In an investigation for 20/20, Brian Ross reported on event planner Aaron Tonken who admitted to using millions of dollars intended for charities to get A-list stars and politicians to attend some of Hollywood's biggest fund-raisers. The report points up how easily individuals can be duped into giving money to causes that never benefit from their generosity due to unscrupulous managers.
David Niven Jr., son of legendary actor David Niven, has seen firsthand some ethically questionable activities behind the scenes of some star-studded fund-raising events. He shared his insights with 20/20 and answers viewers' questions below.
Niven chaired Recording Artists, Actors, & Athletes Against Drunk Driving and now heads See a Child Save a Child, a program that seeks to prevent injury and death to bicyclists and pedestrians by increasing their visibility to motorists. For more information about See a Child Save a Child, visit the Web site: http://www.seeachildsaveachild.com.
I didn't know you were involved with RADD. Do you still do work with them? How did you become involved with activism? How did you choose which causes to support?
Best regards and keep up the good work!
-- Kate, Hollyglen, Calif.
DAVID NIVEN JR.:
Kate, I was asked to be chairman of RADD [Recording Artists Actors and Athletes Against Drunk Driving] about 10 years ago and after six years my term was up. I have always been a believer in the designated driver as a way to help save lives. RADD has over 500 celebrities participating in PSAs. I got Paul McCartney to agree that his and John Lennon's song, "Baby You Can Drive My Car", could be RADD's theme song. I now choose causes to support based on their mission -- if it's child safety and injury prevention -- like See A Child Save A Child -- then I will support it to the best of my ability.
I looked at your See a Child, Save a Child Web site. Do schools participate in your See a Child, Save a Child group? It seems that could do a lot of good, if schools purchased or gave out the reflective stickers to students. How would I go about getting my child's school involved?
-- Marie, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Marie, yes schools, hospitals and community outreach organizations around the country participate in the See A Child Save A Child safety kit injury prevention program for children. If you e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org I will be only too delighted to explain how your child's school can get the kits.
20/20 mentioned that you head a group that promotes bicycling and pedestrian safety. I'm an avid cyclist. What's the name of the group? Do you bike? Why did you choose to get involved with this group?
-- Peter, Maplewood, N.J.
Peter, I do bike and so do my children. The cause that promotes bicycling and pedestrian safety is See A Child Save A Child. You might like to visit its Web site seeachildsaveachild.com The 12 adhesive reflective stickers in each safety kit make the wearer significantly more visible to motorists in low light conditions. I got involved with this organization because I saw a child air-lifted by a car one evening.
Fortunately the child was not seriously hurt but the driver probably never recovered from the experience. Parents must do everything possible to make their child more visible to motorists in low light conditions -- adhesive reflective stickers are a solution.
What charities do you give to? Do you have any suggestions on what groups I could give to? I do not want to pay administration charges, I want to give to a charity that will get the money.
-- David Goodsell, Keller, Texas
David, I give to causes that support the well being and safety of children, especially inner-city children. I would suggest you find an organization with a mission that is close to your heart. You can always stipulate that your donation cannot go to administration overhead and must only go toward the direct cost of whatever materials it disperses.
Do these people pay taxes on their gifts at least? Or all they all written off?
-- Darryl in Baltimore, Md.
Darryl, I have no idea if these people pay taxes on gifts they received. I would assume they did as the tax law requires one to declare all forms of income, gifts, tips etc. If they broke the law then they run the risk of going to the slammer.
I would like to know if a list exists naming the stars who demanded money or perks to appear for "charity". I go to a lot of movies and don't want to support any actor who could stoop so low. Thank you.
-- Lucy Powers, Townsend, Del.
Lucy, I agree 100 percent with your position. When I was chairman of RADD we never gave money to stars for appearing at a charity event and NEVER would have -- I find the thought totally wrong, despicable and it's irresponsible for a non-profit to participate. No star ever approached me or RADD for money. I have not read Aaron Tonken's book, but I gather he names numerous individuals -- you might like to get a copy and be more enlightened -- hopefully your favorite talents are not mentioned.
Not a question, a comment, Mr. Niven, seeing you was like looking at your dear father again, You are the spitting image of him. I enjoyed all of his movies, and I think you're a cutie.
-- Gloria Green, Texas
NIVEN: Gloria -- how sweet of you !!
For More Information
The following sites offer advice on evaluating organizations and determining which groups will put your financial support to good use.
* The Better Business Bureau offers Tips on Giving at this Web address: http://www.give.org/tips/index.asp.
* Guidestar.org offers extensive information about the nonprofit sector as well as tips for giving at this Web address: http://www.guidestar.org/learn/index.jsp