OPINION: Help or hinder, Celebrities and charity

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Image by Sacca via Flickr

Having grown up with the internet at my fingertips, perhaps I have developed a cynical eye – a digitally fuelled distrust, when it comes to the marriage of wealth and poverty.

Last week, news of Kate Perry’s appointment as the newest Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF got me thinking about this paradigm which so many charities are now employing to draw attention to their cause.

The pop mega-star recently forked over $11.2m (€8.2m) for two L.A properties; and with song titles like “Ur So Gay” and “If You Can Afford Me”, one would wonder why people like Perry are picked to serve as role models for children in need.

UNICEF for one, sees celebrities as a “vital and unique” part of their organisation, and has been doing so since 1953.UNICEF’s star-studded line-up includes Audrey Hepburn, Liam Neeson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Selena Gomez and Dustin the Turkey, to mention but a few.

But what do these famous faces do?

In an interview with Claire McKeever Communications Manager for UNICEF Ireland, she stated that Goodwill Ambassadors: “can make direct representations to those with the power to effect change and they can use their talents and fame to fundraise and advocate for children”.

“Can” is a key word here. Participation is solely up to the individual. In fact, UNICEF ambassadors have been seen to do quite little in the way of active participation – usually one trip a year.

According to Simon Scriver, Director of Total Fundraising, it really depends on the celebrity ambassador and if they themselves wish to act.

“I think simply having a big name associated with your charity will not increase fundraising or necessarily further the cause. It may even leave you exposed as you’re somewhat reliant on their reputation,” said Scriver.

Indeed Celebrity Ambassadors could almost be viewed as double-edged swords. The sexual abuse scandal involving Jimmy Savile last year has resulted in the closing of two separate charities which were affiliated with the British DJ and BBC television presenter.

McKeever insists that UNICEF’s ambassadors are chosen based on certain criteria so as to minimize such risks : “A UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador will have demonstrated a commitment to improving the lives of children worldwide before they are appointed.”

For many other charities though, these are risks they must take. The fact of the matter is, people are more likely to listen to a celebrity then they are to a charity spokesperson. Celebrities are the sugar coating on an otherwise bitter pill.

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