It's Josh Malina's birthday today, and as you know from the previous post, the West Wing and Scandal star decided to ask his fans and followers to celebrate with him by giving a donation to MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. If you missed the post, go back and read it now. I'll wait. (Good job.)
Since that post, two things have happened that I think are noteworthy.
Firstly, whereas Malina's first hope was to raise $5,000, they're now at $12,313. This illustrates the power of asking for small contributions from lots of people - they are able to illustrate support for someone whose work they appreciate, understanding that this person adds value to their lives, and they're able to improve the lives of others as a tribute. This is wonderful.
Secondly, what the Causes page doesn't reflect is something else that happened on Twitter. NFTY (The National Federation of Temple Youth, the youth group for Reform Judaism) made Malina an offer:
@JoshMalina: Seriously?! Done!!!
It's not a surprise that this happened via social media organizing - Twitter has emerged for so many celebrities as just another PR engine, feeding the American hunger for information about the minutiae of celebrity existence and creating a perception of insiderness for pop culture consumers. But Malina gets it in a way that not all actors do - he shares authentic insights of intelligence and humor in a way that shows you it's not his PR team doing the tweeting. (Or if it is, WOW. Great job.) On Facebook, he uses that medium to expand on the cleverness and to interact with people in the comments. Malina's using social media to actually reach people. And that's why a campaign like this is working - because he writes from a place of authenticity and value. People relate to that, and trust him for it.
So this is how the world of fundraising can work today. Someone authentic with a large network (and loyal followers who relate to and feel connected to him) identifies a cause they're passionate about, and a reason to ask people donate, and sets a decent, but modest goal. This person is not a celebrity spokesperson - this cause was their idea, emerged from their understanding of a need and their trust in a particular organization to achieve that need. People respond as generously as they want to, helping that person reach the goal and go beyond. Other people or organizations see the movement and are inspired, putting their own money up to match the cause.
Now, because a celebrity is involved, NFTY realized it was an opportunity to do good, but also an opportunity for their organization, whether it is greater visibility for their programs or enhanced inspiration for their participants. Neither one of those is a bad thing. Although one could look at this as celebrity blackmail - we'll give you a check, but you have to make a personal appearance to pick it up - the whole concept of a matching gift itself issues a challenge not unlike blackmail - we will do this, if you do that.
In any case, Malina seems happy to submit to this specific kind of blackmail, which I described to someone else as "the good, mitzvah-laden kind of blackmail." Being "ultimatum'd" into a public appearance in order to fight hunger isn't the worst thing in the world. And maybe that's the lesson - that when you're passionate about a cause, you do what you need to do to get it done.
Best of luck to Mr. Malina, wishing him much success, many happy returns of the day, and much nachas from the success of this campaign. (And in the 20 minutes it took me to write this post, donations have shot up - the total is now $13,597 and growing. Why not add a few bucks of your own to this cause? Donate here.)