Apparently it’s become out of fashion to simply cut a check to a celebrity’s charitable foundation. You deserve – and need – something tangible in return for your donation. And it had better be something worth flaunting, unlike those jars of spaghetti sauce that Paul Newman sold through his company, which continues to hawk the late actor’s eponymous food line, funneling all profits to charity.

To hear at least one star explain it all, the new wave of celebrity fundraising involves exchanging something of value for causes that can’t be measured in dollars. But which still needs dollars in order to be of value to those that the causes serve.

$7 million quid for priceless quo

No, Madonna isn’t selling interactive DVD versions of her sex book, though perhaps that’s yet to surface on the fundraising horizon. Reuters reports that the singer is auctioning off a painting she bought more than 20 years ago to fund schools for girls in developing countries, including Malawi, home to the Material Girl’s pair of adopted kids.

Come on. Admit it. Wouldn’t it be cooler to plunk down a mere $7 million for an abstract painting by French artist Fernand Leger, knowing that your donation could help girls all over the third world, than to buy umpteen cases of faux Oreo cookies from Newman’s Own, wondering what would be left of your donation after operating costs?

Price tag a little steep, you say? Don’t especially care for artwork that might not look half-bad if turned upside down or accidentally splattered with mustard on the Fourth of July?

Who needs QVC?

Then maybe Angelina Jolie has a line of jewelry you’d like to buy. And, no again, the line doesn’t seem to include any Billy Bob baubles from either performer’s volatile past.

Jolie, an official UN goodwill ambassador, has already opened up one school for girls in Afghanistan and wants to fund others. So she’s releasing her line of jewelry, known as Style of Jolie and designed in conjunction with Robert Procop, to retail outlets, hoping that largely normal Americans might show an interest in supporting her humanitarian efforts across the globe. With all profits going toward the cause, Jolie told E! News,

Beyond enjoying the artistic satisfaction of designing these jewels, we are inspired by knowing our work is also serving the mutual goal of providing for children in need.

Wrong-way Robin Hoods?

Do Madonna’s and Jolie’s fundraising tactics signal a new trend in celebrity fundraising? Have people grown fatigued by merely writing checks or donating to a web site? Does giving them something tangible – whether a painting or pieces of jewelry – provide a necessary level of satisfaction? Or is it just a cheap trick to take a smudge or two off a celebrity’s checkered reputation?

Cynicism and snarky attitudes aside, the fact remains that the causes supported by some stars would likely go under-funded, or never funded at all, were it not for the celebrity’s name recognition. Part of what makes those celebrities attractive and attention-worthy, like it or not, is a certain level of notoriety. One that’s typically mixed with brashness, perhaps even outright arrogance. But that also ends up commanding the sort of gifting response that would never happen if, say, a squeaky-clean persona were pitching the concept.

Past failures and failings aside – and each woman has publicly weathered her share, and more – it’s still possible that Madonna and Jolie might only be interested in fooling people to fund their pet causes. At the same time, though, it’s not like either star’s current behavior is on par with, say, Michael Jackson giving away free tickets to the rides at Neverland.

It’s just as possible, and at their respective ages and places in life, more so, that Madonna and Jolie understand that their causes won’t be funded on mere name recognition alone. Maybe, just maybe, they realize that if each gives something personal of herself – even something material – people will appreciate that they’re not being taken on an emotional guilt trip by someone famous.

In which case, odds are that even that old hustler, Paul Newman, would approve.

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