Benevolent Bribes

How much would you pay to watch Morgan Freeman spend an afternoon narrating amateur animal videos?

Would you fork over some cash to experience Celine Dion belting out George Michael’s “I Want Your Sex”?

Is catching a glimpse of Donald Trump’s bed head worth a couple of bucks to you?

Thanks to a new site called Charity Bribes, these are questions you may soon be able to wrestle with, all in the name of goodwill.

Created by copywriters William Burks Spencer and Chris Baker, Charity Bribes invites members of the general public to come up with ideas for amusing celebrity high jinks—e.g., Morgan Freeman getting all March of the Penguins on your home video of Fluffy the Cat falling into the toilet—and submit them to the site, along with the name of a charity. Users can then vote on their favorite suggestions, and every 30 days the idea with the most votes is selected as the winning bribe.

This bribe is then used to garner pledges from the public that will only turn into donations for the specified charity if the celebrity makes good on the challenge within the next 30 days. If not, the pledges will be null and void.

What makes this whole premise really interesting is that the celebrity has no buy-in (or, potentially, knowledge of the situation) until Charity Bribes approaches them at some point during or just after their 30-day pledge drive. This, of course, adds a juicy element of uncertainty to the whole occasion.

Photo by David Shankbone

The site’s first target is Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Larry David. As of publication, 70 people have pledged a total of $7,452 in the hopes that he will join Twitter. If he does, the National Resources Defense Council will receive a nice donation.

“We think it’d be awesome. He would have millions of followers,” Baker said in an interview with BuzzFeed. “On Curb [Your Enthusiasm], he’s always been a bumbling idiot when it comes to tech. It’d be funny to see him on Twitter.”

Baker and Spencer have openly admitted they have no idea how they will get in touch with Mr. David once the pledging window ends on Friday—and as of yet, if the star has heard about this project, he hasn’t reached out.

When it comes to creating bribes like the Twitter challenge, the site’s founders have set some ground rules to keep things functional and aboveboard. These specify that a good bribe:

  • is something awesome
  • is easy and inexpensive for the celebrity to do
  • is verifiable and has some “end-product” that is produced
  • is creative
  • is not crude, offensive, mean, or endangers anyone’s safety
  • is fun
  • benefits a worthy charity that is established and reputable
  • benefits a charity that either the celebrity has a history of supporting or makes sense given the nature of the bribes

Launched just last month, Charity Bribes has already attracted a fair amount of publicity, although its success will likely hinge on the results of the first bribe or two. If Larry David doesn’t pan out, it looks like the next challenge will dare Conan O’Brien to interview a guest on his show while wearing an eye patch and turtleneck, holding a pipe, and insisting “I don’t want to talk about it” if asked about his getup (in this case, to benefit Autism Speaks).

I have to admit, I really like the Charity Bribes idea in theory, and there is certainly the potential for this to pay off for all players involved—the charity gets money, publicity, and a celebrity endorsement; the celebrity boosts his own brand by being a sport and doing some good; and the public at large basks in the glow of being part of a collective charitable effort.

That being said, I also have a few reservations about the endeavor, the first being that it seems a little, I don’t know…icky?…to treat charitable giving almost like a game show. I don’t have a problem with the “fun” aspect of it. Fun is great! Hell, what school principal hasn’t agreed to hit the dunk tank if her students raise $X for their local walk to end hunger, save the rainforest, adopt a dolphin, etc. But it just seems wrong somehow to gather, say, $25,000 in pledges for the ASPCA, and then shrug your shoulders and let it slip away when Sarah McLachlan doesn’t feel comfortable performing a concert dressed as Clifford the Big Red Dog. (Yes, I just made that up.) It also has the potential to make celebs look like the bad guy if they don’t or can’t come through, which seems a little unfair given their intentional absence from the whole process.

Of course, on the plus side, this unique approach might also attract folks who don’t normally donate to charity, and if it works, I bet a lot of those people would find themselves becoming repeat donors through other amusing Charity Bribes challenges.

Since the site is barely a month old, there are still some kinks to work out—such as the fact that they are not currently registered as a 501(c)3 charity and can’t guarantee that donors will be issued receipts from the featured charities (although they are working on this). I’m also wondering if the 30-day time limit for completion of the challenges will ultimately be extended, because it does seem a little rushed for folks who likely have some pretty hectic schedules to keep.

In the end, I do hope the crazy, feel-good element of this idea results in some real benefits to worthy organizations and some amusing publicity for all concerned—because seriously, I would pay to watch Morgan Freeman recite just about anything. (Like a Twinkie, like a Twinkie…)

13 thoughts on “Benevolent Bribes

  1. The ways in which we are kept from physical socialization and interpersonal relationships is this here!! These social networks (facebook, twitter) has made it difficult to actually communicate with others as done in the pass. Although technology has improved communication it has also damaged communication amongst others on a more personal level. This is ofcourse in a wider spectrum not this immediate blog.

  2. How do the potential beneficiaries (the npos) fit in – or do they? Has Charity Bribes ignored the likelihood that nonprofits will want to have a say in (and be able to vet) challenges issued on their behalf?

    Great/interesting post. I am eager to see how this unfolds.

    • Good point, Anne–especially given the fact that these bribes are far from traditional. I appreciate that the site’s creators are making an effort to keep them “clean,” but there is certainly still the possibility that a bribe might not really jive with the image and message a non-profit is trying to communicate. I’m curious to see how the Conan O’Brien challenge goes–because I feel like if anyone’s going to be game for something like this, it’s Conan. If he doesn’t do it, it might be a sign that while fun, the concept doesn’t quite mesh with celebs and/or non-profits.

  3. I think that the charity aspect must be cleared up to make sure that the “donations” are tax deductible before I would ask my friends to participate. If the “donation” goes to charity and I get a write-off, I think it is a good idea. I think you should match the bribe closely with the charity. For example offer a bribe to Cesar Millan (The Dog Whisperer) to spend some time working clean up at a dog park, for a donation to the S.P.C.A.

    • I agree that the tax-deductible issue will need to be worked out if this is to succeed in the long term, both for legitimacy reasons, and to encourage further donation. It does seem that currently, many bribes have an obvious relation to the celebrity (e.g., getting golden-voiced Morgan Freeman to narrate animal videos), but not necessarily the charity (Red Cross and animal videos?). In Morgan Freeman’s case, the choice was likely made because the actor has supported the Red Cross in the past. While this angle could certainly work, it does run into the problem brought up by Anne in her comment above. Regardless, humor will definitely be a driving force in getting people to pledge money toward these bribes. So maybe instead of Cesar Millan cleaning up a dog park, people might pledge to have him give an interview dressed as Snoopy (lame example, but you can see where I’m going…). I’m very curious to see if any of these bribes pan out…

      • I think that if you are going to dress up Cesar Milan as dog for an interview, I think that he should be dressed up like the Taco Bell chihuha. I would donate big money to see that!

  4. Although I think this could be an interesting idea, I agree with you on the fact that it seems a little “yucky.” I’m not sure if I’m understanding this correctly or not, but is the celebrity recieving any of this money? Since that is what a “bribe” is, it just seems very unsettling. If I have to pay a celebrity to do something so they will donate to a charity, it seems futile. I’d rather find people who would donate out of the goodness of their hearts, not so they can get publicity…or I would just donate to the charity itself. (Not to mention, the fact that almost 8,000 dollars has been raised just to get someone on twitter is crazy.) That’s just me.

    • Thanks for your comment, Laney. Fortunately, the celebrities do not receive money for the bribes. The pledges are a bribe to get the celebrity to do something the public would find amusing, because if they do said thing, a charity will get money that folks have pledged, the celebrity will look and feel good, and the public will be entertained. Everyone wins! (And if they don’t do it, the charity receives nothing, the celeb looks bad, and it’s sad all around.) I think this type of approach is likely to attract people who don’t make regular donations to charity, but would be drawn in by the fun and unique nature of the proposition–they can be part of a movement to influence a celebrity, they get to see something hysterical, and they also get to feel good for helping out a worthy cause. Of course, as discussed in the post and other comments, there are hang-ups with an endeavor like this, so it will be really interesting to see if anything pans out.

  5. I think this is a great idea if it works as intended. There are so many worthy charitable organizations out there who could really benefit from having a Celebrity associated with them to “kick start” or breathe more life in to said charity in a time when giving is very difficult. Unfortunately in this day and age it seems that a lot of people (not all) need to be entertained in order to be charitable. That being said, I wish this idea nothing but the best and hope it reaps bountiful rewards for people in need.

  6. The idea of all sides (celebrities, charities and public) gaining something out of this endeavor is a smart way to go about doing it. I only slightly disagree because the endeavor is “shrugged” away if a pledge is not compliant. I’m all for the fun aspect of it if everyone gets entertained and benefits. Overall a very exciting idea and I really hope it works out.

  7. I definitely think this is a great way to increase the amount of donations from the people! Its a win- win situation if everyone does agree to participate but like you said, the celebrity may feel a little pressured. So its no telling how beneficial this ideal may be. Seeing Bill Clinton would be hillarious but getting him to do it may be the issue. Overall, I love the ideal. If everyone plays their part it may be a start to something great!

  8. This seems like just pure silly, fun with a great end. As long as the bribes are managed well and nothing weird happens and they approach the right celeberties I think this is fine. However, I cna understand how this can feel a little strange to pressure celebs into being controlled through guilt.

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