‘Blank Space’ Or Blank Check? How Much Should Celebrities Give Back?

March 3, 2015  |  

Even I had to do a double take at my computer screen after news broke that Taylor Swift had been named New York’s Welcome Ambassador. Out of all the celebrities who were born and raised in the Big Apple, it was a smack in the face to appoint someone who has only called it home for six months. Regardless, it was a decision that was made.

Last year Tay Tay vowed to donate all the proceeds from her song “Welcome to New York” to New York City public schools. It was a nice gesture, and the money is definitely needed. Too bad when she wrote the check–and made good on her promise–it wasn’t as much as some people would’ve liked.

For many New Yorkers, $50,000 just isn’t enough. Some critics even equate her small donation to throwing a quarter at a homeless person. Now I personally don’t have $50,000 to give to anyone, let alone a school system. Is it my place to judge how much someone gives out their pocket?

More to the point, how much do we expect celebrities to donate to good causes?

Now there are two sides to this coin. On one end you can look at Swift’s estimated net worth that’s currently at $200 million. She made FORBES list just last year as the second highest paid country star (reportedly earned $64 million). Needless to say she has more than enough money to donate to New York City public schools. Maybe it would’ve been a better idea to add to her $50,000 contribution so the funds could stretch a little more? Considering she was the 2014 Most Charitable Celebrity, it might’ve been a good look.

Taylor Swift’s charitable contribution–or lack thereof–has been compared to Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation to the Newark school system. Is it really fair to compare her donation to one made by a billionaire (worth $35.1 billion)? As wonderful as the Facebook co-founder’s intentions were, news outlets revealed his donation is practically gone with little-to-no real improvements.

Then there’s the other side of the coin that you might not take into consideration: entertainers don’t make a ton of money on digital sales. Thanks to modern technology, it has become really easy to pirate songs and pick and choose the ones you want for $1.29 or less without buying the entire album. It’s estimated musicians make 10 cents on the dollar which does explain the $50,000.

No wonder so many go on tours.

I’m on the fence about this one. I do understand the backlash–especially when you consider celebrities are enjoying their lifestyle because of us common folks who buy into their brand. At some point, it would be nice to get something back that can help pay it forward. Jay Z’s Shawn Carter Foundation has provided close to $3 million to help children and youth in need that has more than likely benefited New Yorkers. Beyoncé’s #BeyGOOD endeavor has been praised for its support of shelters, schools and community hospitals throughout the Big Apple. Perhaps Swift should’ve taken a page from others making noticeable strides in the town she calls home?

Then again, not everyone wants or needs to publicize their philanthropic efforts. Halle Berry has not only supported the Jenesse Center but continues to give much of her time to helping the women in the shelter. In fact, most of us had no idea about her physical involvement. And then there’s folks like the late Robin Williams who raised money out of the public eye for the West Seattle Food Bank.

In thinking about Taylor Swift and celebrity philanthropy, I’m reminded of a scripture that says, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them.” Hopefully I too can enrich my community with a monetary donation, but I personally don’t feel right about telling others how much they should donate.

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