12 Celebrity Activists Making a Difference
Celebrity activists can be a powerful game changer for social impact organizations. A celebrity’s fan base, social media following, and public relations opportunities empower them to highlight a problem and promote nonprofits making a difference.
Whether they’ve started organizations or partnered with existing ones, here are 12 celebrity activists using their platforms to fight for causes close to their hearts.
1. Glenn Close
CAUSE: Mental Health
ORGANIZATION: BRING CHANGE 2 MIND
Glenn Close has been acting in television and film for over 40 years, appearing in movies such as “The Big Chill,” “Fatal Attraction,” “101 Dalmatians,” “The Stepford Wives,” and many more. She has six Oscar nominations, the most recent being for best actress in the 2011 film “Albert Nobbs.” But off camera, Close co-founded Bring Change 2 Mind, a nonprofit organization working to end the stigma attached to mental illness.
The Close family knows firsthand the challenges people living with mental illness face. Close’s sister has bipolar disorder, and her nephew has schizoaffective disorder.
Bring Change 2 Mind produces public service announcements and organizes social media campaigns to get people talking about their experiences with mental illness to end the stigma and discrimination.
2. Stephen and Ayesha Curry
CAUSE: Childhood Hunger Relief
ORGANIZATION: EAT. LEARN. PLAY. FOUNDATION
Stephen Curry is one of the brightest stars of the NBA. Just when you thought he couldn’t top himself after winning the NBA Most Valuable Player Award in 2015, he won again in 2016 by an unprecedented unanimous vote.
But between practices, travel, games, and Nike commercials, Stephen and his wife, Ayesha, fight to end childhood hunger through the Stephen and Ayesha Curry Eat.Learn.Play. Foundation, which they founded in 2019 with a focus on improving the lives of kids and families in Oakland, the San Francisco Bay Area, and across the country.
The organization is committed to unlocking the unique potential of every child by ensuring students have access to quality education, food, and safe places to play and be active.
Anchored around the message that children are our future, the organization strives to develop partnerships and initiatives that make a positive impact for generations to come.
Reading is a crucial building block to academic success and unlocking lifelong opportunities, which is why we’ve made early literacy the focus of our LEARN pillar. We want to encourage kids to read by making it accessible, fun and inspirational.
3. Michael J. Fox
CAUSE: Parkinson’s Disease
ORGANIZATION: THE MICHAEL J. FOX FOUNDATION FOR PARKINSON’S RESEARCH
Michael J. Fox is perhaps best known for starring as Marty McFly in the “Back to the Future” trilogy, but his foundation is shaping the future of research on Parkinson’s disease. This degenerative neurological disorder can affect motor function, memory, and mood and manifest in other symptoms.
Fox found fame acting in the 1980s’ TV series “Family Ties” and went on to star in TV shows, like “Spin City” and “The Good Wife,” and films, such as “Teen Wolf” and “Stuart Little.” After a young-onset Parkinson’s diagnosis in 1991, he shared his condition publicly in 1998. In 2000, he founded the Michael J. Fox Foundation to find a cure and improve therapies with aggressive, risk-taking research.
Since its inception, the foundation has funded more than $450 million in research on Parkinson’s disease. Its work focuses on a wide range of things, including treatments focused on enzyme activity, a vaccine to slow the disease, and a single scale for measuring dyskinesia, the involuntary movements characterizing Parkinson’s most visible symptom.
4. Angelina Jolie
CAUSE: Refugee Welfare
ORGANIZATION: UNITED NATIONS REFUGEE AGENCY
Angelina Jolie has acted in many Hollywood blockbusters, including “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” “A Mighty Heart,” and “Maleficent.” But after filming the movie “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” in war-torn Cambodia, the actress began a life of humanitarian work.
The experience made her contact the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to get involved. In her first year with the organization, Jolie visited refugee camps in Sierra Leone and Tanzania, donated $1 million to aid Afghan refugees, and became a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador.
Jolie has been working with the agency for years and has traveled on dozens of field missions. She serves as Special Envoy for refugee issues and continues promoting awareness and aid for displaced people worldwide.
5. Willie Nelson
CAUSE: Family Farms
ORGANIZATION: FARM AID
Willie Nelson has been a country music fixture since the 1960s, having released 68 studio albums. Fans love him for songs like “Always on My Mind” and “On the Road Again” and continue to see the 83-year-old as he tours across the country. Nelson’s influence, though, extends beyond the airwaves and country music charts.
In 1985, Nelson organized the first Farm Aid concert with Neil Young and John Mellencamp. More than 30 years later, the event continues bringing thousands together to celebrate family farmers, raise money, and inspire people to choose family farm food. Every year, Nelson and Farm Aid bring together some of the world’s greatest artists to promote their cause. Past performers include Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, B.B. King, The Beach Boys, Bonnie Raitt, Kris Kristofferson, Jewel, Tegan and Sara, and Matisyahu.
Since its beginning, Farm Aid has raised more than $50 million to support family farmers, with no signs of slowing down.
6. Tim Tebow
CAUSE: Human Trafficking
ORGANIZATION: TIM TEBOW FOUNDATION
Tim Tebow was born in the Philippines to missionary parents and is best known as an American professional baseball player and former professional football player. His athletic accolades coincide with his passion for giving back and getting involved on even deeper levels as a three-time New York Times bestselling author, international speaker, and ESPN sports broadcaster.
Tebow started the Tim Tebow Foundation to bring faith, hope, and love to people who needed brightness during their darkest moments. He’s spent time encouraging children with life-threatening conditions, supporting adoptions of international children with special needs, crowning prom kings and queens, and showing love through outreach in many other creative ways.
At the age of 15, I visited a remote village that had never seen visitors. There I met a boy named Sherwin who would impact my life more than anyone I have ever met. Sherwin was born with his feet on backwards and was viewed as “cursed” in his village. When the people saw me hold Sherwin, they realized that the good news of Jesus Christ applies to everyone. It was then that my passion grew to help people.
7. Lauren Miller and Seth Rogen
CAUSE: Alzheimer’s Disease
ORGANIZATION: HILARITY FOR CHARITY (HFC)
Seth Rogan’s hilarious participation in shows and movies like “Neighbors,” “Superbad,” “Pineapple Express,” “The Interview,” and more has nearly made him a household name. This Canadian actor, comedian, and writer started with stand-up comedy as a teen, and today, he and his wife, Lauren Miller Rogan, are touching lives in entirely new ways.
Lauren is a screenwriter, director, producer, and philanthropist with a personal tie to Alzheimer’s disease. Her mother was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease at just 55 years old in 2012. That’s when she co-founded HFC with Seth Rogen to activate the next generation of advocates.
HFC is a national nonprofit on a mission to care for families impacted by Alzheimer’s disease, activate the next generation of Alzheimer’s advocates, and be a leader in brain health research and education.
After feeling really sad and angry for a long time, Seth and I realized that we had this platform and we could use it to change the caregiving experience while also changing the trajectory of Alzheimer’s in the long term by investing in young people and prevention. So we founded Hilarity for Charity (HFC) in 2012, which has been a concurrent career path of sorts for both of us ever since.
8. Gary Sinise
CAUSE: Supporting Military Veterans
ORGANIZATION: GARY SINESE FOUNDATION
Gary Sinise is best known from his four-decade stage, film, and television career. Does Lieutenant Dan Taylor in “Forrest Gump” ring a bell? That’s just one of the many roles that led Sinise to nominations for everything from Golden Globes to Academy Awards.
After the tragic events on September 11, 2001, Sinise focused on supporting those deploying in response. Because he felt the deep tie to veterans in his family and had supported military members for years, he took his activism to a new level and founded the Gary Sinise Foundation.
I believe we can never do enough to express our gratitude and give support to the men and women who willingly go into harm’s way to keep us safe and free, but we can always do a little more.
Recently, Amazon announced a multiyear commitment to supporting the Gary Sinise Foundation through employee volunteer hours at events throughout the country, donations of Amazon Alexa devices, and Amazon fresh groceries to new smart homes built for our nation’s wounded heroes.
9. America Ferrera
CAUSE: Racial Justice, Social Justice
America Ferrera took her passion for activism to become a co-founder of Harness, alongside Wilmer Valderrama and Ryan Piers Williams, after the 2016 presidential election. Ferrera is best known for her role as Betty Suarez in “Ugly Betty” and made her directorial debut with the Netflix adaptation of “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter.”
Harness sets out to advance racial justice, gender justice, and civic justice. The organization focuses on culture change, community building, artist engagement, and industry impact by sharing the stories of the underrepresented and misrepresented communities in popular culture.
Since the election, so many fear that their voices will go unheard. As artists, women, and most importantly dedicated Americans, it is critical that we stand together in solidarity for the protection, dignity, and rights of our communities.
Ferrera has been known to participate in women’s marches and speak to civil rights in her ongoing work. She also works alongside Eva Longoria Baston and other Latina leaders through a digital lifestyle community and nonprofit called Poderistas, which aims to transform lives, families, and communities through inspiration, information, and affirmation.
10. George and Amal Clooney
CAUSE: Human Rights Abuse
ORGANIZATION: CLOONEY FOUNDATION FOR JUSTICE
George Clooney is a name many of us know well. Countless accolades include a British Academy Film Award, four Golden Globe Awards, and two Academy Awards in his long career as an actor and filmmaker. His career started with a small part in a feature film after college and grew quickly.
One thing about George is that as his presence and influence grew, so did his charitable behavior. He considers himself a strong First Amendment advocate and spends his time committed to humanitarian causes, even presenting himself to the United Nations Security Council in response to international crises.
George and his wife, Amal, created the Clooney Foundation for Justice to combat the growing number of journalists and defenders of democracy being detained, prosecuted, and jailed. Their work supports women and girls, LGBTQ+ people, and individuals subject to unfair laws and targeted for abuse.
11. Emma Watson
CAUSE: Women’s Rights and Advocacy
ORGANIZATION: UN WOMEN
Emma Watson has had a long and successful career as a British actor, from Hermione in the “Harry Potter” film series to Sam in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” In 2023, she received the Calvin Klein Emerging Star Award at the ELLE Women in Hollywood Awards and the Trailblazer Award at the MTV Movie Awards one year later.
By her mid-20s, Watson was already seeking a greater purpose in activism with involvement in promoting girls’ education and humanitarian efforts throughout Zambia and Bangladesh. In July 2014, Watson became the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador to continue her passion for empowering young women and gender equality.
Women’s rights are something so inextricably linked with who I am, so deeply personal and rooted in my life that I can’t imagine an opportunity more exciting. I still have so much to learn, but as I progress, I hope to bring more of my individual knowledge, experience, and awareness to this role.
12. Leonardo DiCaprio
CAUSE: Environment, Climate Change, Animal Rights
ORGANIZATION: LEONARDO DICAPRIO FOUNDATION
Leonardo DiCaprio won our hearts over in “Titanic” and hasn’t stopped. His versatile acting skills earned him a huge stage for his activism as a prominent environmentalist in Los Angeles and around the world.
Today, DiCaprio is outspoken as an advocate for organizations from the World Wildlife Foundation to the Natural Resources Defense Council to the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
He founded the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation to continue as an environmental activist to support the causes that plague our world by restoring ecosystems and protecting endangered species. In 2007, DiCaprio co-wrote and produced a documentary about global warming titled “The 11th Hour.” Since then, he has continued to work on new and creative ways to bring important environmental causes to the forefront.
We only get one planet. Humankind must become accountable on a massive scale for the wanton destruction of our collective home. Protecting our future on this planet depends on the conscious evolution of our species.
Building Pathways to Raise More WIth Celebrity Activism
Actors, musicians, athletes, and other celebrities are uniquely positioned to affect social change because fame amplifies their voice. While none of this work is possible without the tireless commitment of nonprofit professionals and volunteers, many causes have benefitted from a celebrity ambassador or supporter.
At Classy, we will continue to support more organizations, promoting them and building relationships with strong figures who can increase their awareness and drive further impact for good. With GoFundMe and Classy’s combined giving community, we are the largest giving platform in the world. We use this to help you create giving experiences that center around your powerful story and make it simpler for anyone anywhere to get involved in dynamic campaigns.
Copy Editor: Ayanna Julien
“Stephen and Ayesha Curry Tackle Literacy Across Oakland,” Eat. Learn. Play., accessed June 9, 2023, https://www.eatlearnplay.org/news-features/stephen-and-ayesha-curry-tackle-literacy-with-libraries-across-oakland.
“To Bring Faith, Hope and Love to Those Needing a Brighter Day in Their Darkest Hour of Need,” Tim Tebow Foundation, accessed June 9, 2023, https://www.timtebowfoundation.org/about.
“Letter From Gary,” Gary Sinise Foundation, accessed June 9, 2023, https://www.garysinisefoundation.org/founder/letter.
“America Ferrera is All of Us as She Continues to Slam Trump,” Entity Magazine, September 8, 2017, https://www.entitymag.com/america-ferrera-quote/.
“UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson,” UN Women, accessed June 9, 2023, https://www.unwomen.org/en/partnerships/goodwill-ambassadors/emma-watson.
“10 Quotes From Leonardo DiCaprio, Environmental Champion,” Global Citizen, accessed June 9, 2023, https://www.globalcitizen.org/es/content/leonardo-dicaprio-quotes-on-climate-change-environ.
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