When Paul Newman received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the Oscars in 1994, he remarked that Hollywood was “the most generous” community in the world. In the intervening years, the entertainment industry’s commitment to philanthropic endeavors has only increased. Herewith are just a few initiatives and projects, among many other charitable contributions, that various entertainment companies have created to aid the local and world community.
“Ozzy? Do you have a secret fantasy?” asks Sharon Osbourne. “Yeah,” her husband replies. “I’d like to fly to New York for a colonoscopy.”
That unique PSA is featured on the CBS Cares Colonoscopy Sweepstakes, launched on “60 Minutes” in January and seen by more than 372 million viewers on the network alone.
“It’s part of Sharon’s story that Ozzy made her get a colonoscopy. And it saved her life,” says Martin Franks, exec VP planning, policy and government relations at the network. “We’ve been in the PSA business for years. And five or six years ago, we hit on the idea of trying to use humor, because, every once in a while, a PSA can be like telling a child to eat broccoli. You can’t use humor all the time. But we have found that if you use it judiciously and just a little off kilter, it really gets through to people. It just punches through in a way that a broccoli campaign on colonoscopies wouldn’t.”
The sweepstakes drew 70,000 entries. The grand prize: three nights at a posh hotel in New York overlooking Central Park, followed by, yes, that colonoscopy at New York Presbyterian Hospital.
The next attention grabber from CBS: “NCIS” cast members urging viewers to join the Be the Match bone marrow registry campaign.
In addition to supporting a wide variety of charities, CBS also partners with eight Los Angeles high schools, offering mentoring and financial support.
Be a reading buddy. Organize a family clothing drive. Plant a tree.
As part of its Friends for Change program, Disney Channel recently debuted a series of interstitial messages, featuring Disney thesps who act as Friends for Change ambassadors to encourage kids to help out their neighborhoods and the planet. “The talent takes on a cause and they talk about it,” says Leslie Goodman, senior VP corporate citizenship and philanthropy. “The kids can then sign up for actions within their own local communities. It’s everything from a beach clean-up to submitting an idea on how to make positive change in their neighborhood. It’s about empowering kids that they can make a difference.”
Also, Disney recently became the first major media company to introduce standards for food advertising on programming targeting kids and families. Says topper Robert A. Iger, “We’ve taken steps across our company to support better choices for families, and now we’re taking the next important step forward by setting new food advertising standards for kids.”
And that’s not all. In 2011, Disney contributed more than $248 million in cash, product donations and in-kind support to organizations and communities around the world.
The DreamWorks Animation Charitable Foundation donated an additional $250,000 to the DreamWorks Animation Academy at Inner-City Arts, an arts education non-profit that is now in its 23rd year of operation. Of course, it was the foundation’s initial $500,000 four years that established the animation academy.
“What we want is for the kids, as well as their parents, to understand that there’s a great career for them in the arts and they can make a great living,” says Jeffrey Katzenberg.
Indeed, as the DWA topper is quick to point out, 90 grads of USC’s cinema school now work at DWA. “When I started, we didn’t have three,” he recalls.
Regarding the academy, Katzenberg adds, “It’s extremely rewarding for our employees and artists to participate. It’s not just about giving money and supplies, but putting real faces and people in front of the students to tell them their stories and teach them.”
Those employees also volunteer at Logan Elementary School and the Visual Arts Performing School in downtown L.A. And last year, DWA got involved with Habitat for Humanity, completing six brand new houses on Geneva Street in Glendale.
DreamWorks Studios supports a variety of non-profits, including some that are personally championed by its executives. These include the USC Shoah Foundation Institute, started by DreamWorks partner Steven Spielberg, as well as City Year, where partner Stacey Snider sits on the board. The Weingart Center Assn. counts prexy and COO Jeff Small as one of its board members and Small is also involved with the USC Norris Cancer Center. Finally, Milk + Bookies is a favorite of production prez Holly Bario, who also sits on the board of Women in Film.
Between Fox TV and film, the company has a mother lode of talent.
So, the question for Nicole Bernard, senior VP audience strategy for the Fox Group, and other company brass has been, “What are we doing to engage our community in meaningful ways that transcend our programming, our films, our digital programs and our content?”
The answer: “The most natural synergy was to team up with the President’s Committee for the Arts and Humanities, the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards and the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation.”
The people at the President’s Committee spoke to Fox about stats showing that students who are connected to arts and creative education are much more likely to remain in schools and grow up to be productive parts of their community.
“So the genesis of that partnership was understanding that critical piece of research,” Bernard says. “And with NAHYP, we looked at our properties, our brands, and said, education.”
The Fox Broadcasting company initiatives also include topper Kevin Reilly’s involvement with the Alliance for Children’s Rights.
On the environmental side, the company celebrated its Fox 2011 Emmys “Green” Red Carpet, which benefited local charities. And this fall, the network will be hold its eighth Fox annual Eco-Casino Party.
Home Box Office
HBO Corporate Social Responsibility supports social issues addressed in the company’s programming, offering mentoring, educational and philanthropic opportunities to its employees that allow them to engage with junior and senior high school students.
HBO employees participate in Young Media Minds, an afterschool media literacy program designed to reinforce core curriculum objectives by demonstrating their practical and real-life applications. In addition, employees mentor teens from South Central Los Angeles, using filmmaking as a form of self-expression.
NBCUniversal contributes nearly $12 million in support of charitable causes and also donates approximately $60 million in airtime for PSAs.
“But money is only one of our assets,” says Beth Colleton, senior VP corporate social responsibility. “We believe we have even more impact in using our consumer touch points — our airways, our films, our websites, our theme parks — to engage consumers around pro social issues.”
And many of those unique “making media matter” programs produce tremendous results.
A sampling: The 2011 “Today” show’s toy drive, by mobilizing partner contributions, collected and distributed more than $35 million in toy donations for needy families. With its Text for Trees promotion, (partnered with the Arbor Day Foundation) using on-air and social media website messaging, NBCU garnered more than 1 million texts and clicks to reach its goal of planting a million trees in the country’s national parks and forests. And more than 9,500 veterans and military spouses
found jobs as a result of the Hiring Our Heroes job fairs that were conducted via a partnership with NBCUniversal and the U. S. Chamber of Commerce.
“And the company has committed to hire 1,000 veterans by the end of 2014,” concludes Colleton.
Across the street from Paramount’s back lot stands the Santa Monica Boulevard Community Charter School, with which the studio has been involved with for more than 15 years.
“Then in 2009, we decided to have a more organized strategic approach to our education initiative — to make it one of our most important initiatives,” says Sharon Keyser, senior VP real estate, government and community relations. “We decided on a mentoring program to assist kids through elementary, middle and high school educations.”
The name: Kindergarten to Cap & Gown. The program starts with the elementary school, then feeds into Le Conte Middle School, which then feeds into the Helen Bernstein High School.
“The purpose of the program (is) to encourage students to stay in high school and graduate and hopefully go on to college,” Keyser says. “We’re following that child from kindergarten through their high school career. And we’ve also set up mentoring programs in each of those three feeder schools.”
Paramount also boasts an environmental program, Green, as well as the company’s HIV/AIDS initiative.
Relativity Media contributes to 25 non-profits ranging from the Motion Picture & Television Fund to AmFAR.
Of special interest to the studio is the Art of Elysium, which encourages actors, artists and musicians to volunteer their time to leading fine-arts workshops for children battling serious illnesses.
“From day one I knew the Art of Elysium would be an organization I would forever be connected with and to serve as its chairman is such an honor,” says CEO Ryan Kavanaugh. “From the personal time I’ve spent with the kids to promoting the organization’s needs throughout Relativity, I’m pleased to see the difference we are making.”
Tucker Tooley, president of Relativity, concurs, “Their goal to provide workshops for kids battling serious medical conditions relies so heavily on volunteers from the entertainment community, it felt like a no-brainer to utilize our company’s resources to lend as much support as possible.”
Beginning with the launch of “Queer as Folk” in 2000, and continuing with the series “The L Word” in 2004, Showtime has a long history of participating in GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign and independent pride events in several U.S. cities.
“Clearly there was an opportunity to reach out to an underserved audience with content that hadn’t been done before,” said CEO Matt Blank. “As part of the effort, we put a stake in the ground about doing the right thing in terms diversity.”
And with “The Big C,” Showtime partnered with DirecTV to give customers $25 back, or to donate to the American Cancer Society when they subscribed to Showtime. The premium cable network also launched the “C Yourself” campaign; for every photo uploaded to the campaign site, Showtime donated $5 to ACS.
“And as a company, local outreach has always been critical to us,” Blank concludes, referring to the Harlem Children’s Zone. “We’ve helped them renovate buildings, run basketball tournaments and so on. I’ve been on the board for 20 years.”
How do you encourage talented, young kids to grow up to be the animators of the future?
For a decade now, Sony Pictures Media Arts Program has provided free drawing and animation programs for kids in L.A. area, bringing artistic and technical training to middle school students.
“The instruction that we give in media arts and drawing is a model that we piloted in l997 at a city-run facility in the Valley,” says Janice Pober, senior VP global corporate social responsibility. “Because of lack of funding, the city was looking for corporations to revive some of their cultural centers which were dying on the vine. So we adopted a center in the valley. It was also five years after we had launched Imageworks and we noticed that there was not a flood of artistically trained candidates for these jobs.”
The program is a public-private educational partnership between CalArts, the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs and SPE.
It has proven to be a powerful collaboration. Approximately 300 students a year go through SPMAP’s afterschool program, leading them to college and careers in the media and the arts.
Sony also maintains a strong commitment to the environment with volunteerism, and charitable giving to orgs such as Heal the Bay and the Sony Pictures Urban Green Fund.
This March, Warner Bros. Studio Facilities completed its makeover of the auditorium at the nearby Luther Burbank Middle School, which recently staged “The Music Man” there, with sets and backdrops built by WBSF. But the renovated facility is the thing.
“Our production services departments, led by Norm Barnett, had a great time bringing the 1940s-era auditorium up to date with new lighting equipment and finishes, and of course our employees are right at home fixing up a theater environment,” says Jon Gilbert, WBSF prexy. “Our next effort will be even more rewarding: We are planning a career day to bring students to the studio to visit and learn about all the various studio crafts and departments, ranging from post-production to the commissary, costume and transportation.”
In another initiative, DC Entertainment has joined with the Justice League to raise funds for Save the Children, Intl. Rescue Committee and Mercy Corps to help end famine in Africa. And then there’s WB’s Impact program, which facilitates matched-giving or volunteerism for a diverse group of charities, including Chrysalis and the Sierra Club.
Each year the CAA Foundation targets a specific initiative. This year it’s child hunger.
The agency works with orgs ranging from Blessings in a Backpack, which ensures school kids across the country are fed on the weekends, to Food for Thought, a district-wide breakfast in the classroom program.
As CAA Foundation head Michelle Kydd Lee explains, “The program makes sure that in those first 10 minutes of the day kids eat breakfast so that they are prepared to learn, to think.”
Besides its hunger initiative, CAA started a dropout prevention program called Communities in Schools of Los Angeles, now in its fifth year at the L.A. headquarters. In Gotham, the office supports Kaboom! and its Nashville office works closely with Hand on Nashville.
The agency has a long history of not only supporting existing charities but also starting others.
In 2011, Hollywood Agencies Together Combat Hunger (Hatch) was launched at the initiative of ICM Partners bringing together 10 other participating agencies: Abrams, CAA, Gersh, Innovative, Kaplan Stahler, Montana, Osbrink, Paradigm and WME.
“I was shocked to learn about how many kids in our own city go to bed hungry each night,” says Todd Hoffman, co-head media rights. “The idea behind Hatch was simple: How can we make the biggest impact to help the most people in our own city? Having the agencies band together in unity seemed like the best idea.”
Hatch has raised 3 tons of food and more than $35,000, with even higher hopes for the 2012 drive.
In New York City, ICM trainees join with the nonprofit Publicolor.org to work on painting projects that help to refurbish school hallways.
Paradigm employs a multi-layered approach to philanthropy, supporting local, national and international causes, especially those relating to children and health care.
In L.A., the agency sup
ports the Saban Free Clinic, Cedars-Sinai hospital, Venice Family Clinic and the MPTF. And on the kids side, Paradigm is committed to supporting, among other charities, the Peapod Foundation and Keep a Child Alive, which provides AIDS treatment to children in Africa and India.
Paradigm employees engage in quarterly philanthropic events, including those sponsored by Best Buddies and AIDS Walk Los Angeles, among others.
In 2009, the Stephen C. Foster Elementary School in Compton, Calif., was adopted by the William Morris Endeavor Foundation.
“Our idea was to find one school in need and do what we could to improve that one school. And Stephen C. Foster literally had nothing,” says foundation director Sarah Adolphson. “We partnered up with the principal, met with the PTA, met with the superintendent, and discussed the biggest needs of the school.”
The needs: new bathrooms, playgrounds, outdoor lighting and library.
The partnership with the school is community-based, requiring school staff, PTA and/or the district to meet WME 20% of the way in either funds, labor or volunteer support.
Test scores are on the increase, kids have school pride, parents are more involved. And now, WME is in the process of adopting Foster’s feeder middle school, Whaley.
In addition to its work with these schools, WME supports charities around the world, including MOCA in L.A., Scenarios USA in Gotham, Fannie Battle in Nashville and Kids Co. in London.
In 2005, the UTA Foundation partnered with University High School, a Title 1 school in West L.A., awarding more than $300,000 to students and teachers to sustain their programs.
“It’s called the UTA Grants Program,” says foundation director Rene Jones.
“All our programs are student-driven as opposed to administration-driven. The students apply for different things that need funding for. It’s in the scope of arts and literary. Basically, it’s the programming that suffers the most in these difficult times.”
UTA partners visit the school and listen to pitches from the students. “And then we grant the funds to the different programs,” adds Jones. “The music program probably would have been eliminated had UTA not come on board.”
The UTA Foundation additionally offers advisory services to clients and employees as well as providing hands-on volunteerism opportunities.
Jeff Cohen met the GameDesk people at the Variety Venture Capital Conference in 2011, and now serves on the board of advisers for the non-profit that tested and evaluated next-generation game curriculum and software throughout various pilots in L.A. schools and community centers.
“Education is what gives young people a chance to make their lives better,” says Cohen. “This technology would be good for both public and private schools.”
When he was a student at UCLA, Kareem Abdul Jabbar accused a Malibu couple of refusing to rent him an apartment solely because he was black. Jabbar was one of the first clients of the then-named West Side for Housing, now known as the Housing Rights Center.
“Sadly, discrimination still happens to this day,” says Greenberg Glusker partner Aaron Bloom, who has handled a dozen pro bono judgments for the non-profit center.
“We have a program which allows our attorneys to handle matters on a pro bono basis for organizations for which we’ve built long-standing relationships,” says Greenberg partner Ricardo Cestero.
Manatt, Phelps & Phillips
The firm devotes at least 3% of its billable time to various non-profits and individuals unable to pay legal fees. But closest to the heart of the firm is its role as one of the architects, along with Bet Tzedek of the Holocaust Survivors Justice Network, which links Jewish social services with law firms and corporations to provide free legal assistance to Holocaust survivors applying for reparations.
“The coordination of thousands of staff and volunteers on this scale was unprecedented, but absolutely necessary to reach all of the Holocaust survivors affected,” says Cristin Zeisler, partner and director of pro bono services at the firm.
O’Melveny & Myers
This year, 11 students were recipients of O’Melveny & Myers’ Warren Christopher scholarships. The 19-year-old program was named in honor of the former U.S. Secretary of State, a senior partner in the firm who passed away last year.
“His vision for the firms’ philanthropy efforts was ‘Let’s pick one main objective.’ And that objective is education in the many cities in the world where we practice,” says O’Melveny partner Matt Kline.
Robert Hofler contributed to this report.
Barbara Davis: Philanthropist of the Year | HFPA shares its Golden Globes wealth with arts orgs | At 70, Foreign Press org expands its reach | Newman legacy at Weinstein Co. | Hollywood goes global to help a continent in need
The Variety Guide to Entertainment Philanthropy