There are tons of high-profile celebrities that campaign for and donate to nonprofit charities and organizations, but the number of stars that have created their own is much smaller, and sometimes a lot quieter—did you know Ben Affleck founded the Eastern Congo Initiative? Considering the holidays see a spike in donations, we thought it would be a good time to highlight some of our favorite celebrity-founded organizations. Covering a wide range, from inmate rehabilitation to bringing clean water to everyone in the world, there's a good chance you'll find something here that hits close to home.
Photo Courtesy of Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation
Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation
Everyone loves themselves some Leonardo DiCaprio, and the fact that he started his own foundation just deepens that love. Founded in 1998 when Leo was 24 (a year after Titanic was released if you need a reference point), the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation works to resolve many different environmental and humanitarian concerns through grant-making, launching media projects, and campaigning. In simpler terms, LDF focuses on protecting the world's last "wild places," and on creating a balance between people and the natural world so we can live in harmony. If you want to help preserve the environment and all of its wildlife, this foundation is for you.
The organization's very first gala was thrown on July 23, 2014 and raised over $25 million. More recently, LDF has donated $2 million to Oceans 5, committed $3 million to Oceana to protect marine animals, and has given a $1 million grant to the Elephant Crisis Fund to stop poaching. A donation to LDF will go towards the organizations and projects that the company supports, which you can clearly find listed on the official website.
Photo Courtesy of Michael J. Fox Foundation
Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research
Having publicly announced his young-onset Parkinson's diagnosis in 1998, actor Michael J. Fox retired from acting for a while and concentrated his attentions on launching The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research. Since its inception, the organization has become the largest nonprofit funder of Parkinson's drug research and development, and Fox has been called "the most credible voice on Parkinson’s research in the world" by the New York Times.
Having funded over $450 million to finding a cure for Parkinson's disease, the foundation is incredibly well organized and researched, with a team that draws from both the science and business worlds. They invest 52 percent of their time into altering the disease, 22 percent into defining PD and its biomarkers, 18 percent into untreated symptoms, and the last eight percent goes to various research tools. There are so many ways to help, from simply making a donation to fundraising to participating in a clinical trial.
Photo Courtesy of Jail Guitar Doors
Jail Guitar Doors
With a musical history that is sure to suck in any rocker, Jail Guitar Doors definitely doesn't get the publicity that it should. Back in 1978, The Clash released a song called Jail Guitar Doors, which they wrote about the two-year imprisonment of their musician friend Wayne Kramer (you know, of the MC5). When the ever-political Billy Bragg was looking for a way to make a difference and commemorate Joe Strummer's life's work in 2007, he founded Jail Guitar Doors, which brings guitars into prisons as a rehabilitation tool. Of course, Kramer himself then got involved to run the North American segment of the organization. "I knew for years that I needed to do something about hyper-incarceration in America, as a musician, as an ex-offender, as an artist, as a human being…I had to do something," Kramer told us in an interview earlier in the year.
As of March, Jail Guitar Doors has brought over 600 instruments into more than 50 US prisons. Though they don't accept used guitars—because more often than not they come in needing more work than they're worth—they do accept donations so they can buy new ones. JGD also encourages other musicians to throw a benefit concert and take instruments into prisons in their own towns, because as Kramer says, "That's your friends and family in those prisons."
Photo Courtesy of Julian D. King Gift Foundation
Julian D. King Gift Foundation
In October 2008, Jennifer Hudson's mother, brother, and seven-year-old nephew were slain by the estranged husband of her sister, Julia. The tragedy was highly publicized and tragic. Hudson and her sister channeled their pain into founding the Julian D. King Gift Foundation to honor their young nephew, Julian. The foundation works to offer support and stability for children of all backgrounds in an effort to help them grow to be happy, healthy, confident adults. Considering the foundation collects and distributes school supplies and Christmas presents, now would be a perfect time to donate.
"Where we came from, a lot of kids don't have school supplies or school clothes," Hudson says. "Children should not have to worry about those things. When we went [shopping], you got two pairs of shoes and two pairs of clothes, and we were considered blessed. We make sure these kids have school supplies and [presents] for the holidays."
Photo Courtesy of From One Hand to AnOTHER
From One Hand to AnOTHER
From One Hand to AnOTHER was started by mega producer/artist Pharrell Williams in 2008, "because he believed that every child could be a success if only they had the right tools." Drawing from his own upbringing in a tough neighborhood in Virginia Beach, Williams knows firsthand how difficult it can be to overcome obstacles when young, and credits discovering music as changing his life. The nonprofit organization thus creates learning programs for at-risk seven- to 20-year-olds as a way to expose them to various forms of technology and art, giving them the freedom to find and explore their individual passions.
In affiliation with NASA and as part of President Obama's "Educate to Innovate" STEM initiative, in 2008 FOHTA also launched their first Summer of Innovation camp, which includes free after-school programs and "camps" to kids in the Virginia Beach and Hampton Bays area. As of this year, they have had 500 students enroll in their nine summer camps and continue to donate school supplies to schools in need.
Photo Courtesy of Eastern Congo Initiative
Eastern Congo Initiative
You may know all about Ben Affleck's personal life, but how much do you know about the Eastern Congo Initiative? Affleck founded the ECI in 2010 and it is the first US-based "advocacy and grant-making initiative wholly focused on working with and for the people of eastern Congo." Wanting to create new opportunities for the citizens of eastern Congo, the ECI advocates with and behalf of the people to increase funding that supports the community, raise public awareness, and to drive policy change to further US engagement.
With TOMS and Theo Chocolate as major partners, ECI has long detailed accounts of their grant-making and advocacy activities, so make sure to check out everything they've done and still hope to do.
Photo Courtesy of Eva's Heroes
Inspired by her sister who has special needs, actress Eva Longoria founded Eva's Heroes in 2006. The charity helps developmentally disabled teens and young adults flourish and gain confidence in society. By "providing an inclusive setting built on four tenets: interact, grow, learn, and love," the San Antonio-based charity strives to create unique opportunities those with special needs may not be able to experience elsewhere. By hosting yearly fundraising events, Eva's Heroes is able to fund several after-school programs, monthly activities, and a summer enrichment program.
Photo Courtesy of Water.org
In the US we throw water around like we don't have a care in the world, without a thought to the many developing countries that deal with the life or death problem of not having access to clean water—according to the World Health Organization, over 3.4 million die each year from water- and sanitation-related causes. Matt Damon wanted to do something to help, so in 2009 he partnered up with friend Gary White to found Water.org, a nonprofit organization that hopes to bring safe water and sanitation to everyone. By using Damon's celebrity status, Water.org has been able to help communities in Africa, Central America, and South Asia—they currently have featured projects in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Ghana, Haiti, Honduras, India, Kenya, and Uganda.
If you want to get involved past making a monetary donation, you can explore fundraising opportunities or enter an athlete competition on behalf of the cause.
Photo Courtesy of Elton John AIDS Foundation
Elton John AIDS Foundation
The Elton John AIDS Foundation has been around for a while, so it's a pretty well known cause at this point, but it certainly shouldn't be forgotten. Sir Elton John established the EJAF in 1992 (and in the UK in 1993), hoping to help reduce the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS through funding prevention programs and research for more effective treatments. Of course, lending support to those who are living with the disease is another main focus of the foundation, as well as striving to battle the stigma that still permeates HIV/AIDS.
According to the nonprofit organization, over $300 million has been raised so far, with over $7 million being dispersed yearly to more than 120 organizations. With an average grant size of $102,000, the EJAF promises that by keeping their costs low, more than 96 percent of every contribution goes straight to grants.
Photo Courtesy of Not On Our Watch
Not On Our Watch
Not On Our Watch has a ton of star power backing it, which certainly helps it gain publicity—it was established in 2008 by actors George Clooney, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, and Don Cheadle, as well as United Artists CEO Jerry Weintraub and human rights lawyer David Pressman. The non-governmental organization focuses its international attention and resources "towards putting an end to mass atrocities around the world" and giving voice to victims. The charity organizes advocacy campaigns, targeting western mass media and international press, in order to bring much-needed attention to what's going on in areas of extreme distress.
They also fund emergency and life-saving programs to the people who really need them in areas like Darfur (a crisis which the United Nations has called the world's worst humanitarian disaster), Burma, and Zimbabwe—NOOW details each of these crisis areas on their site, explaining the history and current situation of each.
Photo Credit: Dave Allocca
Tribeca Film Institute
The Tribeca Film Institute was founded by Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal, and Craig Hatkoff after the devastation of September 11, 2001. As a year-round nonprofit arts organization, TFI identifies a "diverse and exceptional group of filmmakers and media artists and empower them with funding and other resources to fully realize their stories and connect with audiences." Through six different educational artist support programs that give hands-on training (like in- and after-school projects), young filmmakers are exposed to socially-relevant films and gain the skills needed to pursue their creative passions—who knows, one of the selected students may even make it to the Tribeca Film Festival.
You can simply donate or you can become a TFI member, which grants you two tickets to a private screening of a TFI-supported movie at the Tribeca Film Festival, access to filmmaker and industry panels in NYC and LA, and so much more. Choose the Champion level ($1,000) and you'll even get to mingle on the festival's red carpet where De Niro himself may even be roaming.