Why Some Stars Aren't Welcomed by Charities: "No Way in Hell"

9:00 AM PST 08/14/2014 by Chris Gardner
REX USA/AP Images/Invision
From left: Chris Brown, Lindsay Lohan, Lance Armstrong and Naomi Campbell

Reality stars, dilettantes and Chris Brown need not apply as charities search for the right words to turn down famous faces who could hurt more than they help

This story first appeared in the Aug. 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Philanthropy executives and those who match stars with charitable causes reveal that brush-offs are common in an industry where a nonprofit's image can be jeopardized when placed in the hands -- and mouths -- of the wrong name.

This is not your typical door-slamming scenario. "You have to be appreciative and you can't say, 'Thank you for your interest, but there's no way in hell,' " says one exec who specializes in the procurement of talent. "It has to be a much softer dismissal."

There are a number of reasons why actors are turned away or even fired from roles with nonprofit causes, including the obvious (arrests, tabloid headlines) and the less obvious (overactive charity participation, lack of education on a subject).

"There are plenty of folks who get attached to causes over time and then they go out and get arrested and put in jail," explains Sunshine Sachs partner Shawn Sachs, whose firm represents nonprofits including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "If someone is taking mug shots and they've been associated with your brand, you will reap some of that bad [press] too."

Chris Brown is no stranger to the mug shot lens. Following his 2009 arrest for beating Rihanna, sources tell THR that members of the singer's team reached out to several high-profile charities in an effort to launder his image but were turned away.

Margery Tabankin, a longtime Hollywood philanthropic and political consultant, says celebs must be appropriately vetted by an organization before their participation is greenlighted. "You can always have someone write a check or walk the event's red carpet, but if that person is acting as your lead spokesperson, you have to have an honest conversation about what is expected," she notes. "If somebody is going to talk about climate change, international relief work or public education and charter schools, they must really care and know the issue."

In Lance Armstrong's case, his foundation Livestrong moved quickly to stabilize its image by removing him from the charity he created after he was stripped of his Tour de France titles for doping. Armstrong has said that he may launch a new foundation.

Lindsay Lohan netted negative headlines in 2009 when she partnered with a nonprofit to film a BBC documentary in India on child trafficking and was accused of making false claims about the success of her work just 24 hours after arriving in the country. "Over 40 children saved so far …" she tweeted.

Naomi Campbell must have known that she would end up on PETA's dis-list when she signed on for fur-related modeling jobs after campaigning for the animal rights organization. "We fired her for wearing fur," remembers PETA's senior vp communications Lisa Lange.

And Lara Shriftman, partner at PR firm Harrison & Shriftman, admits she typically turns down reality stars. "I look for people who are really, really behind an issue and are working for the cause," she says. "Not someone who is just looking to get publicity for publicity's sake."

Of course, Hollywood being Hollywood, no one ever actually says the word no. A typical brush-off, says one source, is: "We appreciate your interest, but this isn't the right thing for us at this time. Let's try to find a more suitable partnership in the future."

Read more from THR's Philanthropy Issue here.

 

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