June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson and Philanthropy

As people mourn the death of the pop star Michael Jackson, fans, the news media, and others are discussing his charitable work, which some say paved the way for the current surge in celebrity philanthropy.

The entertainer supported dozens of charities during his life, including USA for Africa, the Make-a-Wish Foundation, and the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation. He reportedly was listed in the 2000 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records for “Most Charities Supported by a Pop Star.” The number was 39.

As a humanitarian, he is perhaps best know for “We Are the World,” the 1985 song he wrote with Lionel Richie that raised millions of dollars for famine relief in Africa. To honor the King of Pop’s philanthropy, some fans and small companies have pledged to make donations to his favorite charities.

Yet as with the rest of his life, Mr. Jackson occasionally triggered controversy with some of his philanthropic efforts.

In 1992 he created the Heal the World Foundation, which provided aid overseas but also brought needy children to his California home, the Neverland Ranch. According to Fox News, the charity’s work raised concerns when the singer was accused of child molestation. (Mr. Jackson was acquitted of the charges.)

In addition, in 2006, questions were raised about whether Mr. Jackson earned money from the charity singles he released.

On his blog, Jeff Trexler, a professor of social entrepreneurship at Pace University, in New York, discusses the two sides to Mr. Jackson’s charity efforts.

While there may be lessons to be learned from the way Mr. Jackson approached his philanthropy, “for now,” Mr. Trexler writes, “a moment of silence for a man who, like so many of us, gave as much as he felt that he could.”

What do you think? How did the pop singer reshape how musicians and celebrities do philanthropy?