Thursday, February 21, 2019

Philanthropy and Celebrity Are Like A Dance Between Lovers

Credit: Baby In Blue
Dance of Love

Non-Profit and Celebrity Public Relations Must Always Focus On Empowering the Goals Which Bring Them Together

During the fun, exciting world of Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, working with a Public Relations firm had me buzzing between Fashion Shows at Lincoln Center, Chelsea Piers, The Standard and Milk Studios. In addition to managing the fast paced, day time madness of juggling press and my camera equipment during Fashion Week. My evenings would be spent hosting consecutive charity events to promote causes such as, annual New York City run-a-thon benefiting , and another great non-profit during the Opening Art Showcase at Trump and a local Gallery. My journey would be a consecutive, non-stop run for 14 days on 5 hours of sleep every night mingling from one after party to the next with my Art Agent. When other people's Fashion Week ended, mine continued to cover over 100 events. Fully aware it would be exhausting but finding myself internally motivated by a family tradition; the love of art and promoting charities to help them raise funds which allow them to continue making positive changes in the world. After sunset, you could take my hand but my life would become focused on networking and making connections with people who had a heart for Philanthropy and Deep Pockets, a world that is often filled with celebrities, philanthropists, successful entrepreneurs and politicians. Along with a need for diplomacy, discretion, respect, good manners and the charm of a wire-puller.

Being involved with charity, art and celebrities began long before I was ever born, when my Grandparents, whom were self-made, became world renowned and respected members of the Professional Photographers of America (PPA.) They were hired as a team to travel to shoot portraits of famous people like President Ronald Regan, Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra, along with many other celebrities. Together, they would travel the world educating others as pioneers in photography, lighting and re-touching. Contributing to the advancement of photography as an art form and dispensing their expertise to companies like Fuji and Kodak to help create film into the transition of digital imaging and digital cameras you hold in your hands today. They would also join Rotary International, an organization of 1.2 million members where my grandfather would eventually become President of the local Rotary Club and receive an award for 50 years of continued service in 2013 for their committment to help eradicate polio around the world. Art event after art event, charity event after charity event, country after country, city after city, what was instilled in my Grandparents and my mother, is a Commitment to Service Above Self. Benevolence and a love of art is a gift that was passed on to me by all three of them and continues to be a part of my life. We as a family combined, have spent over 200 years involved in Philanthropy and the Arts and have won over 3000 awards. Together, we have achieved the balanced dance of making miracles happen for charites behind stages and curtains, invisible hands and feet moving intertwined between the world of the Red Carpet, the Arts, Celebrities and Charity. Our eyes and ears remain open to whom is sponsoring which charity projects, trouble shooting, and keeping tabs to help find the necessary funding needed to get the jobfor charity done. Although we may not always call attention to ourselves, we push magic buttons, use the red bat phone to call politicians and friends for assistance, utilizing the fine art of uniting as an invisible force to support charity projects and people with a passion for a worthy cause.

During Fashion Week my skills and knowledge would be put to the test as the new manager responsible for Celebrity Public Relations would become quite nervous at a rumoured conflict between Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton. He was fearful that it would result in a 'Clash of the Titans' type of scenerio as both of them would be forced together in close quarters due to the small space in which the fashion show was being held. I had never met Kim Kardashian before, not being a television fanatic I was not up to date on the latest dirt or rumours, nor did I care. When you are involved with Philanthropy Organizations that are connected to fashion shows or art events and millions of dollars of possible funding, I ignore the scandal for the sake of the charity. Even if I am made aware ahead of time there is a conflict of interest between two parties, it is best to focus their attention on the Cause behind the Charity for which they are donating their time and energy. No matter how big or small the egos involved are, it is important to 'set the bar' and hold every celebrity and our team to an attitude of professionalism while we are 'playing the charity game to raise funds.' All issues are left at the door, no exceptions. If the ego is out of control, it is best to have a Plan B and quickly find a willing replacement with a great attitude. Humility is always a bonus, because unless you have a servant wiping your ass with gold toilet paper, leave the diva attitudes at home. No one has time or tolerance for it, especially me. Cooperation and teamwork work best when charity is the focus.

I straightened the Celebrity PR Managers bow tie and humorously said, " I do not know the Kardashian's personally but based strictly on what little of their reality television show I catch while working out in the gym and their involvement with non-profits. I know Kim comes from a large, loving family. If siblings teach you anything, it is how to manage conflict and Kris Jenner raised her daughters to behave like ladies in public. Paris, I met her and Nicky over 7+ years ago, I do know she is like a UN pro in diplomacy, very charming and she was just doing press for charity yesterday. Her schedule is jam packed with appearences during Fashion Week which means her time to mingle is limited. So no worries, they were best friends at some point and love each other underneath it all. Besides, the rumours are hardly ever true." Security signaled us to make our way backstage just as I handed him a tissue to wipe the sweat from his nervous brow. If he got wind Anna Wintour was in the house, he would have probably fainted.

Mr. Bow Tie saw Kim and Kanye West coming through first, so I smiled & winked at him, " We can handle this." Kanye started talking to friends, he and Kim were seperated backstage. Kim was stopped mid-way by a few fans eager to meet her. Just as the crowd dispersed, the Celebrity PR Manager introduced me to Kim and Paris came gliding by simultaneously, ever so politely to say, " Hello." The Celebrity PR Manager froze like a sweaty deer in the headlights as he watched me speak and mingle with both of them individually, yet together in a space no more than 6 feet wide. Paris, just as I suspected would be rushed due to her schedule. And a little girl I found hiding in the dress racks also broke the ice too, as Kim was kind enough to take her time during the backstage madness to shoot pictures with her. Eventually Kanye came by and wisked Kim away, just as her and I were cheek to cheek and finishing up taking a photograph together. I made my way over to Mr. Bow Tie after it was all said and done, " Come on, we need to escort them out the back exits, the Paparazzi are everywhere. Do you have the USB stick of their images?" The only words out of his mouth were, " Wow. I heard you say something about charity to them and everything went so smoothly." I smiled, " Honestly, they are both probably overwhelmed with attention and my intention is for them to feel the sincere appreciation I have for their families involvement with the charities I am aware of that they help. See, they both acted like ladies. You were worried for nothing." He finally chuckled in relief as we walked with Kim and Kanye down the stairs, out the back exits of the building. In public relations, sometimes the stories we create in our minds about " what could happen " during events with celebrities, never unfold as beautifully or positively as the moment itself. The goal is to always create is a win-win situation and positive outcome for the celebrity and the charity involved.

Where we see a specific case of a public relations issue with a celebrity turn into a negative fiasco, is in the case of Malawi and President Banda's Public Relations dialogue with a well known American Celebrity. There are many countries and non-profits whose Philanthropy projects are competing for financial and material AID. What is often not realized is Philanthropy Organizations who distribute multi-million dollar donations keep 'press clippings' of competitive Philanthropy Projects in other regions and countries that focus on the type of aid they distribute. These negative or positive 'press clippings' are copied and distributed during Board Meetings to the Directors who decide which Non-Profit or Country will receive AID. If Malawi is competing for funds against Haiti, let us take a look at a specific example of how Press reported can effect and weigh in on their ability to receive Philanthropic AID. Here is an example of how Press Clippings and Information collected is presented before a Non-Profit Board of Directors:


US PHILANTHROPIC HISTORY (2012): According to the Sudan Tribune, March of 2012 the United States announced that it was suspending $350 million allocated to Malawi through the MCC citing deteriorating human rights in the country. US Congressman Frank Wolf called on President Barack Obama to cut aid to Malawi. “We’re asking that the Millennium Challenge (Account) grant be pulled back and canceled, totally canceled, and all foreign aid be ceased. Here we’re going to give American taxpayer dollars in these tight economic times to a country that has welcomed Bashir and that’s inappropriate,” Wolf said. Now that President Banda has replaced President Ngwazi Bingu wa Mutharika, everyone wants to believe she is a force for positive change but we are now dealing with a new type of Corruption within their Government, Nepotism. Considering Malawi has 1 Million orphans, their budget has traditionally RELIED on AID for about 40% of its FUNDING, the country cannot afford further damage to its reputation with Philanthropic Organizations.

PHILANTHROPIC SUPPORT: Since 2006, Trevor Neilson and it’s officers, through have remained committed to supporting organizations and individuals who fight tirelessly to help the estimated 1 million orphans, vulnerable children, their families and communities in Malawi. This support includes providing multiple community-based, educational organizations and critical medical care to children through community-based clinics and hospitals. One of the individuals supported by Raising Malawi is Dr. Eric Borgstein, one of three pediatric surgeons working in Malawi, where there are an estimated 7.5 million children. Working with the staff at the Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre, Dr. Borgstein performed more than 500 surgeries in 2012 alone and he sees thousands of children each year. In 2012, Raising Malawi also completed 10 schools with buildOn to educate more than 4,800 children in Malawi although the Malawian Government claims them to be "extensions to existing classrooms." Note: It is not uncommon for children to be taught beneath trees, not in a traditional classroom setting. Raising Malawi includes Home of Hope which supported 595 beneficiaries including orphans, vulnerable children and their caregivers in 2012 alone. (Detailed Report Attached)


· Consistently maintaining current (overwhelming) demand of basic survival needs for 1 Million Orphans.

· Recent strained relations for AID with the United States Government.

· Strained celebrity relations via Raising Malawi with the Malawian Government.

· According to the Raising Malawi website the organization, “ originally planned on building a Girls Academy in the impoverished country but realized that a more sustainable model would be to build smaller schools in villages around the country with buildOn who have had 20 years of success building schools in Africa. The original team that Raising Malawi first put in place included Anjimile Oponyo, the sister of Malawi’s current President Joyce Banda. Due to major organizational problems that occurred during that time, the original team was disbanded. President Banda has since appointed her sister to a senior post within the Ministry of Education. Executive decisions to change course on education projects has subsequently been met by deep resistance from Oponyo, the President, and the Ministry of Education." (Note: News Clippings attached reference mis-allocation of funds by Oponyo)


· Ethical and fair treatment of the Philanthropy, Raising Malawi and an official 3rd party investigation by the Malawian Government into the non-profits original allegations of funding misallocation made to include Anjimile Oponyo, without regard to bias or preferential treatment by Malawi's President Banda.

Example / Case Illustration:

The President of a Charity raises funds to build New Libraries and the Malawi Government donates $500,000 to the charity to build a brand new Library for Thurgood Marshall University (a Law school for African Americans in the USA) and the Project Manager is the President's best friend Thomas. A problem arises when two years pass by and the Library is still not built, but Thomas has a fancy new car and new computer equipment, maybe even a new house, along with several other workers on the Library Project. And President Banda comes to visit the University to see the Library. When she arrives to the barren construction site, she says,


Being the President of the Charity, even though the Project Manager for the Library is their best friend. The representative of the library project has an ETHICAL and MORAL RESPONSIBILITY to find out the TRUTH of what happened to ALL THE MONEY the Malawi Government donated to build the University Library because it was NEVER BUILT.

Even if it means the President has to hire external companies in Europe to audit the charity or projects financial records, and another to investigate the misallocated funds, the goal should be to discover the TRUTH they conclude about the Library Project WITHOUT THE PRESIDENTS INTERFERENCE. A LEADER must remain ethical because they are a representative for the people of the University and Charity. If any investigations conclude in TRUTH that their best friend Thomas stole from the Donor of the Charity, then the President has a responsibility to LIQUIDATE ALL ITEMS PURCHASED and RETURN THOSE FUNDS TO THE DONOR because it is the ETHICAL thing to do. The Representative must implement justice and fairness to all parties involved, even if it means **firing their best friend Thomas**, taking him to trial, making him do a 90 day jail sentence or community service. NEVER again PLACING THOMAS IN A POSITION OF LEADERSHIP or FINANCIAL RESPONSIBILITY of ANY FUTURE CHARITY PROJECTS or PROJECTS THAT INDIRECTLY OR DIRECTLY EFFECT RAISING MALAWI.

Philanthropy Organizations are expected to maintain high ethical standards in order to minimize damage to the reputation of the Non-Profit, to maintain the RESPECT & TRUST of our Donors and guard the reputation of any of our future Charity Projects. If a non-profit cheats one Donor, all Donors will think negatively about charity in general. Therefore, we must at all times, be ** impartial to favoritism or nepotism** because just like a Judge on a Jury Trial **the leader of the charity has to do what is best and fair for EVERYONE involved, especially the **donors** regardless of their personal relationships.

3rd PARTY INVESTIGATION: The Board asks if any 3rd Party Investigations were conducted by a team located outside of Africa to help Raising Malawi deal with their allegations of misappropriations of (Donors) funds or was it "covered up" and "dismissed" by the Malawi Government? (Add Research Attachments)

FUTURE AID TO MALAWI: We must consider if any of our Philanthropy Organizations or Celebrities face similar issues with projects such as Raising Malawi, and if at any time a philanthropy executive brings up allegations of theft or corruption to the Malawian Government to investigate. How will they be treated based on the experience of Raising Malawi? It must be taken into consideration that the same treatment will most likely be shown to them by the Malawian Government as they displayed towards the American Celebrity and Trevor Neilson, which is not of the level of respect for which he has earned as a credible, internationally known philanthropic advisor.

TREATMENT OF CELEBRITIES: The relationship between Philanthropy Organizations and Celebrities has always been like a dance between lovers. If done well, our celebrity supporters have a cause they believe in and want to support us. Their popularity and network not only saves the non-profit the costs of marketing and public relations expenses but can raise millions of dollars and expose & educate others to worthy cause(s), new cross-markets and customer bases. However, when the relations are strained with our philanthropy supporters whom are celebrities, it can have the opposite effect by drawing negative attention away from the goals of a charitable organization. Such is the negative example the Malawian Government has allowed with their lack of ‘media damage control’ shown to us in their handling of Raising Malawi and it’s officers (media clippings attached.)

When problems with any of our celebrity supporters arise in Philanthropy circles, especially those whose donations are beyond generous, it is expected that matters like these are handled privately, with respect and discretion to not damage their reputation or that of the philanthropy organization. More importantly, VIP treatment of any celebrity has never been an issue of ‘entitlement’ but one of ‘safety.’ As a philanthropy organization, whether we are hosting a charity event or have a celebrity on field location, their safety and that of their team is imperative and our responsibility. The fact the the Malawi Government fails to understand such a basic fundamental of the quid pro quo of the celebrity dance is of great concern in regards to lending them additional support from our celebrity donors. Unless a celebrity requests a ‘low profile’ entrance, we must always maintain an implied *bar of safety* without a specific request or any form of media outburst. Philanthropic support is extremely competitive, we will not risk our relationships with celebrity donors in exchange for an uncooperative Government when AID can be distributed elsewhere with less problems and greater results, like to Haiti.

RECOMMENDATIONS: The Board translates the above problems brought to our attention via the media and lack of justice in their treatment of Raising Malawi and their officers by the Malawian Government in truth to the probable misallocation of half a million dollars of funding that could be utilized by another non-profit in a more cooperative region. We recommend working within a Government framework willing to assist in removing obstacles for non-profits rather than create them, as time is of the essence in providing basic survival needs for the 1 Million Orphans in Malawi. Possible recommendations for AID in cooperative regions include building medical clinics in Haiti or the orphans in Romania or refugee camps in the Sudan region. Raising Malawi, BuildOn and it's officers have the credible experience and proven reputation of completing any projects initiated, and are committed to the children of Malawi regardless of Governmental resistance. We can divert AID elsewhere or find other political, possible military aid solutions to resolve their current problems. (Statistics Attached)

RESTITUTION: The Board perceives the Malawi Government and President Joyce Banda to have an ETHICAL and MORAL RESPONSIBILITY not just to Raising Malawi or BuildOn for their philanthropic generosity but to find out the TRUTH of the accused allegations their Philanthropy Organization has brought to their Governments attention. The bigger picture is the Malawian Government has the same responsibility which extends to EVERY DONOR of ANY CHARITABLE ORGANIZATION for which their country, Malawi receives **MILLIONS OF DOLLARS OF OF AID ANNUALLY.** Our expectations are for Malawi and President Banda to find out the TRUTH about the mis-allocated funds under her sisters management of the ORIGINAL Girls School being built for Raising Malawi. We also suggest that it would be a positive reflection on the Malawi Government if Oponyo or other officers are found guilty, to be cooperative in returning the monies to the charity Raising Malawi or make a kind gesture of cooperation towards BuildOn in good faith. President Banda should never allow her objectivity for fairness in nonprofit dealings to be corrupted by her personal relationships, when the ENTIRE philanthropy world which provides Malawi’s AID is watching. Our request is that the Malawi Government treat every non-profit that assists the country of Malawi professionally, with the same level of respect and fairness their country would expect if they are to continue receiving AID from Philanthropic Organizations.

# End of Report #

In the United States, there are over 1 Million Philanthropy Organizations competing for financial AID and Celebrity Endorsements. The Malawian Government should consider themselves fortunate and blessed to have the support of the Raising Malawi and buildOn Teams who are experts committed to improving the Quality of Life and Educational Opportunities for the children of Malawi. There are leaders of various non-profits that struggle with donor and marketing support that would 'donate their own hearts to science' for an alliance with any Celebrity and a dance of empowered partnership the Government of Malawi should never take for granted.

Make a Donation Today to Support the Orphans of Malawi:

About the Writer

Native Texan full of Southern Charm, ;) Art Director and Fashion Photographer with a background in Luxury Apparel. Producer of a Television show called " Art4Charity " that spotlights Philanthropists, non-profits, volunteers, and companies doing positive deeds around the world. Volunteer Art Therapy teacher to homeless children and activist.
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