USAID and MTV Partner to Raise $4,235 at Celebrity Auction


USAID, MTV, Ad Council Partner to Raise a Staggering $4,235 from Celebrity Auction

By Mark Belcher, January 10, 2012

According to the United States Agency for Development (USAID), MTV and the Ad Council, their recent celebrity auction to raise funds for an estimated 13.3 million people in crisis in the Horn of Africa netted a staggering sum of $4,235. USAID funds the partnership known as “Famine War Drought” (FWD) that is implemented in part by MTV and the Ad Council. The “artists and show talent” who participated in this celebrity auction included Snooki from Jersey Shore, Kelly Clarkson, Nick Jonas, Rob Dyrdek, Trey Songz, and others. Indeed these “big guns” donated items including an autographed pair of sunglasses (Snooki), an autographed CD (Clarkson), and much coveted Beavis and Butt-Head bobblehead dolls. Additionally, MTV donated two tickets to its New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square. According to USAID spokesperson Matthew Johnson, “The FWD Campaign for the Horn of Africa is the first public awareness campaign USAID has ever run.” Indeed, without a hint of irony, MTV describes FWD as an organization “where fist-pumping and lending a helping hand collide.”

USAID plans to distribute the proceeds generated from its FWD initiative through eight U.S.-based organizations, in this case, approximately $476 per organization, after adjusting for overhead expenses. According to USAID, $10 can feed an impoverished child in East Africa for ten days. The auction will therefore feed approximately 380 children for a week and a half. By comparison, just 1% of the five named celebrities’ estimated 2011 net worth could feed nearly 5,000 children for six months. Better yet, just .001 of MTV parent Viacom’s annual net adjusted earnings for the past year could feed about 11,760 children during the same six months.

There are lessons to draw from this experience. First, there is the question of timing. The online auction ran from December 8 to the 18th. This is a busy time for many. The auction’s relatively short duration and proximity to the holidays may partially explain the dismal results. Second, consider the messenger. The prominence of Jersey Shore personnel sends a decidedly mixed message given the level of narcissistic dysfunction celebrated by MTV and the show’s characters. Third, carefully consider the message. Auctioning off autographed sunglasses and other items of questionable value trivializes the gravity of the situation people face in the Horn of Africa. Show some humility. It is insulting for the FWD partners to pump this up and doing so devalues any claims to real progress or success. Instead of crowing about this failed experiment, chalk it up for what it is and move on.

Looking ahead, can we expect more fist-pumping philanthropy from the FWD partnership in 2012? If so, expect Snooki to host a FWD celebrity bake sale in early March - accompanied by a big surge in MTV’s Jersey Shore ratings.

About the Author – Mark Belcher is a lawyer and economist focusing on international economic and social development. He is a Co-Founder and Director at the Center for Innovation in Social Entrepreneurship.

1 comment (Add your own)

1. Morgan Stallings wrote:
This is definitely a lack-luster performance for USAID, MTV, and the Ad Council. If the purpose is to raise significant sums of money for a people group anywhere in the world from the younger generation there are definite points to consider. There is a different approach that must be considered when reaching to the generation that watches MTV and related shows in regards to fundraising. Take the Passion 2012 conference held at the beginning of January 2012. This conference is targeted solely to college students ages 18 – 24. The focus on the conference this year was human trafficking. The results speak for themselves. The conference was 4 days resulting in 42,000 students in attendance and $3.1 million donated to fund programs around the world, including locations such as Nepal and Ukraine, focused on anti-human trafficking. The keys to success in this example are three fold. First, all the students got something out of the conference…vice one person getting Snookie’s sunglasses. Secondly, the problem was shown and thus the students made a connection making it real to them. In other words, they felt the pain of the situation and felt compelled to give. Finally, although this demographic usually does not have a lot of money living on Ramen Noodles, they were energized as a group to show everyone they could organize and make a difference. I think this shows that what USAID, MTV, and the Ad Council set out to do can actually be done if done correctly and effectively.

Wed, February 1, 2012 @ 5:02 PM

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