It's hard not to notice what celebrities are doing these days. Like it or not, we live in a world of in-your-face publicity. So when famous people commit themselves to charity, there's bound to be paparazzi. Think of U2 lead singer Bono and his commitment to Africa, or movie-star power couple Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt: She's a U.N. goodwill ambassador for refugees and he's building homes in New Orleans for Hurricane Katrina victims.
The celebrity effect on philanthropy hasn't necessarily led to more giving overall, says Eileen Heisman, CEO of National Philanthropic Trust. "Total giving has been hovering around 2 percent of GDP for many, many years, so I don't see the effect there."
The value in snagging a celebrity endorsement, she adds, is in the increased recognition for the particular charity. But that doesn't mean you should blindly follow in your favorite pop star's philanthropic footsteps. "It's like following the pied piper. You see him marching down the street with his magic musical pipe, but where is he going, and do you really want to go there?"
Just like in the general population, celebrity giving ranges from quick hits to grab some publicity to deep commitments of time and money. So the smart philanthropic strategy is to do your own homework, which is easier than ever these days, Heisman says. An Internet search on a particular charity will yield information that used to be available only through time-consuming research. Websites such as CharityNavigator and GuideStar provide in-depth information on various charities.
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