How did you celebrate your favorite celebrity’s birthday this year?
Perhaps you wrote them a sweet social media post, scarfed down an entire cake in their honor, or did absolutely nothing out of the ordinary, because although you think certain celebrities are great, you’re not close personal friends — or even Facebook acquaintances — with them.
When the birthday of a celebrity I admire arrives, I excitedly tweet a witty message at them in hopes that my well-wishes will stand out from the mass of other fan notifications and make them smile. But this year, when one of my all-time favorite Hollywood presences, John Krasinski, turned 40, I found myself donating money to an organization I’d never even heard of before.
You see on Oct. 20, the actor best known for his role as Jim Halpert in The Office logged on to Twitter to make sure all 2.2 million of his followers were well aware of his big day. He shared a video of himself seated in front of a festive balloon backdrop and “demanded” gifts, letting fans know that what he wanted most from them on his milestone birthday was cold hard cash.
To be clear, Krasinski didn’t want the cash for himself. He’s already got tons! He was asking because he partnered with Venmo to create a special fundraising account called “JKbday,” where fans could send money that would be donated to Family Reach, a national organization that helps reduce the financial burden a child or parent’s cancer diagnosis will have on a family.
Krasinski joins an increasing number of celebrities who, in recent years, have used their birthdays to give back to the world and encourage others to do the same.
The sheer act of someone with such a large platform using it to do good often receives the majority of the praise, but after chatting with fans who’ve been moved by celebrity campaigns like Krasinski’s, and organizations that have benefitted from them, it’s clear that celebrity efforts are far more than just good publicity stunts. The campaigns have real, meaningful effects.
Krasinski’s instant impact
Within minutes of Krasinski’s tweet, followers began rapidly spreading the word about the actor’s call for Family Reach donations. While his campaign was spreading by virtual word of mouth, the actor decided to put in some extra effort and call on famous pals like Ryan Reynolds, Jimmy Kimmel, Chris Evans, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and more to open up their hearts and “cyber wallets,” too. Other noteworthy names, like Malala and Reese Witherspoon, joined in John’s quest to raise money and spread awareness, and now his original tweet has nearly 100,000 likes.
“‘Impact’ was the whole point, and ‘impact’ it had!” Family Reach CEO Carla Tardif said in an email when asked about Krasinski’s collaboration with her organization and Venmo. “Funds from the campaign are still rolling in and we can’t wait to announce the grand total.”
None of the people I spoke with who donated to Krasinski’s birthday fund had heard of Family Reach before the actor’s tweet either. Without his acknowledgement of the organization, they admittedly would never have donated.
When Derek Powell, 32, saw Krasinski’s video, he knew he had to donate for two reasons. “First, I have a sister who is going through her own battle with cancer. I have witnessed the financial burden that cancer can have, even on my own family,” Powell said via Twitter DM. He also felt compelled to pay it forward because he’s a huge fan of The Office and wanted to thank Krasinski for all the show has done for him.
“It helps me to escape my severe anxiety/panic disorder… when I’m having those attacks the familiarity and humor help me to escape and calm down,” Powell explained. “I thought, there’s no better way to repay John for all the help his role as Jim played in helping me laugh when my anxiety was bringing me down.”
For many Krasinski fans, the actor’s signature comedic delivery also helped persuade them to donate. Billie (who declined to provide her last name), a 17-year-old who donated $20.00 to Family Reach, loved that Krasinski spent the day tweeting at fans and hounding his friends to participate.
“[He] used his ‘scandals’ and other memes to encourage donations, and I think it really resonated, especially with other young people, like me,” Billie said. “It’s refreshing. Sometimes the internet can feel like a gloomy, bad news void and it’s refreshing to be reminded that there’s ways to help others.”
“The way he presented his request was, of course, his typical sarcastic humor. So watching the video was more of a sketch than someone looking for money. It was entertaining,” Allison Eyres, a 29-year-old who added an Office reference to her Venmo donation.
Krasinski’s request even enticed one of his fans, Doug Adams, to finally download Venmo — quite the achievement. “He presented his call for action in an interesting and humorous way. It made laugh, which probably made me more open to the ask,” Adams said. “I could see that he cared and believed in the organization.”
Adams says that he likely never would have downloaded the mobile payment app had Krasinski not asked, but now that he has he hopes to use it to donate to future Venmo-partnered charitable campaigns.
Celebrity birthday donations aren’t new, but they’re still catching on
Krasinski’s efforts are part of a growing trend of celebrity do-gooders using their birthdays to make a difference. Some, like Mindy Kaling, Krasinski’s former co-star on The Office, have been using their special day to give back to organizations for years.
Kaling’s been pledging to donate to charities on her birthday for quite some time. To celebrate turning 40 this June she donated 40 different organizations, giving them each $1,000. She selected them by enlisting the help of her millions of social media followers, so in addition to her own financial aid, she also sparked a powerful conversation.
I’m so grateful to have my wonderful, peaceful life w/ my daughter Katherine. How lucky am I to turn 40? I would love to express my gratitude by donating $1000 to 40 different charitable orgs that help others. Pls suggest some! I will kick it off by giving $1000 to @RAICESTEXAS!
— Mindy Kaling (@mindykaling) June 24, 2019
Melissa Sciacca, Executive Director of the U.S. Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, an organization dedicated to protecting and rescuing wildlife in need (such as elephants and rhinos), said they saw Kaling’s pledge and were “deeply grateful” not only for the suggestion, “but also that Mindy was open to our cause and so generously willing to support.”
“Celebrity efforts can be quite helpful, and when people with far-reaching influence or visibility wish to use that platform for good — it’s all the better for animals,” Sciacca said in an email.
Kaling also donated to The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth. In an email, Sam Gold, The Trevor Project’s Talent Engagement Manager, said that the difference Kaling’s donation made, along with the attention she drew to the organization, “will impact thousands of LGBTQ youth, and will help brighten so many futures.”
Stars of The Office aren’t the only celebrities who celebrate the anniversary of their birth by giving back, though. “For several years, Tyler Oakley famously asked family, friends, and fans to donate to The Trevor Project in lieu of birthday gifts, raising over $500,000,” Gold said.
And other celebrities, like Kristen Bell, have also used their platforms for a purpose. For her birthday last year, Bell donated and linked to a GoFundMe campaign benefiting Immigrant Families Together — which helps reunite families separated by the “zero tolerance” policy.
Celebrities aren’t always the initiators
Though many celebrity birthday campaigns are initiated by the celebrities themselves, some fans are so inspired by a person’s impact in the world that they handle the organizing.
When Schitt’s Creek co-creator and star Dan Levy’s birthday rolled around this year, hundreds of fans donated to a fundraiser in his honor and managed to raise $23,400 for LGBT Youth Line, a hotline that provides support and resources to LGBTQ youth across Ontario, Canada.
Bea Edwards, the 35-year-old Levy fan who put the fundraiser together with the help of 10 co-organizers, was inspired by the Schitt’s Creek cast emotionally posting about their final days of filming the show.
“A group of us on social media were talking about how it was sad to see [the show] end, but that we were so excited to see what Dan would do next,” Edwards explained in an email.
“We knew we wanted donations to go to an organization that he would like,” she said, and after remembering that Schitt’s Creek had donated proceeds from the cover of “Simply the Best” that Noah Reid (Patrick Brewer) sang for the show to LGBT Youth Line and The Trevor Project, the choice was simple.
“I’m from a rural area, so picking Youth Line and their mission to support and empower LGBTQ+ youth in rural areas was key for me,” Edwards explained.
Both Levy and LGBT Youth Line showed immense gratitude for the fundraiser, and the actor said “it will go down as one of the greatest gifts I have ever been given.” Edwards definitely plans to repeat the effort next year.
What makes the celebrity factor so undeniable
Of course many celebrities promote their favorite causes year, but there’s something about doing it on their birthday that makes it stand out. I’ve seen my fair share of Facebook birthday fundraisers and have donated to organizations without a celebrity endorsing them first. But something about seeing John Krasinski take the time on his birthday to encourage fans to help families impacted by cancer really got me. I wanted to help, not only because it was a good cause, but because it meant something to him personally.
“It allows people to connect with their favorite personalities who otherwise are unapproachable.”
“It allows people to connect with their favorite personalities who otherwise are unapproachable,” Tardif said of the celebrity/social good allure. “John is a great example of that because he is a fun, loving, family man who has a strong sense of purpose,” she continued. “When someone like that endorses a mission and uses his bright light to shine a spotlight on an issue that means something to him, it’s validating and contagious.”
At the end of the day, we all have the power to actively raise awareness or donate to an organization with a mission that resonates with us. We should use that power, and encourage others to do the same without waiting for a celebrity to ask. But with a large platform comes the ability to reach more people and the potential to create change on a larger scale. There are added benefits to celebrity efforts, and every person I spoke with said that they’d love to see more celebs use their platforms to promote campaigns or organizations they’re passionate about.
So celebs, next time your birthday rolls around or you’re looking for something meaningful to post, consider championing a fundraiser.