The unconventional Lady Gaga launched her Born This Way Foundation on February 29th at an extremely traditional venue, Harvard University. In less than a month her foundation has managed to have more than 100,000 people sign an online pledge to support their vision of tolerance and respect for difference among young people, almost all of them undoubtedly members of the foundation´s “target audience”, youth themselves. (They´ve also gotten more than 76,000 Facebook likes and have more than 42,000 twitter followers.)
How can those of us who aren´t pop icons have an equally successful start to our own initiatives?
Focus on a cause that you´re passionate about Lady Gaga´s commitment to bullying is authentic. Her foundation stems from the singer´s own experiences as youth as well as her desire to respond to a problem which is increasingly recognized as major issue and impediment to education.
Choose a cause that your natural audience will identify with as well We all have folks we can easily reach and with whom we can communicate naturally, whether they are business colleagues, friends or members of our extended families. In Lady Gaga´s case they are the millions of “Little Monster” fans for whom the lyrics of her hit “Born this Way” hit close to home. (The star has had more than 1.2 billion youtube views!)
Work with experts Lady Gaga is clear about the fact that she doesn´t have all of the answers. She launched her foundation at Harvard because her foundation is working closely with researchers at Harvard´s Graduate School of Education and Berkman Center for Internet and Society. She´s also partnering with the MacArthur Foundation and California Endowments, two institutions with experience and credibility in youth development, as well as relying on her own philanthropic advisor. She seems to be on the right path, and I heartily second the Center for High Impact Philanthropy´s recommendation that Lady Gaga take full advantage of programs that have already demonstrated results in the field. (See “An evidenced based Hippy”.)
Take advantage of your most valuable assets So far Lady Gaga has given $1.2 million in cash to the foundation, but her media reach is worth much, much more. She managed to bring together Oprah, Deepak Chopra and the US Secretary of Health and Human Services for the launch (streamed live on the internet) and the foundation was the focus of a special episode of Oprah´s Next Chapter last week.
Lady Gaga decided to focus her movement from the bottom up because of her ability to reach her 40 million facebooks fans (and 21 million twitter followers, more than anyone else in the world.) As she says, “If anyone knows how to get a message out, it´s me.” We should all leverage what we know how to do especially well!
Lady Gaga wasn´t quite the superstar she is today when Matt Bishop wrote his book Philanthrocapitalism in 2009, but today he would surely include her on the list of people who are responding to daunting large-scale social issues by applying the same skills which vaulted them to fame and fortune.
Involve people who inspire you Lady Gaga dared to ask Oprah to help her at the launch because she found her so inspiring. And the singer recounts that it was her mother who inspired her to create the foundation, saying she had talked to Lady Gaga about giving back since childhood. (One more confirmation that we do teach children our values at home!) Her mother, a businesswoman with 25 years experience in telecommunications, is now running the foundation.
Be rigorous Even representatives from the Ford Foundation told the Chronicle of Philanthropy they were “impressed with the seriousness, commitment, and rigor that Lady Gaga is bringing to the creation of her foundation.” I like the fact that her foundation´s blog includes recent findings from top notch researchers explained in a language that make the concepts easily accessible.
Propose a concrete and easy first step Lady invites her fans to individually commit to helping “to build a society where individuality is celebrated, youth and empowered and differences are accepted” starting with an email, a tweet , a photo, a blog post share or designing a poster.
Focus on a simple message “Be kind and accepting” is not a revolutionary message but it is very easy to understand and share. At the launch Lady Gaga explained her reasoning, “The message has to have a good hook, just like a great hook for a pop song. From the first moment it grabs you and you just want to move.”
What makes you want to move? If you want to support Lady Gaga´s cause, go here. If you´d like to move on your own cause, think about how you can apply these principles with your own personal style. Not sure how to begin? We´re happy to help you get started.