There are few things more influential than entertainment, and the ability for characters (and the celebs who portray them) to drive retail consumption and inform pop culture. Every generation has spawned a myriad of fads from Farah Fawcett’s feathered bangs to Jennifer Aniston’s signature “Rachel” haircut to iPods, mobile apps, the vampire craze and Ashton Kutcher’s popularization of Twitter. Even Mad Men’s 60s style has infiltrated the Gap and Banana Republic, along with Brooks Brothers’ limited edition suit (which is absolutely gorgeous, by the way).
While these are superficial elements, what’s powerful about trends is that they spark conversations, evoke emotions, and make a memorable mark on the individuals who embrace them. And I’ve often said that this same process can be replicated by harnessing the power of entertainment for social good, which is exactly what SyFy’s television series, Sanctuary, is doing with their new endeavor, “Sanctuary For Kids” (S4K), a call back to their tagline, “Sanctuary For All.” According to the website, the mission of Sanctuary for Kids is “to improve the lives of children around the world who need protection and are in crisis – those who are exploited, dispossessed and threatened.”
Sanctuary For Kids was founded by actress Amanda Tapping, who stars in the series, which runs on Syfy on Friday nights, and TV writer/producer Damian Kindler as a new non-profit foundation to help disadvantaged children. They launched the foundation in collaboration with teacher and social worker Jill Bodie in Vancouver, where Sanctuary is filmed.
“We all feel very lucky and honored to be able to do jobs we love with people we love in this industry,” said Tapping. “Jill, Damian and I all felt a very strong desire and real responsibility to do something with the reach and audience we have through Sanctuary and the sci-fi community. We didn’t want to waste the influence that the series has, or the meaningful connections we personally have made with so many people around the world.”
The principals behind S4K have ambitious plans to help children in several ways, including capitalizing on the micro-donation movement through online donations and auctions. The funds raised will be forwarded to existing programs throughout the world that are deemed to have an immediate need where a tangible difference will be made. But S4K is not only about raising money. Kindler is passionate about getting the entertainment industry more involved with causes to help drive action and awareness for important issues.
“Ultimately, we want to set an example and make charitable giving and outreach a standard practice in the television and entertainment industry,” Kindler said. “We all feel that it would be irresponsible to ignore that influence.”
The Sanctuary for Kids team has selected three organizations with whom to launch in partnership to advance their respective efforts — the Nepal Orphans Home and Watari’s TTIP (Transitioning to Independence Program) and TIPPY (Transitioning to Independence Program for Parenting Youth) Programs. Nepal Orphans Home attends to the welfare of children in Nepal who are orphaned, abandoned, or not supported by their parents, and provides for the children’s basic needs of food, shelter, and clothing, as well as schooling and health care. Watari’s Programs work with the homeless youth population aimed at stabilizing youth in safe, affordable market housing while encouraging their continued commitment to their treatment plan.
S4K’s first auction is already underway and runs through November 22. Items for bid include a behind-the-scenes set tour and lunch with Amanda Tapping, a personal Skype chat with Executive Producers Amanda Tapping, Damian Kindler and Martin Wood, a well known prop used in the series (the Sonic Stunner) and an opportunity to name a new character in the show.
Sci-fi fans tend to be amongst the most loyal — and rabid — so they are always seeking additional content or ways in which they can get more deeply involved in the story. Building on show affinity by auctioning meaningful experiences and props is an excellent way to seize a captive audience and generate awareness of important issues. By becoming involved in the fundraising efforts, Sanctuary fans become intently focused on the associated causes, and their bids — and excitement around the items offered — engenders consciousness, drives action, and a substantial impact on the non-profits being supported.
HBO’s Entourage also recently used their series as a vehicle for promoting social change by weaving a storyline around OnexOne.org in the season finale and viral videos to generate awareness of the hunger, health and education issues facing children around the world. With viewers focused on the characters and the show, you have a fixated audience listening to the important facts that Matt Damon was sharing such as ‘one in every three children born is food insecure,’ integrated seamlessly as part of the dialogue. Without realizing it, you’re retaining important information and motivated to get involved with an organization you may not have heard of prior.
Cause integrations with mainstream TV content and entertainment is definitely a step in the right direction for broadening reach for non-profits, and delivering the message in a way that encourages viewers to participate and take action. If efforts like these continue, perhaps the influence on pop culture will be to adopt your favorite actor’s cause instead of their hair style. Or, better yet, proceeds from that swank Don Draper suit purchase go toward a cause which you can sport at your next fundraising event. (Yeah, you go to fundraising events now. You’re conscious like that.)