Many celebrities choose to spend some of their time and fortune giving back to the world, using their unique positions and names to bring attention to worthy causes. The following celebrities have gone above and beyond the rest, and are often among the first people we think of when we consider celebrity charity and philanthropy. Though they aren’t all necessarily the biggest givers by numbers – though some are – here are 10 celebrities known for their philanthropy.
Sources: GoodNewsNetwork.org, Ranker.com, ONE.org, Forbes.com, NewsWeek, CNN.com, LooktotheStars.org, TheGuardian.co.uk, GardenofDreamsFoundation.org,
U2’s lead singer Bono has been associated with a variety of causes, from AIDS awareness to debt relief, disaster relief and the alleviation of poverty in the third world. He is well known for his ability to enlist other powerful allies for his causes, and was named the most politically effective celebrity of all time by the “National Journal” in 2011. His best-known commitments include ONE Campaign, working to fight extreme poverty and preventable disease, and Product RED, a brand that engaged the private sector to help raise awareness and funds to fight HIV/AIDS.
Angelina Jolie, along with husband Brad Pitt, is well known for her philanthropy. She has been particularly active for refugee rights, and is a special envoy and former goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. She also promotes humanitarian causes, often lobbying in the U.S. Congress about legislation to protect women and children.
Elton John has made HIV/AIDS awareness the crux of his philanthropy, setting up the Elton John AIDS Foundation in 1992. Since then, he has raised more than $125 million to support the foundation’s programs across the world, working to prevent infection, eliminate prejudice and discrimination about the disease, and provide healthcare to those infected. He started the charity after the deaths of two close friends, AIDS activist Ryan White and Freddie Mercury, the former lead singer of Queen.
Oprah is widely known for her Oprah’s Angel Network, created in 1998, which supported various charitable projects around the world on a grant-making basis, and raised more than $80 million. Though the Angel Network has now been dissolved, Oprah is heavily involved in the Leadership Academy for Girls near Johannesburg, South Africa, which offers top-quality education for girls in the area. She is widely considered one of the most influential women in the world.
Beatles legend Paul McCartney has given his time and money to a variety of causes, including animal rights, land mines, poverty, and music education. He is particularly active in animal rights as a former spokesman for PETA and is an outspoken and active vegetarian. McCartney has also been a contributor on several charitable albums and live concerts, including the Concert For New York City following 9/11, Live Aid, Live 8, and the “US Campaign for Burma” album.
Sting has dedicated his charitable career to music-related foundations such as MusiCares (supporting musicians in times of need), In Harmony Sistema England (bringing music to needy children), Musicians on Call (providing music, both live and recorded, to hospital patients), and Society of Singers (protecting the health and welfare of professional singers). He is also the founder of the Rainforest Foundation, created in 1989, to prevent destruction of the Amazon rainforests.
Popular talk show host Ellen DeGeneres has been linked to a variety of causes including veganism, LGBT rights, and AIDS awareness. She was named a special envoy for global AIDS awareness by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2011. She has also worked with The Gentle Barn (an animal sanctuary for abused animals), Feeding America, the American Red Cross for disaster relief, and Susan G. Koman for the Cure (to raise money for breast cancer research).
George Clooney is known for being politically active, and is respected for his commitment to humanitarian causes. He is deeply involved in Not On Our Watch, along with fellow actors Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, and more, that works to prevent mass atrocities and raise global awareness in vulnerable areas. He has also been active in raising funds for disaster relief, particularly after the Haiti earthquake, for LGBT rights, and working to find a resolution for the Darfur conflict.
Comedian Whoopie Goldberg has been linked to a variety of causes, but is best known for her work with LGBT rights and children’s rights. In 1999, she received the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation Vanguard Award for her continued work, and launched the Give a Damn campaign in 2010 to bring a wider awareness of discrimination against the LGBT community. She was also named a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 2003, and serves on the board of Garden of Dreams, the charitable foundation of Madison Square Garden in New York, home of the New York Knicks basketball team, among others.
Madonna’s Raising Malawi Foundation, started after she adopted her Malawian children, David Banda and Chifundo James, provides support to community-based organizations working to protect vulnerable children within the tiny African nation. Raising Malawi helps provide children and caregivers with proper food and clothing, secure shelter, education, medical care, and more, and also works to establish innovative opportunities for sustainability within the country. Madonna has also been a supporter of other child-related causes, including Children of Peace.