Red carpets, the flashing lights of the paparazzi, and a life full of glamour: this is what comes to mind when most people consider the lives of celebrities. However, many celebrities have used their fame to achieve social good, from organizing telethons to personally lobbying legislators. See who we chose as our top 10 celebrity philanthropists: some are the usual mainstays, while others might be unexpected.
1. Oprah Winfrey
Is there any surprise here? Oprah has held titles few others could live up to: the richest African American of the 20th century, the greatest black philanthropist in American history, the richest black person in the world, the most influential woman in the world, and the most philanthropic celebrity. Whether encouraging others to help the underprivileged with Oprah’s Angel Network, teaching classes via satellite at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa, raising money for worthy causes through appeals to her dedicated audience, or personally donating millions to various charities, there is no doubt that Oprah is deserving of each of her honorary titles.
2. Angelina Jolie
Not many celebrities physically see the benefits of their charity work, but Angelina Jolie is the exception. As a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, she has personally met with refugees in more than 20 countries. She has also been active on the political scene, both speaking on behalf of humanitarian causes and personally meeting with legislators. And as the mother of children adopted from Cambodia, Ethiopia, and Vietnam, Angelina truly lives out her title: Citizen of the World.
3. Brad Pitt
It is no coincidence that Brad Pitt falls right next to his partner Angelina Jolie on lists of celebrity philanthropists. After all, the pair did found the Jolie-Pitt Foundation together, an organization dedicated to eliminating extreme rural poverty, protecting natural resources, and conserving wildlife. Another of Brad’s passions is architecture, which he puts to use rebuilding homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina with the Make it Right Foundation. Overall, Pitt’s commitments to green living, eradicating poverty, and human rights are evident in his philanthropic lifestyle.
When Madonna began Raising Malawi in 2006 with Michael Berg, she did not merely seek to create an organization to help others donate; instead, she pledged to match all donations received. The foundation aims to provide vulnerable children in Malawi, Africa, with nutritious food, proper clothing, secure shelter, formal education, targeted medical care, and psychological support. Beyond her monetary and moral support of the cause, she has also adopted two children from Malawi, including her controversial legal battle to adopt Mercy in 2009.
Not just anyone gets knighted and nominated for three Nobel Peace Prizes. However, Bono is certainly not just anyone when it comes to celebrity philanthropists. Since he first visited Ethiopia with World Vision in 1986 and developed an educational program using music and acting, he has become a leader in fighting poverty. He has helped found the ONE Campaign, Debt AIDS Trade Africa (DATA), (RED), and EDUN, all of which support Africa in fighting poverty and AIDS.
6. Justin Timberlake
Although other names may come to mind first when thinking of celebrity philanthropists, Justin Timberlake actually has the largest impact when it comes to raising money. In 2009 alone, he can be thanked for raising over $9 million for Shriners Hospital for Children. This support comes in part from his annual golf tournament supporting the cause. He also founded the Justin Timberlake Foundation, which funds and supports music education in public schools. That’s music to any philanthropist’s ears!
7. George Clooney
You may recall the enormous success of the Hope for Haiti benefit concert and telethon. The man behind the magic? George Clooney. Clooney pulled off the event in an incredibly short period of time with the help of generous friends. Another cause that is close to is heart is Not on Our Watch, an organization founded by Clooney and Ocean’s 11 co-stars Don Cheadle, Matt Damon, and Brad Pitt to end genocide in Sudan. Also serving on the Board of Trustees for the United Way, it’s clear that Clooney is as diverse in his philanthropic efforts as in his acting.
8. Matt Damon
Along with founding the aforementioned Not on our Watch, Matt Damon started H20 Africa, now known as Water.org. He is also passionate about ending the conflict in Darfur, and has supported many campaigns to resolve the crisis. As an ambassador for ONEXONE, which improves the lives of children at home, and a board member for Tonic Mailstopper, which works to prevent the destruction of trees for junk mail, Damon has made his mark on many causes in the philanthropic world.
Twenty-two year-old Rihanna proves that there’s no minimum age for philanthropic work. At the age of 18, she began the Believe Foundation, which aims to inspire and protect children around the world. Through raising awareness and recruiting bone marrow and other donors, the foundation is dedicated to relieving the medical needs of children. However, it also hopes to provide the educational, financial, and social support children need in order to believe. Hopefully we will see Rihanna topping lists of philanthropic celebrities for many years to come.
10. Reese Witherspoon
America’s sweetheart Reese Witherspoon is living proof that true beauty shines from the inside. Since 2007, she has partnered with the Avon Foundation to end violence against women. And in March 2010, she joined Avon, the State Department, and Vital Voices to launch the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Women, formed to assist women who have been or will be affected by violence. It focuses on domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking: the three most pervasive forms of violence against women. In the future, look for global advocacy campaigns in India and Argentina and see the benefits of Reese’s passion.