Blogging from the Luxury Summit: Exploring Modern Philanthropy
The main focus of the American Express Publishing Luxury Summit this year was exploring the changing world of philanthropy. Luxury and philanthropy are a natural match but some companies are scrambling to show that they are doing their part for the greater good. The good news is that some are having a lot of fun doing it. If I learned anything this week regarding the new philanthropy it is that is has to be compelling and interesting for the companies and people involved. The start of the discussion on the new philanthropy was led by Lisa Gabor, the editor of the magazine just for American Express's ultra-wealthy Centurion card holders, Black Ink, Barbara Banke, who is the co-proprietor of Jackson Family wines and has also turned her talents to horse racing and Marjorie Federbush, President, Strategies and Synergies.
Philanthropy in the modern age is high-impact, hands-on and results-oriented. People are using philanthropy to continue personal and professional interests. Making it a way to explore hobbies or indulge at the same time as doing something for the greater good is one of the most popular ways to give, this is one of the reasons wine auctions and festivals work so well. The wineries and brands get visibility, the donors get a great time and the charities reap the benefits.
No discussion of modern philanthropy would be compete without a look at how the internet has changed the ways people give. The numbers of people giving online is on the rise with nearly one quarter of total donations coming in online. Also many people are using online research tools such as Charity Navigator to determine which charities to support. New technology such as the Google satellite maps, can help people see the trouble spots in the world from thousands of miles away. Also when people give online they can sometimes select certain projects such as through the Donor Choose website.
One organization that has done extremely well online (we've covered them many times) is Clothes Off Our Back. Actress Jane Kaczmarek was at the Luxury Summit in conversation with John Atwood, the editor in chief of Travel + Leisure Golf to explain just how the charity she founded works. As she puts it, when you get lucky in Hollywood, you get really lucky and she has found a way to turn that largesse into a greater good, getting celebrities to donate the clothing they often get for free to wear to awards shows. After their red carpet turn, the dresses, shoes, tuxes and some jewelry get auctioned off online through the website. Since 2002, Clothes Off Our Backs has raised over $2 million for children's charities. This online nonprofit has also really mined the power of sponsorships through co-branded efforts with Saturn/Richard Tyler, the celebrity-designed corset auction with Frederick's of Hollywood and Little Black Dress wine which auctioned off celebrity little black dresses with signed bottles of wine. It's a win-win situation much as the wine auctions mentioned above because everyone gets a benefit. For example the dress Jennifer Aniston wore when she won an Emmy sold for $50,000 (for a girl to wear to her prom) and that money paid for immunizations for 50,000 children.
Why bother with philanthropy? In a world where so much seems wrong and if you are lucky enough to have money why not just enjoy it? Designer Donna Karan, whose talk closed out the conference, is another example of the new philanthropy (another woman, which confirms my thought that it is women who are driving the charge of modern philanthropy) and proof that when we try to save the world we are saving ourselves. Karan, who has spent her life dressing people, is now on a quest for the inner dress, how to hold body, mind and spirit together in a chaotic world. Her Urban Zen initiative has three charges: to preserve the past, help the present through wellness and protect the future by helping children. One of her special projects is helping to create a way for yoga teachers to get certified to work in a clinical setting so that they can help cancer patients in the same way that her husband's yoga teacher was with him when he was dying from lung cancer. Of course, since it's Donna Karan there is also a fashion line to go along with it, fashionable draped clothing in sustainable and recycled fabrics that mimics the styles worn by eastern nomadic tribes for centuries. Commerce and philanthropy increasingly exist in the same space, competing for the same attention from shoppers and so merging them makes sense. The power of a brand can benefit a charity and the brand name of a charity can also add gravitas to a company. For consumers, the same process of shopping for a product, following their passions and using online research before making a decision is used to choose which charity to support.