after losing his mother to the illness. And who can forget UK’s Jade Goody who shot to fame on reality TV show Big Brother? Her high profile campaigning for greater cervical cancer awareness before she finally succumbed to the disease herself is reported to have save thousands of other young women from the same fate.
Even so, us mere mortals can often be critical of what can seem to be profile-raising activity, and there’s almost a belief that celebrities have a moral obligation to use their fame and status for the good of others. But should it really matter? After all, any charitable contribution, however it’s made, should be a positive gesture, shouldn’t it? And it’s also fair to say that these days celebrities are acting less and less like figureheads for charities, and are choosing to set off and do some meaningful volunteer work abroad when they do get a break in filming. It’s not as if they have a ton of time available to drop everything and head off on a gap year or two, but when the likes of Danny Glover lends UNICEF a hand with landmine victims in Ethiopia, and Jackie Chan gives up his time to help AIDS sufferers in Cambodia, the rest of us need to sit up and take notice.
Byline: Fiona Galloway is a travel writer who spent her gap year in the Languedoc region of France.