Face of Charity

SINCE THE TRAGIC DEATH LAST AUGUST OF Diana, Princess of Wales, charities around the world have been appealing to the public in her name. The official Memorial Fund — established by the royal family in consultation with the Spencers after her death — has yet to announce which charities it will support. Even so, there is at least a core group of charities (of which Diana had served as official patron) that everyone seems to agree will be major beneficiaries of the “official” fundraising.

But Diana’s charitable legacy involves much more than official “good works.” It also embraces global politics, commercial hucksterism, pop culture, legal maneuvering, and (yes) royalty; a tale that could assume Dickensian proportions before it is through. The Diana phenomenon has little if any precedent in the world of philanthropy, and it might tell us a lot about the future of charitable giving in a world characterized by global markets, mass media, and quick and easy flow of information (and cash) across national boundaries.

But before we get to the hucksterism and pop culture, let’s review what we know about Diana’s posthumous charities and see what donors to her Memorial Fund are likely to get for their money.

A Few Good Causes

At the time of her death Princess Diana remained official patron of Royal Marsden NHS Trust (a cancer fund); Greater Ormond Street Children’s Hospital, London; the National AIDS Trust (an umbrella for a wide array of AIDS causes in the United Kingdom); The Leprosy Mission; the English National Ballet; and Centrepoint Soho (which provides services to homeless youth). In addition, the Princess was closely associated at the time of her death with The British Red Cross Anti-Personnel Land Mines Campaign (technically, Diana’s official patronage of the Land Mines Campaign ended in 1996, but it remained one of her most active causes in the last year of her life).

Since the official Memorial Fund was announced by Buckingham Palace, it has been assumed that these six causes would be primary beneficiaries, yet the Fund and its trustees (including Diana’s older sister, Lady Sarah McCorquodale) have made no formal announcement to that effect. The Fund reportedly (and unsurprisingly) is being inundated with requests for aid and has had difficulty keeping up. London’s Daily Telegraph reports that the Fund hopes to add nine more trustees, and a plan for distributing proceeds is unlikely to emerge until that is accomplished.

Nevertheless, for present purposes it is reasonable to assume that these six core causes associated with Princess Diana will be well represented in the pool of beneficiaries. The six core charities all have relatively straightforward and traditional charitable missions (with some qualifiers). A children’s hospital, a national ballet company, aid to victims of leprosy and homeless young people — these are mainstream, service charities and cultural institutions. What is more, they all receive a lot of public scrutiny — and they will continue to do so, especially if the royal family continues to patronize many of them (as Queen Elizabeth already has done, appearing at a benefit for the Greater Ormond Street Hospital, as well as the Royal Academy of Music, organized in Diana’s memory).

There is a corollary risk, of course, that the mere fact of Diana’s past association with these causes will put an end to any rational examination of their good works. Having the “Princess Diana stamp of approval” could, if her heirs and associates are not careful, become a refuge for dubious causes of all sorts (in fact, the trustees of the Memorial Fund are planning to create a logo indicating the Fund’s — and implicitly, the Princess’s — endorsement of a cause). The saving grace is that, by all reports, Princess Diana herself was very closely involved with most of the causes she adopted, devoting a lot of personal time and attention to AIDS victims, sick children, and the like.

If only the matter could be left there — essentially, in the hands of the Memorial Fund trustees and the Windsor and Spencer families — we could be reasonably sure that donations in the Princess’s name would be put to good use (assuming the donor likes the kinds of social service, health-related, and artistic causes that seemed to draw Diana’s interest). But things are never that simple. Politics and mass-marketing inevitably intrude where a popular icon like Princess Diana is concerned. First, a look at politics.

The Land Mines Campaign

While the six core charities are assumed to be major beneficiaries of the Diana Memorial Fund, it is less clear that the British Red Cross Anti-Personnel Land Mines Campaign has the same status — even though Diana’s best-publicized activities in the months preceding her death were her agitation against land mines and her visits to victims of mines in Angola and elsewhere. In fact, the Princess spoke strongly in favor of the proposed treaty banning land mines before the present Labor government took office.

In fairness, the Land Mines Campaign is only partly about politics. The International Red Cross effort, of which the British effort is a part, not only seeks to ban land mines, it supports mine-clearing efforts and medical treatment for mine victims. Diana clearly embraced all of these activities. In the wake of her death, however, the division between treaty proponents (the advocacy route) and those primarily interested in clearing mines in place seems to have grown wider. The gap has been exacerbated by the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Jody Williams, founder of the International Campaign to Ban Land-mines. Ms. Williams’s organization is pushing the land mine ban and the destruction of land mines that are warehoused but not yet placed. Some individuals and organizations involved in risky mine-clearing operations object to the attention given Ms. Williams’s efforts, feeling their activities are much more urgent.

Interestingly, in one of many efforts to promote worthy causes in the name of the late Princess of Wales, London’s Daily Telegraph launched its own Memorial Fund, raising close to $700,000 to aid mine-clearing efforts and provide artificial limbs for mine victims. The Telegraph, usually regarded as a Tory paper, avoided the issue of the ban altogether.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the National Council of Churches of Christ Church World Service is soliciting funds directly in the name of Princess Diana, promising that donations will go both to de-mining and treaty advocacy. However, the organization’s promotional material strongly emphasizes the political advocacy side, including sample letters to congressmen urging support for the treaty ban.

What Princess Diana herself would make of this is unknowable, but by stepping into the political arena on the issue of landmines she may inadvertently have given a boost to political advocacy as against de-mining efforts and medical services. As a strong, well-liked, and high-profile public figure, the Princess in her lifetime could help hold the anti-land mine coalition together. Now the two wings of the coalition seem to be competing for funds and attention, with the treaty advocates in the lead for now. But the use of Diana’s name and image in promoting the land mines campaign is just one example of the “charitable entrepreneurialism” her death has spawned. Diana is becoming a philanthropic phenomenon in her own right.

Pop Philanthropy

The best-known use of Diana’s name to raise money for charity is Elton John’s donation of all his profits from his retooled “Candle in the Wind” tribute to the Princess’s official Memorial Fund. John has already contributed $34 million to the Fund, dwarfing receipts from grassroots donors (initially reported at $20 million in October, although early estimates were more in the $100 million range). In addition, the British government has pledged all VAT receipts on the same sales to the Memorial Fund.

The Elton John pledge may be hard to beat (already his new version of “Candle in the Wind” has become the top-selling single of all time, outselling Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” — and it took Bing 55 years to set the old record!). But that hasn’t stopped others from trying. A two-CD tribute set was released just in time for Christmas, with performances from (Sir) Paul McCartney, Celine Dion, Michael Jackson, and others. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Memorial Fund.

But there is more! People magazine has established a Diana fund to help pediatric AIDS patients. Sixteen of Diana’s gowns are touring the United States to raise money for charities (AIDS, cancer research, and children’s services). Reader’s Digest is releasing a video-and-book tribute including a “beautiful keepsake framed portrait,” and encourages purchases by noting that it already has made a contribution to the Memorial Fund. If you want a more impressive memento, you can purchase a porcelain figure from The Society for the Preservation of History, and rest assured that a “portion” of the proceeds from your purchase will go to the Memorial Fund in your name.

If you browse the Web, you can find an Australian group trying to organize a “Live Aid” type event in memory of the Princess; a tribute CD from Break Thru records with “10 percent of the profits donated to her favorite charities”; and an opinion poll (average call four minutes, cost $8.00) on the role the paparazzi played in Diana’s death (“help provide needy families with Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners”). The governments of Canada and New Zealand have set up official Memorial Funds in support of charities the Princess had sponsored in their countries. And the Independent Charities of America, a coalition of nonprofits, will be pleased to transmit your tax-deductible donation to “British charities supported by the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund . . . or to American charities favored by the Princess.”

All this, and much other, charitable and commercial promotion in the name of Princess Diana has not escaped the attention of her family, or the British government. When MP Peter Luff called for a government inquiry into the marketing of Diana merchandise he was backed up by Peter Lee, director of the United Kingdom’s Institute of Fundraising Managers. Said Lee: “What we are seeing is a large number of commercially-inspired activities claiming that they are giving a proportion of their funds to the Diana Memorial Fund, but a number of these promotions fall outside the law.”

And so, of course, the lawyers are moving in — on at least two fronts.

First, the Memorial Fund is developing its logo in order to differentiate those causes that have the Fund’s official imprimatur from all others. The trustees believe that is more realistic than attempting to review every product and cause that uses Diana’s name.

Second, Prince Charles has asked former Prime Minister John Major to look out for the interests of Princes William and Harry, Diana’s principal heirs. Major wants to go further than the Memorial Fund trustees, seeking licensing arrangements under which the Memorial Fund (for a fee paid to the Princes) would use Diana’s image. The Princes would then pass donations to a charitable trust their mother set up before her death, or to other causes they select. As a first step, Major is seeking proceeds from the above-mentioned celebrity tribute CD set to be paid in part to the Princes.

So now we have the British government set to oversee the Diana industry, the sons at odds with their mother’s own Memorial Fund, the Memorial Fund uncertain of how to regulate the Diana market, and Diana’s preferred causes at a loss to guess how they will benefit from all this — if at all.

Epilogue — or Prologue?

What has been lost in all this activity is a crucial question — can Princess Diana do more for charity posthumously than she did when she was alive?

We can never know for sure, since we can’t assume the Princess would have remained as closely engaged with her causes as she had been in the past. But it is no secret that even her six core charities are nervous about a future in which their Princess can no longer lend her presence and personal prestige to their efforts. The Memorial Fund is doing quite well, but even with the Elton John money, less well than many had expected. In any case, how long can they raise funds at this level?

For all the global pop-promotions going on in Princess Diana’s memory, it is far from clear that her causes will not suffer in the long run. Her death left it for others to interpret what she might have wanted, and even the best-planned estates and foundations find it a challenge to ensure that donor intent is honored over time. Clearly, Diana did not plan for any of this — she is the involuntary founder of a whole world of charitable activity that may or may not prosper in her absence. Her celebrity may continue to grow in death, and that celebrity may be exploited effectively in aid of many causes, not all of which she would have personally endorsed. But it may fade as well, especially if controversy over fundraising in her name and image continues to grow.

The fact is that, ultimately, Diana may have more impact in the long run as a role model for engagement with a charitable mission. She appears to have derived great personal satisfaction from much of her charitable acts, and while she generated controversy with some of her causes (AIDS and land mines), by and large she appears to have chosen wisely, focusing on basic services to the sick and needy.

From personal engagement with the needy — perhaps a sort of personal therapy for a deeply troubled young woman — Princess Diana became a global phenomenon in the charitable world. Yet in the end it is the personal side that is likely to have the more enduring impact, if only on her sons and those who knew her. Perhaps the new face of charity is not so new, after all.

George Pieler is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.

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