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…)