Tag Archives: Philanthropy

Celebrities & Their Vacation Homes: Is It, or Can It Become Common Practice for Celebrities to ‘Give Back’ to the Places that Welcome them with Open Arms?

25 Feb

Last summer, I went to the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island, Bahamas, just minutes from Nassau, and it was a blast. I delighted in the water slides; I marveled over the incredible sea-life; I will be forever touched by my afternoon with Atlas, the dolphin; and the list goes on and on. Thousands of other people were also there, presumably having a grand time as well.

One evening, my husband and I decided to venture outside of the walls of the Atlantis Empire into downtown Nassau for dinner. What we observed on the cab-ride to and from the restaurant, coupled with what our cab driver shared with us, was disturbing, to say the least.

Just a half-mile from the Resort, the poverty was palpable. Housing that shouldn’t be considered housing. Schools that I couldn’t believe were schools. We passed a home for homeless infants and toddlers that had no less than 5 broken glass windows.

The fact that there are plenty of other locales across the globe where people are living in far worse conditions did nothing to quell my discomfort. What we were seeing and hearing about was (just a dose of) the reality of poverty in the Bahamian City of Nassau, and it was upsetting.

We learned from our cab driver that night (and heard it again from another cab driver as well as our boat-guide later in the week) that residents of the City of Nassau (and surrounding areas) who are not employed by one of the resorts or upscale hotels in the area generally live in poverty, some making as little as $55/week and supporting a family of five.

For many residents employed by Atlantis and the other resorts and hotels, it is not their hourly wages that keep them out of poverty. Rather, it’s the tips we give them for their efforts on our behalf, combined with their wages that enables them to make ends meet. The kind woman at the concierge desk; the people we see scouring the massive waterways filled with sea life; the people who clean our sometimes very messy room; those who serve us dinner; etc.

Low-wage jobs, and a very high cost of living (because everything must be imported) combine to make life a struggle for many residents of Nassau.

*****

Later in the week, we left the Resort again, this time to rent a boat and tour the island from the vantage point of the sea. Much to my husband’s disappointment, the camouflaged shallow waters and the reefs deceivingly close to the surface meant that we had to let someone else drive our boat and guide our journey. The disappointment vanished as soon as we met our jovial guide, Bally, who was born and raised in Nassau.

Bally was not only a kind man with a great sense of humor and an inspiring passion for his island. He was also generous (but not at all overbearing) in sharing his deep knowledge of the island’s history and current situation from a social, political and environmental perspective. With statistics and other hard facts, coupled with stories of his family and friends’ experiences on the island, we learned so much about the physical assets of the island and the extent to which so many are withering beyond repair. We learned about the area’s social and economic challenges, political structure, etc. He also told us about several local leaders who have done so much for the community, as well as those who have used their power and influence in damaging ways.

Bally was careful not to weigh us down with the struggles of the community, making sure to share fun island lore and excite us with the natural wonders of the area as well. The mood was light, with jokes and silliness in abundance and excitement about all that we were learning running high.

Then, everything changed for me. What Bally shared with us next sent my compassion into overdrive and also perplexed me beyond measure.

Towards the end of our boat ride, Bally took us on a tour of some of the celebrity vacation homes that abut the shoreline of Paradise Island and the Cays nearby. Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan, Sean Connery, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, Eddie Murphy, John Travolta, Chuck Norris, and many other celebrities have vacation homes in Nassau. Some celebrities actually have two.

It stunned me to see such extraordinary wealth sitting so comfortably against a backdrop of a City in which poverty is so high. But, my stunned feeling was a cakewalk compared to the feelings that hit me when Bally told us that less than half – he thinks it’s more like a quarter – of the celebrities who own homes on the island support the local community through direct financial donations.

Bally was quick to tell us that some celebrity homeowners in the area have been very generous, mainly letting their name be associated and in some cases attending special charity events. But, according to Bally, most celebrity homeowners in Nassau don’t ‘give back’ in the form of financial support to their host community.

*****

It would be foolhardy for me to take one person’s perspective, a sample of only one, as fact. It could certainly be that many celebrities with vacation homes around Nassau, and other Cays in the Bahamian Archipelago, give generously to help the community. It is absolutely the case that celebrities with homes in other locales support their host community in a substantial, lasting way.

The question I was left with, however, which still lingers in my mind more than 6 months after my trip to Atlantis (and which compelled this post), is whether or not it could somehow become standard practice for celebrities – from any industry, anywhere in the world – to ‘give back’ in a financial way to their vacation home community. Can celebrities who already have a demonstrated commitment to philanthropic giving in their vacation home communities encourage thousands (millions?) of other celebrities to do the same?

Imagine the multiplier effect if even just a handful more celebrities started giving (or, for those who already give, opted to award more) to their vacation home community. It would unearth millions in additional philanthropic dollars directed to meet the needs of communities the whole world over.

Based on my novice research, it appears that a growing number of celebrities are not only building vacation homes but also buying entire islands throughout the Bahamian Archipelago. It’s exciting to think about the positive impact that celebrities could have on social and environmental needs in just the Bahamas alone. Add to that the many other communities where celebrities own homes (or so adore vacationing) and, well, you can do the math at this point.

*****

This piece is not meant to imply that celebrities, from all different industries and all over the world, are not already incredibly generous with their philanthropic giving. So many are, and they deserve our praise. My point here is to draw everyone’s (celebrities as well as the rest of us) attention to yet another, exciting opportunity that celebrities have to make an even greater lasting, positive difference in the lives of millions.

The good news is that this opportunity is not just for celebrities. All of us who own vacation homes and/or go on vacation each year can have a lasting positive impact on the communities we come to care about, the places that welcome us with open arms and ask for little in return. While my discretionary resources pale in comparison to celebrities, and I don’t happen to own a vacation home, I am emboldened to give a modest donation to each of the places I visit on vacation, not just because I see the multiplier effect that is possible if others do the same, but also because it feels good.

On a final note if, upon reading this piece, you – celebrities and common folk alike – are inclined to give (even more) to your vacation communities, you should know that there are some great on-line resources you can use to identify high-performing nonprofit charitable organizations in the communities you visit, and you can make your donation safely through their site. My favorites are GlobalGiving and Kiva Their search engines allow you to search by locale, and then by a particular cause you care about (homelessness, adoption, hunger, the environment, education, etc.). They will also keep you updated on the impact of your gift.

 

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Can the Clinton Global Initiative Showcase for the Rest of Us the Philanthropic Power of Special Events?

14 Feb

 

The Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) held its 2013 Annual Meeting at the end of September 2013. By all accounts, it was a spectacular event, drawing more than 1000 people from across the globe. According to the CGI’s Blog, over the three days of the 2013 Annual Meeting, an array of Heads of State, CEOs, non-profit leaders and other global luminaries made over 160 new commitments, valued at more than $10 billion and expected to impact nearly 22 million lives.”

In case you’re not familiar with it, former President Bill Clinton established the Clinton Global Initiative in 2005 with a mission to ‘turn ideas into action’. The Initiative’s hallmark is its Annual Meeting, which is held in New York City each year, and convenes leaders from across the globe to work together to create innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing issues.

The Annual Meeting provides a safe, neutral and stimulating forum for people from diverse backgrounds and professions, and vastly different, in some cases conflicting interests and ideologies, to come together. Many of those who attend the CGI Annual Meeting would not have the occasion or, in some cases, the inclination to come together otherwise to discuss and work together to conceive shared goals and strategies and a common plan for action to address a wide range of issues.

Through the CGI Annual Meeting, leaders learn from both panel experts and from each other; engage in healthy, hearty intellectual debate; forge new relationships; and create new and also determine how to build on existing promising strategies to address problems plaguing our world. From each Annual Meeting comes a series of both macro- and micro-level initiatives that are ready for implementation.

Without question, the CGI Annual Meeting as it stands now deserves our attention and praise. It is, at its core, a philanthropic endeavor, one that seems to be making a difference.

But, what if the Clinton Global Initiative took its Annual Meeting one simple step further by harnessing and in turn showcasing the philanthropic power of special events at the event itself?

What if part and parcel of the CGI Annual Meeting was a philanthropic gift that was collectively generated by, decided upon and awarded at the time of the event by the event’s attendees, speakers and organizers to a high performing nonprofit organization that is addressing a major social or environmental need, either in the event’s host community, or in another locale decided upon by the event’s attendees?

The significant pool of philanthropic funds could be generated through a modest add-on to the event’s registration fee (as little as $50-$100), and an entirely voluntary ‘grant committee’, composed of event attendees and speakers, would be established to decide the social or environmental need and the high performing nonprofit to receive the grant, and then the award would be presented as part of the exciting conclusion of the event.

Isn’t that a win-win-win?

You, the event attendee or speaker, are not only all the richer for the knowledge you have gained and the insights you contributed at the event. You also get to walk away with your head held high, knowing that your relatively modest donation, pooled with the modest donations of the event’s hundreds of other attendees and speakers, leveraged a sizable pot of philanthropic funds that wouldn’t have been generated otherwise. You (along with your fellow attendees and speakers) then get to personally award the funds to a carefully vetted, high performing nonprofit organization that is addressing a high priority need.

Event hosts and organizers will benefit in myriad ways, depending on the type of event (educational or industry conferences, award ceremonies, corporate retreats, membership association meetings, among others). They may garner positive media attention that the event would not attract otherwise; membership organizations may cultivate greater loyalty among members and expand their membership base; individual companies, and in some cases industries as a whole can further build a reputation for having a strong social conscience and ‘giving back’; etc.

The nonprofit organization that receives the grant will not only benefit from the generous pool of funds you and your fellow event participants leveraged through relatively modest donations from individual participants. It can also use your grant to leverage additional funding from other sources, thus making the grant dollars you leveraged exponentially greater.

A key question, however, is whether those of us paying the already steep registration fees for events (whether we are an individual, a company, a grant making foundation, or another entity) would resent the additional fee, regardless of its charitable purpose. Would we also take an exception to the registration fee add-on when many of us already have specific charities that we support on our own each year and don’t want to feel ‘pushed’ to support another?

What do you think?

As a consultant to nonprofits, philanthropies and companies for the past 25 years, I’ve certainly attended my fair share of professional conferences, association meetings, annual retreats, award ceremonies and the like. I’ve paid for many on my own and also had many underwritten by clients. Whether I’m writing the check myself or giving the event billing information to my client, either way I often grimace at the cost of the event.

And, yet, I’m 100% in favor of seizing what I consider an incredible opportunity for events of all different types, which take place by the thousands each year, to help us unearth a significant level of additional philanthropic capital and truly maximize the power of collective philanthropic action. It makes sense from both a business and a social conscience perspective.

With just a modest donation, I can become part and parcel of generating and awarding a significant pool of philanthropic dollars, most likely more money at just one event than I could afford to give in my entire lifetime. The multiplier effect of each of our modest donations is palpable. If just 25% of the events held each year generated a pool of funds and awarded a philanthropic gift, it would increase the level of philanthropic dollars committed to address social and environmental needs literally by the millions.

Especially for events that are already organized around a social mission, such as the CGI Annual Meeting, the National Council on Foundations Annual Conference, etc., it seems only logical that they would use the event itself as an opportunity to showcase their social values and commitment. But, it is also logical, not to mention the right thing to do for all kinds of conferences, conventions, corporate retreats, award ceremonies such as the Motion Picture Arts’ Academy Awards, among countless others, to do the same.

Now back to the Clinton Global Initiative.

Given its high-profile, excellent reputation, the diversity of human talent and intellectual capital it draws, and its philanthropic mission, the CGI Annual Meeting is especially well positioned to showcase for the rest of us the role that events can have on addressing social and environmental needs.

My hope is that the Clinton Global Initiative will embrace this role at its 2014 Annual Meeting and, in so doing serve as a game-changer when it comes to unleashing and capitalizing on the power of collective philanthropic action through events. Let’s learn from CGI’s Annual Meeting how it could work, the positive imprint it could leave and the fabulous ripple effect it will (hopefully) have with special events the whole world over.

Ever feel like saying ‘Thank You’ to the place that just provided you with a fabulous vacation?

21 Aug

Let’s say, for sake of conversation, that you reside in the United States and take a vacation every summer, be it alone or with friends and/or family, to anywhere in the world. What if you made a $5 donation to address a major social or environmental need in the place that just provided you with a fabulous vacation? Consider it a ‘give back’ of sorts to a location that just welcomed you with open arms. If you travel to countless places throughout the year, and giving $5 to each one is not feasible, what if you chose just one, two, or even three of those places?

Would you do it?

Have you ever felt inclined to say ‘thank you’ to your vacation destination? An island, city, mountain range, or anywhere in between. Near your home or far, far away. If not your destination, maybe it’s the tiny town where you stopped for lunch on the way, i.e., that shoebox-size restaurant where were blown away by the delicious food, the kindness of the people, and the beauty of the surroundings. Or, the national park en route where you spontaneously stopped for a hike.

What if you knew that your ten dollars would provide a hot healthy meal to three families at the local soup kitchen, or that your modest donation, when pooled with modest donations from other vacationers, will help prevent tidal flooding that ruins homes and businesses. Or, it will support development of a water irrigation system that ensures clean drinking water and prevents water-born illnesses. How about basic school supplies for 100 children at the only local school? Or, funds that will pay for blankets at the local orphanage? Etc.

There is definitely power in numbers. If you give your $5-$25 to a trustworthy, reputable nonprofit charitable organization, and you encourage your friends and family and even strangers like me to start giving a modest donation, the multiplier effect would increase giving in a truly phenomenal way to so many places across the globe where social and environmental needs prevail and the opportunity to improve conditions exists.

According to the Department of Commerce’s Office of Travel and Tourism Industries, approximately 23 million people in the United States went abroad for tourist travel in 2012.[1]  This means that if just 50% of these people gave $5 to one of their travel destinations (or somewhere en route), it would generate approximately $58 million in charitable donations on an annual basis.

A noteworthy figure, don’t you agree?

For you corporate travelers, it’s understandable that when you travel for work you want to get in and out as quickly and efficiently as possible. As socially conscious as you may be in your everyday life, when it comes to business travel, there’s simply no time, and perhaps no inclination, to give back to the place you just visited.

But, what if all you needed to do was click on a website and select, from a simple list of your travel destination’s needs and worthy projects, the one you want to support, and then your employer makes the modest donation? Better yet, what if your employer gave you a stipend each year to make a donation to your favorite business travel destination(s)? You can decide if you want to give your whole wad to one place or spread it across the many locales you visit on your business trips throughout a given year.

Your efforts are a win-win for you and your company. The company strengthens its reputation and stands to capture greater market-share of an increasingly socially conscious customer base through a marked increase in the geographic reach and greater diversity of causes that it supports. Also, as studies attest, engaging employees in grant making efforts leads to a notable increase in engagement and morale. You, on the other hand, get to go to sleep each night with the knowledge that you (yes, you) are playing a pivotal (yes, pivotal) role in making the world a better place.

So, would you do it? Would it be with pride, or out of social pressure because some of your colleagues are doing it?

The notion and practice of ‘travel philanthropy’ is not new. Thanks to individual trailblazers like Michael Seltzer, and game-changing travel-oriented companies like tour operators, IntrepidTravel and Elevate Destinations, and retailers Patagonia and REI, giving back to vacation destinations is gaining momentum.

But, there is still so much more that we, as individual travelers, can do. And it doesn’t have to break the bank. We can ‘give back’ in a modest way on our own and also encourage our friends and family to do the same.

Making a modest donation to the places we have come know and care about through recreational and corporate travel seems such a simple way to feel a little better about ourselves and improve the world while we’re at it. Together, we have the power to generate the public will necessary to make a ‘give back’ to the places we visit – on vacation and for work – not only common practice but a social norm.


[1] This figure may include repeat travelers, in which case the total number of unduplicated travelers would be lower. At the same time, it is also the case that this figure does not include recreational travelers who traveled within the United States during 2011. Adding this pool to those who traveled internationally increases the actual total figure by a substantial amount. Thus, for purposes of this piece, 23 million is considered a reasonable estimate to make the general point that a modest donation of $5 among even 50% of annual recreational travelers would increase giving by a substantial amount.