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Should You Give like a Rock Star?
People give to charity for lots of unselfish reasons. But sometimes the causes they choose and their level of commitment depend on where they can get the most visible bang for their buck.
"A lot of people give because they want to see their name in an invitation or program," said Eileen Heisman, CEO of National Philanthropic Trust. While that's not necessarily wrong, giving for the sake of public acclaim might mean you're shortchanging worthy, less visible charities.
Celebrities are behind a lot of this new attitude toward giving, according to Heisman. These days, it's hard to find a famous person who doesn't support a cause, but many do it purely to enhance their image. For them, taking a turn in a celebrity softball game, for instance, provides publicity and a short-term boost for the charity, but in the long run it hasn't done much to influence charitable giving overall among the general population.
"Total giving has been hovering around 2 percent of GDP for many, many years," Heisman said, "so I don't see the effect there."
That means your charitable dollar is just as important, if not more so, than before the rise of what's been called "celanthropy." You can still follow the lead of a famous role model by taking a closer look at those who demonstrate a long-term passion for philanthropy, Heisman said. She cited actor Sean Penn's work in post-earthquake Haiti, Audrey Hepburn's humanitarian efforts with the United Nations and actor Ed Norton's environmental dedication as a few examples.
Whatever charity you eventually choose to support, making a deeper commitment requires doing some homework, but that's easier than ever with the internet, Heisman said. Searching a particular charity online will easily and quickly yield information that used to be available only through time-consuming research, she added. Websites such as CharityNavigator and GuideStar provide in-depth information on various charities.
Once you've found the charity that fits with your values, the satisfaction of spending time and money will prove to be greater than what you'd gain by seeking the spotlight or attaching yourself to whatever the celebrities are endorsing, Heisman said, because you'll understand why you're giving. Following a celebrity, she added, is "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 go there?"