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[whitespace] That's Starbiz!

Celebrity giving takes on a new twist

By Darienne J. Hosley

IF YOU HAVE THE HEART for philanthropy but not the means, Stargiving.com has a pitch for you: Give away other people's money.

If that's not tempting enough, the Internet site is throwing in a chance to rub shoulders with celebrities just for giving it a try.

The 2-month-old Internet site, begun with the help of former Cupertino resident Brian Yang, essentially allows members to decide how corporate donations will be divvied up among charitable organizations backed by celebrities.

"Our mission is to make philanthropy engaging, fun, free and accessible to everyone," said Yang, a 1991 graduate of Monta Vista High School and the son of Barbara and Steve Yang.

He hopes Stargiving.com will appeal to young, Internet-savvy people who may not have the financial means to support causes they believe in. By donating other people's money, he said, they're "getting that goodwill bone going in their body."

It worked for him. Yang brings a background in entertainment to his position as business development officer--one of just five positions in the fledgling company. While he has volunteered to help nonprofit groups in the past, Stargiving.com has been his introduction to charitable giving.

"I'll be completely honest," he said. "I never truly had a huge interest in charities. It wasn't until I joined them that I saw the power of the Internet and what it could do and how to make a difference.

"You actually feel good about yourself when you come to work every day," he continues. "It's grown on me. I look at philanthropy in a totally different light."

The reward for corporate donors is the opportunity to make their good deeds known. Visitors to the site simply click on the charity of their choice, directing up to a dime to that charity with each click, and a thank-you banner tells them which companies are paying for that donation.

Visitors, meanwhile, are entered to win packages offered by the celebrity sponsors. For example, someone who donates to the Magic Johnson Foundation might win dinner and a Lakers game with Magic Johnson. Stargiving.com has given away one prize package so far: a Philadelphia man who donated to the United Negro College Fund won a weekend at VH1's Fairway to Heaven Celebrity Golf Tournament with Darius Rucker, front man for Hootie and the Blowfish.

Yang has personal experience with winning online sweepstakes. He's won $10,000 from VillageBuzz.com just for registering at its site, and on Nov. 13 will try to draw the $500,000 grand prize at the company's Redwood City headquarters.

He's been a lucky winner before, too. His mother entered him in a Macy's modeling contest while he was a senior in high school. He was one of 25 students selected for the department store's back-to-school fashion shows and modeling shoots.

"That was my first foray with anything in front of people," Yang said. "I just remember getting a rush out of it, a kick."

Bitten by the show business bug, he pursued acting while at UC-Berkeley and in Los Angeles and Philadelphia. He was pursuing a master's degree in physical therapy at Temple University when he was introduced to Stargiving.com founders Jonathan Philips and Andrew Yang (no relation) in New York City. He then signed on to forge relationships with celebrities such as singer Edwin McCain and supermodel Niki Taylor.

He's had parts in television's General Hospital and VIP and had a role in a Philadelphia production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Wit.

"Anytime I do something, all the actors on the show ... do charitable works, so you can always wind up talking to someone," he said.

He says Stargiving.com's future shines brightly. He and the company's founders envision adding E-commerce to the site and promoting celebrities' professional projects, such as movies and films, along with their favorite charities.

Yang also hopes the pool of participating celebrities will expand beyond pure entertainment. The Dalai Lama is in talks to work with the site, he said, and he would like to reach out to the stars of Silicon Valley's most successful companies, as well.

"I'd like to channel great minds, as well as dollars, from the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley into this project," he said. "This is the new Hollywood, in a way."

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From the November 16-22, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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