Celebrities making big donations are nothing new. But in the crisis-ridden days of our coronavirus quarantines, celebrity donations seem to be piling up. Good news for the charities – right? That’s why we were attracted to an article in The Hill about large celebrity donations intended to assist with the pandemic. Judy Kurtz’s story is about singer James Taylor and his wife Kim giving $1 million to Massachusetts General Hospital to assist with purchasing supplies and equipment, repurposing space, or furthering research seeking treatments and means of prevention for COVID-19.
Ms. Kurtz identified a few things that caught our attention from a behavioral perspective: First, James was born at Mass General. Second, James and Kim live in Massachusetts. Third, Peter Slavin, the president of the hospital, said in the press release that the donation will be a big morale booster for the staff and caregivers. These things got us thinking about the behavioral implications.
First, celebrity donations usually act as good seed money for additional donations – especially when the celebrity has some meaningful connection to the charity. Second, the reason that celebrity donations work well is that their donations are signals to everyone else. The signal that the charity itself is both likable and credible. Third, celebrity actions can backfire when they’re not authentic, like in the case of Gal Gadot using a song that didn’t match with her lifestyle. Some celebrities are giving out of altruism, some out of ego and some from peer pressure.
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