Philanthrophy: The networks


Here is a samping of philanthropic activity on the part of the television networks:


Nonprofits find that the networks are a particularly great resource due to their ability to spread awareness with public service announcements. Four years ago, ABC gave its campaigns a home on a Web site it calls "A Better Community." offers information on organizations looking for volunteers. The site also invites viewers to help build homes for needy families on the net's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." The Disney-ABC Television Group also produces an internal newsletter to help employees looking for ways to get involved.


Under the umbrella "CBS Cares," the eye network's public service announcement initiative, campaigns have embraced an eclectic array of causes, from breast cancer awareness to mentoring to mental health. Networks generally tap their own celebrities for their PSAs, but CBS, whose good neighbor policies are under the watchful eye of CBS executive vp Marty Franks, has expanded its roster to include a star of the world stage, Nelson Mandela, who appeared in a pro-tolerance spot on behalf of his eponymous foundation. The network also has a department dedicated to promoting diversity in its ranks by offering career guidance, workshops and mentoring opportunities to college kids and recent grads from minority backgrounds. Thirty-nine CBS-owned television stations serve their communities with food and clothing drives. And the company's outdoor division has given free billboard space for events benefiting charities such as the Special Olympics.


The network's ratings powerhouse, "American Idol," put its numbers to work with "Idol Gives Back," a special in early May that raised almost $70 million for poverty relief in the U.S. and Africa. "Idol" winners from previous seasons including Ruben Studdard, Fantasia Barrino and Taylor Hicks were among the performers who donated their time for the broadcast. Contributions benefited the Charity Projects Entertainment Fund -- a new nonprofit whose goal is to harness the power of the entertainment industry to fight poverty -- which funneled money to Save the Children and America's Second Harvest. Malaria No More and Nothing But Nets also received funding.


HBO Films chief Colin Callender and his wife, Elizabeth, who sits on the board of Covenant House, launched a pilot filmmaking program at the nonprofit support center for at-risk youth four years ago. The program took off and now Digital Doves is an arm of Covenant House, funded by HBO and Time-Warner, which offers four filmmaking workshops a year for several dozen kids in the California chapter. A few grads will try their hand at careers in the entertainment industry, but for most, Digital Doves is an end in itself. "The biggest benefit for the kids is to feel like they're being heard," says program director Jan Pfeiffer. "That validates their sense of worth and helps them on the path to self-sufficiency." HBO also recruited Queen Latifah and Jamie Foxx, who produced the network's film "Life Support," to appear in a recent crop of PSAs urging people to get tested for HIV. The PSAs also featured NBA players, including the Lakers' Lamar Odom and Luke Walton.

MTV Networks

Philanthropy is a key part of MTV Networks' corporate culture under Alicin Reidy Williamson, senior vp corporate responsibility and public affairs. Each of its companies embraces a number of charitable causes for a running total of 24 social initiatives. "All of our channels harness what we do every day and engage with issues that are affecting the audience that we're serving," Williamson says. MTV's public awareness signature is "think MTV," with the credo: "Reflect. Decide. Do." Its main push, "Break the Addiction," was launched on Earth Day 2006 as a "12-step recovery program" aimed at raising a generation of environmental activists. MTV has also partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to form "think: Education," which urges young people to graduate high school. Nickelodeon's main philanthropic interest is encouraging kids to adopt healthier lifestyles. The network joined with the William J. Clinton Foundation and others to launch its Let's Just Play -- Go Healthy Challenge, a series of on-air, online and community-based events designed to teach kids healthy habits. NFL athletes share fitness tips in a new programming segment each month. VH1's initiatives include VH1 Classic's public awareness campaign, Rock Autism, and the VH1 Save the Music Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to restoring instrumental music education in public schools. The decade-old campaign has provided $34 million worth of new instruments to 1,400 public schools around the country. CMT unveiled its "One Country" campaign to promote volunteerism in fall 2005.


NBC prides itself on sponsoring the longest-running network public service campaign, "The More You Know," which has thrown its stars' weight behind a diverse collection of initiatives over nearly two decades. Celebrities from hit shows like "Law & Order" and its various incarnations, "Las Vegas" and "Today" have addressed such 21st-century concerns as parental monitoring of kids' TV and Internet habits, family communication and the environment. In a new interactive twist, the network recently held a PSA-writing contest on the subject of self-esteem. "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" star Mariska Hargitay appeared in the winning entry submitted by a Georgia teenager. NBC has also hooked up with sister company Universal to distribute grants and organize volunteers under the NBC Universal Foundation umbrella. Both companies have also linked arms to implement their "Get On Board" corporate green policy. In concert with parent company General Electric, 40,000 NBCU/GE volunteers have fanned out in 50 countries. Last year, GE also donated $30 million to the United Way that was raised from among employees and partially matched by the company.


Showtime CEO Matt Blank spends his charitable capital on helping children, so the network follows suit. Employee volunteers mentor kids at the Harlem Children's Zone, which helps disadvantaged families, and Showtime contributes $25,000 a year to the organization's AIDS awareness prevention program, which Blank spearheaded. (It also supports Cable Positive, a nonprofit that encourages the industry to promote AIDS awareness programs.) The network also sponsors a basketball tournament for its employees and Harlem Children's Zone kids; throughout the year, some Showtime folk coach sports after work and on Saturdays. PENCIL (Public Education Needs Civic Involvement in Learning) is another New York-based organization in Showtime's sights. The network, which clearly subscribes to its premise, has donated equipment, funded trips and sponsored a video contest for student filmmakers.

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