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February 13, 2023
In this era when nonprofit organizations, grassroots movements, and their supporters alike increasingly look to philanthropy as a force for social change, they all face a significant challenge: Philanthropy, advocacy, and the intersection of those sectors are all crowded, competitive spaces. In that environment, how can any one cause stand out?
At the family foundation I lead, the Ruderman Family Foundation, we are working to advance our mission through a coordinated affiliation with influencers whose values and causes mirror ours.
Our latest effort in this space was to award celebrated actor, producer, recording artist, entrepreneur, and philanthropist Selena Gomez the Morton E. Ruderman Award in Inclusionthe Morton E. Ruderman Award in Inclusion, in recognition of her dedication to raising awareness about mental health and her commitment to expanding access to mental health services and education for young people around the world.
For an organization such as ours, the benefits of this form of philanthropy are clear. We can reach a far larger audience as well as new audiences for the purpose of promoting our cause, while also motivating the public to take action more quickly thanks to the viral nature of any influencer-related announcement on social media. In this case, we’ve been able to raise awareness about the foundation’s mission among Gomez’s large fan base and entertainment fans in general.
As for the influencers collaborating with philanthropies and nonprofits, they gain new platforms to impact a cause they are passionate about. In addition, many of their fans may be unaware of their philanthropic work and efforts to promote social change. Partnering with an organization to amplify that work provides influencers more opportunities to share a new side of themselves with their followers and among the general public.
Indeed, the key word here is partnership. These reciprocal collaborations between the influencer and the organization serve to advance their common goals.
In our case, Gomez’s and the Ruderman Family Foundation’s goals are strongly aligned around addressing the stigma associated with mental health issues. Despite her own challenges, which include a bipolar diagnosis, Gomez strives to use her status as a public figure to candidly share her story in a way that enables other people to feel less alone and to find the help they need. In the realm of philanthropy, she has raised $100 million over 10 years with foundations, corporate partners, and individuals in the community to expand access to mental health services and education for young people. Her Rare Impact Fund’s Mental Health 101 campaign toolkit, which is shareable on social media, provides educational materials about mental health, and calls for financial support for more mental health services in school settings.
At the Ruderman Family Foundation, the annual Morton E. Ruderman Award in Inclusion is an important component of our mission to end the stigma. Gomez is the latest in a notable list of those we’ve honored for their mental health advocacy, including five-time NBA All-Star Kevin Love, Academy Award-nominated actor Taraji P. Henson, and Olympian Michael Phelps. Their initiation of open public dialogue about mental health mirror Gomez’s own approach to the issue. Year after year, the recipients of the award are helping us build a larger audience around the need to end the mental health stigma and, in the long run, are meaningfully shifting the public discourse around this issue.
Perhaps most importantly, the strategy also supports our foundation’s work on the ground and enhances our ability to impact the lives of more people dealing with mental health-related issues. In our other work in the mental health arena, we identify gaps in mental health resources and programs within the high school and higher education communities, support local organizations demonstrating deep impact in improving the mental health outcomes in their community, and partner with influential organizations and companies such as Major League Baseball’s Boston Red Sox to combat the stigma surrounding mental health in sports.
By partnering with influencers, we gain the capability to reach a broad audience, quickly, and in a way that essentially cannot be duplicated. It’s one of the most efficient and strategic way to reach a younger demographic with a targeted message and a call to action on the issue of mental health. In response to receiving the award, Gomez released a video message that amassed over five million views across platforms in only a few days.
In addition, this strategy leads to partnerships not only with the Morton E. Ruderman Award recipients, but also with the influencers’ own nonprofit organizations and programs, which empowers the foundation to make an even greater impact around the issues that we prioritize.
Moving forward, philanthropy can achieve its fullest potential when such forms of collaboration serve as catalysts for igniting social change.
Jay Ruderman is president of the Ruderman Family Foundation.
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