Ask not what movie stars can do to save the world. Instead, call their agents.
That’s something like the mission statement for the CAA Foundation, the nonprofit arm of the powerhouse agency. The foundation has long been guided by the interests of CAA’s managing triumvirate as well as the passions of the agency’s array of clients.
Philanthropy in show business is typically relegated to black-tie fundraisers and spur-of-the-moment donations that impress talent. But the CAA Foundation has quietly been building infrastructure and soft power for 25 years.
Agency chief innovation officer Michelle Kydd Lee and foundation executive director Natalie Tran say the “information hive” of the agency helps them anticipate urgent moments in culture, allowing them to plug clients and their followers into initiatives that benefit society.
“We act very similarly to how agents are looking out for their careers — we see this as an extension of their impact in the world,” says Kydd Lee, who arrived at the foundation’s inception in 1995. “I was coming from work in refugee camps. I didn’t even have [agency-appropriate] outfits.”
From political activism to child poverty, #MeToo to Black Lives Matter, the foundation has sought to be a significant resource for CAA clients and to create (or at least contribute to) culture-defining moments. In 2005, the foundation gathered clients and friends for a presentation from Vice President Al Gore on climate change. Audience members Davis Guggenheim and Laurie David proposed a documentary after the event, resulting in the Oscar-winning “An Inconvenient Truth.”
On an individual level, the foundation has set lasting relationships like that of Jennifer Garner with Save the Children, for which she serves as ambassador and sits on the board of trustees. It also connected Bravo star Andy Cohen with Family Equality, which led him to successfully lobby for the legalization of surrogate birth in New York state.
“For the past couple of years, we’ve been leaning into our superpower and our ability to convene and bring our clients together on different issues and topics and introducing them to organizations and leaders,” says Tran.
Lasting franchises have been created, including CAA Amplify, a thought leadership conference aimed at elevating diverse voices; Civic Alliance, a nonpartisan coalition of corporate giants encouraging voting and safe elections; and #BeatTheVirus, a tech initiative aimed at giving the public science-based facts about the coronavirus.
“When we started, we had an absolute belief that businesses of any size had the opportunity to make their communities better, to participate and to share the resources they have to try to make things better,” says CAA president Richard Lovett. “We had a dual purpose because we could serve our clients’ interests — and their philanthropic interests, their passions and personal activities.”