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How to Keep from Spreading Your Charity Brand too Thin

The Entertainment Industry Foundation, a federated charity founded in 1942 by Samuel Goldwyn, Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, and the Warner Brothers, has always held a wonderful fascination for me.

Nowadays you’re likely to know about the EIF because of the National Colorectal Cancer Research Alliance, co-founded by Katie Couric after the death of her husband Jay Monahan to colorectal cancer, and administered under the auspices of the Foundation. But EIF’s other major initiatives include their Women’s Cancer Programs, National Arts and Education Initiative, and Diabetes Aware.

But IEF also has a number of other minor initiatives as well as donor-advised funds supervised by such luminaries as rockers the Blackeyed Peas, former Bondman Pierce Brosnan, the Animal Actors Guild (I can only assume Lassie barks her orders at board meetings), American Idol softy Randy Jackson, and others.

Their mission statement goes like this:
“The Entertainment Industry Foundation, as the leading charitable
organization of the industry, has distributed hundreds of millions of dollars -
and provided countless volunteer hours - to support charitable initiatives that
address some of the most critical issues facing our society.”

All told the EIF gives to hundreds of charities ranging from the Chaka Khan Foundation, to Cedars Sinai, to the American Red Cross, to the Sundance Institute. Federated charities like the United Jewish Communities, the Combined Federal Campaign, and even the United Way raise money and give to a broad spectrum of charities, too.

But even for a federated charity, the EIF seems unfocused. The United Jewish Communities give a lot to Jewish causes and pro-Israel charities, for instance. And individual United Ways concentrate their efforts on the needs of the communities they operate in.

The EIF website is splashed with A-list celebrities like actors Charlize Theron, Felicity Huffman, singers Tony Bennett and Queen Latifah, and celebrity cobbler Jimmy Choo. And the list of celebrities that show up at just one EIF gala would power lesser affairs in big cities like Houston or Atlanta or Seattle for 10 years.

Which leads me to ask; how can a brand possibly stand for anything when it stands for so many things?

And yet the EIF does just fine moneywise. They raised $33 million in 2006, $25 million in 2005, $23 million in 2004, $21 million in 2003, etc.

How have they managed to be involved with so many causes and entities without diluting and irretrievably diminishing their brand?

I really don’t know, although I do have some ideas.
  • Plainly the management at the EIF has some skill at putting together cause-related marketing campaigns with corporate America. The Pantene campaign with two-time Oscar-winner Hilary Swank is adequate proof of that.
  • Their vanilla mission statement doesn’t exactly force laser-like focus on them. Meaning they can take on Charlize Theron’s Africa Outreach Project while they also undertake a star driven anti-smoking PSA campaign called Hollywood Unfiltered without being called on the carpet for mission-creep.
  • Certainly the star power the EIF can bring to bear helps paper over weaknesses like market positioning.
  • I think it’s also clear that there was some kind of vacuum in Southern California for really glamorous star-studded galas that the EIF successfully filled.
But I think those observations raise as many questions as they answer.

So I’m very interested in your comments to questions like:
  1. How is it that the EIF continues to grow?
  2. Is the EIF's lack of focus good, bad or indifferent?
  3. Should the EIF even try to concentrate more closely on its five national initiatives (colorectal cancer, women's cancer, arts and music education, Hollywood Unfiltered, and Diabetes Aware) or should it just go on as is?

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