And The Award Goes To...


By Maggie Neilson 

When I moved to LA, I learned that what others call "winter," locals call "awards season." Screenings, voting, fittings, parties, gifting suites -- somehow everyone in this city seems involved, from corporate sponsors to makeup artists. As a philanthropy professional, I feel the energy of the season and also the opportunity.

Celebrity activism continues to grow and has been present at recent awards shows. In 2014, Miley Cyrus used her VMA Video of the Year win as a platform to advocate for homeless youth. Last year, Patricia Arquette took a stand for equal pay for women on the Oscars stage. And, while accepting a 2015 Grammy award for their song "Glory," John Legend and Common used their acceptance speech to call for continued civil rights change. Legend started his speech with the Nina Simone quote, "It's an artist's duty to reflect the times in which we live."

The good news is that people are listening. Nearly 40 million viewers tuned in to watch the Academy Awards last year and the Grammy Awards are a close second, with a growing audience approaching 30 million. Based on what we know about consumer behavior, viewers are also more predisposed than ever to care about social issues -- 89 percent of U.S. consumers will switch brands to one associated with a cause. 91 percent of global consumers expect companies to do more than just make a profit. The public wants to see action -- true action, not just words - from businesses, politicians and even Hollywood.

As a culture, for better or worse, we look to the entertainment industry to inform and set trends, putting artists in a position of great power. And, as the phrase goes, with great power comes great responsibility. It is within the realm of possibility to expect every award recipient to feature a non-profit organization or cause on the screen behind them when they are on stage, or for gifting suites to offer "giving back" options, like funding a girl's education for an entire year on the recipient's behalf. I imagine that might be much more rewarding than another organic bath gel. By leveraging these high-visibility moments, the entertainment industry can set a philanthropic engagement trend we can all be proud of -- one that will improve our world and resonate with their audiences. One which reinforces the reality that we are all in it together.

While it does celebrate glamour and glitterati, at its core, awards season is about celebrating artistic excellence. Artists have often been catalysts for social change and activism -- it makes sense that they are tuned in to social issues as their job is to interpret the human experience. Now is the moment to take that innate compassion to the next level by partnering with best-in-class non-profit organizations, engaging smart corporate leaders, bringing along other high-profile influencers and funders, and collaborating with the media to share important messages.

I have high hopes for the 2016 awards season. By collectively raising our expectations -- of celebrities and of one another as a society -- we can use this moment to drive strategic, meaningful and memorable philanthropy.

This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post