Jan 22, 2010 5:15 PM by Michael Ventre, msnbc
Telethons tend to occur almost as suddenly as the catastrophic events that make them necessary.
Shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, actor George Clooney helped to organize "America: A Tribute to Heroes," which took place only days after the attacks and raised more than $100 million for various charities. In 2004, Clooney again helped to stage a telethon after the tsunami hit in South Asia. And after Hurricane Katrina, three major telethons were staged.
On Friday night, Clooney will host "Hope for Haiti," which will air between 8-10 p.m. ET on several networks, including NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, CNN and others. It will feature stars such as Brad Pitt, Clint Eastwood, Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Leonardo DiCaprio, Nicole Kidman, Tom Hanks, Morgan Freeman, Jon Stewart, Robert Pattinson and more, and musical performances from Madonna, Beyonce, Rihanna and others. The event will be hosted by Clooney in Los Angeles, Wyclef Jean in New York and Anderson Cooper in Haiti.
It doesn't take much arm-twisting to get average citizens to make donations in the face of such tragedy. Yet the mere presence of celebrities can be particularly persuasive in generating money for a cause.
"It has a huge impact in terms of awareness," said Atul Tandon, executive director of the international network and executive vice president of investor relations for United Way. "It brings a focus to what is happening, it brings the situation to the attention of the American public and the American people."
Celebrity Cabinet helps out in times of need
The American Red Cross is one of the charities that will receive funds as a result of Friday's telethon. Julie Thurmond Whitmer knows the drill. As director of celebrity and entertainment outreach for the American Red Cross, she has helped to form a cadre of celebrity volunteers who are ready at a moment's notice to pitch in when disasters such as the earthquake in Haiti strike.
"The compassion of the American public, including those in the entertainment industry, is in abundance and in full force after a disaster like this," Whitmer said. "We have what we call the National Celebrity Cabinet, which has 34 members. We reach out to them right after disasters to help us.
"We started that program in 2002. We started with 12 members, and it grew to what it is today. A lot of them have a personal connection to our cause. For instance, when Marlee Matlin was pregnant, she needed a blood transfusion. Because of her personal connection, she reached out to help us in our efforts to get people to donate blood. There is a story like that for the majority of the people involved in the Red Cross."
Not all celebrities have universal appeal. Some, because of the movies or television shows they've been in, or their politics, or their personal lives, or some other reasons, might actually alienate viewers - in another context.
"My experience," said the United Way's Tandon, "is that the American people tend to give the benefit of the doubt. They appreciate when celebrities step forward and do things like this."
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie: Donated $1 million to Doctors Without Borders
Ben Stiller: Redirecting donations from his stillerstrong.org to emergency relief efforts
Madonna: Donating $250,000 to to Partners In Health
Wyclef Jean: Helping his Haitian charity Yele raise funds
George Clooney: Pairing with MTV to stage telethon for earthquake relief
Lance Armstrong: His LiveStrong foundation pledged $250,000 to relief charities
Eddie Izzard: Donated to the Haiti earthquake fund via Care.org
Coldplay: Donated to Oxfam.org
Hollywood Foreign Press Association: Donated $100,000 to Yele
Gisele Bundchen: Donated $1.5 million to the Red Cross
Alyssa Milano: Donated $50,000 to UNICEF
Sandra Bullock: Donated $1 million to Doctors Without Borders
Tyler Perry: Donated $250,000 via his foundation
Leonardo DiCaprio: Donated $1 million to the Clinton Bush Haiti fund