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Put Me In, Coach! (Again)

A few weeks back, I wrote a post on this NY Times interview with the global head of philanthropic services at JP Morgan Private Bank. Lisa Philp acts as a “philanthropy coach” primarily to wealthy individuals and family foundations, who all are looking “to achieve as much as possible through wise giving.”

At the time, I focused on the language with which Philp describes her work, which drew heavily upon both the sports and finance worlds. I really didn’t think much about the backgrounds and details of her client list — both because she did not name names and because, in this context, the interests and subsequent investments seemed more interesting than the clients themselves.

But what about when the client is more “interesting” (or attention-getting) than the cause?

I found it pretty intriguing to contrast the above article with a recent article in the LA Times: “Celebrities hire philanthropy consultants to guide their giving.” First, while Philp identifies mainly as a “sounding board” for her clients, these celebrity consultants fill every role from tax adviser to social secretary: “from preparing a charity’s tax forms to arranging meetings … they write speeches, update websites, and suggest which benefit galas to attend and which to skip.”

The article suggests that such profoundly high-profile giving has become a trend in the past decade as a result of the leadership of a few. Especially in Hollywood, this demand for such multi-faceted philanthropy assistance “may also reflect a particular desire to be associated with the sort of serious activism that has transformed brethren like Angelina Jolie and Bono from mere entertainers to global power players.” And on the flip side, both the financial and vocal support of a powerful entertainer can transform a cause overnight — and can speedily draw attention to an otherwise-forgotten region.

Celebrity philanthropy and the advising thereof are interesting, fraught topics — which, if nothing else, are deserving of a longer blog post. But I do want to pose two related questions. First, most of the consultants in the article stated that they do not accept the business of those seeking “red carpet philanthropy” over “real philanthropy.” But even if a star seeks a consultant for all the right reasons, can their chosen cause truly take the spotlight? Or will they always be a bigger star and a bigger story than the work that they promote?

Second, a commentator on the LA Times website asked an interesting question, will celebrities or their advisers seek out organizations with star-power to match their own? Do highly-visible people ever give to small or less-high-profile organizations — who, quite possibly, would have the most to gain from their exposure and support? Does that happen and what kind of a difference could it make?

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