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Is Mainstream Media the Right Tool for Philanthropy?

| Wednesday June 17th, 2009 | 0 Comments


There’s a show out there called, “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!” Some of you may have heard of it, many others perhaps not. It’s a reality TV show on NBC that features B-list celebrities, like Lou Diamond Phillips, two Baldwin brothers, and America’s favorite power couple from MTV’s The Hills.
It’s a spinoff of a British/Australian reality TV show that has a very similar tenor to Big Brother. Yet, this one has one very big difference. The celebrities are competing for charities.
Photo Source: NBC


The celebrities wear shirts that have numbers viewers can call and donate to. A list of the charites can be found on the I’m a Celebrity website. There’s something about the celebrity’s success being tied how much money is raised, but I neither watched long enough nor cared enough for the show to find out exactly how that worked. Some notable charities are Frances Callier’s Feeding America or Stephen Baldwin’s Love146, an organization that’s working toward the abolition of child sex slavery and exploitation.
On sites like this, we often talk about the power of markets and enterprise to foster sustainability, alleviate poverty, etc., but it would be unwise to discount the value and impact philanthropy has. More accurately, a combination of policy, market forces, and philanthropy is what it will take to address many of the environmental and societal challenges we face throughout the globe. And according to an article by onPhilanthropy, “Media is a powerful vehicle for making these connections.”
In 2006, Warren Buffett announced he he would be gifting his fortune to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. According to onPhilanthropy, Buffett’s donation was “not only a watershed moment in the world of philanthropy but a profoundly significant event in the public relations and media industries.” It triggered a media onslaught of philanthropy reporting, raising awareness for organizations, non-profits, and other celebrity charitable giving.
Lance Armstrong’s “Livestrong” wristbands are a great example of the power of making your story public.
Yet, NBC’s Primetime reality TV has not received the same kind of traction. In fact, earlier this month, a pediatric cancer foundation based in Chicago rejected Patti Blagojevich’s, the wife of indicated former Illinois Governer, attempt to donate the proceeds of her appearance on the show.
So then, what failed? A primetime slot on one of the nation’s biggest TV networks should be a great venue to tell the stories of charities. If not the best. However, the sheer spectacle of Primetime is apparently not enough to generate the groundswell for giving. Philanthropy cannot be used to justify content (especially bad content). It’s a shame, because both NBC and the public missed out on a great opportunity to do something worthwhile.


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