Celebrity Takes Up a Cause: Do Fans Follow?

When stars rally for causes, regular folks don't necessairly open their wallets.

ByABC News
January 8, 2009, 1:12 AM

Sept. 17, 2007 — -- So George Clooney's throwing parties for Darfur. Brad Pitt's building green homes in Katrina-ravaged New Orleans. Angelina Jolie's tromping around the Third World as a United Nations goodwill ambassador.

Sure, these jaunts make for great photo-ops. And having a Hollywood heavyweight wax poetic about children in need, animals in danger, regions in crisis or another cause du jour is sure to elicit warm and fuzzy feelings in the people who care about celebrities and their causes.

But do fans actually follow in stars' philanthropic footsteps?

Studies about Americans' charitable giving habits and reports from those who work in philanthropy say that while a famous name can raise a cause's profile, it doesn't necessarily get people to open their wallets.

"It certainly benefits an organization to have a celebrity associated with them, because it raises the level of seriousness around the topic. But the charity has to be in a position to convince other people to make a commitment," said Lisa Pelofsky, CEO of Pelofsky and Associates, a company that provides fundraising services to nonprofits.

"I don't think people make a commitment to things just because the person they like the most is talking about it," she continued. "These kinds of decisions aren't made impulsively."

Indeed, it seems that when it comes to giving, an Academy Award winner may have less sway than a potential donor's mom and dad. A 2006 study done by Cone, a Boston-based company that helps charities conduct marketing, found that few people pick charities based on celebrity involvement.

Out of more than 1,000 adults surveyed, only 15 percent said they would donate to a cause because of its affiliation with a star. By contrast, 77 percent said they could be swayed to contribute on the advice of family members and 64 percent said they'd give on the advice of friends.

Sandra Miniutti, vice president of marketing for nonprofit charity-rating firm Charity Navigator, said it's probably best that most Americans don't dole out donations based on a megawatt smile or marquee name.