Who: John Demsey, group president of Estée Lauder Cos. and chairman of the MAC AIDS Fund
Company: MAC Cosmetics, a makeup company with 14 locations in the Washington region.
Charitable giving highlights: Since 1994, the company has raised more than $250 million in lipstick sales to support its MAC AIDS Fund. The fund partners with 19 local nonprofits, contributing $1.7 million this year.
Describe the company’s philanthropy.
The fund was started by the founders of the company in the early 1990s as a community response to people affected by HIV and AIDS, particularly who were in the fashion and makeup communities. Money was garnered through bake sales and other corporate grass-roots activities. Originally, six checks were sent to six direct service organizations across the U.S. and Canada. That became the underpinnings of the first Viva Glam campaign. Viva Glam was designed to be a fundraising lipstick where 100 percent of the proceeds of that product went directly to the men and women living with AIDS. From that period, we were joined by 20 other pop culture celebrities who went on to become ambassadors of the MAC AIDS Fund and the Viva Glam campaign. We change our spokespeople every 18 to 24 months, create a Viva Glam product and run national advertising.
How effective have the spokespeople been?
The first spokesperson was RuPaul. That was the singular most transformational moment in MAC’s development over these past 24 years. That was the first time the brand advertised and said what it really stood for. That original fundraising campaign was subsequently followed by a second spokesperson who was K. D. Lang. So for the first three years of the fund, $3 million had been raised. With Lady Gaga, we’ve raised $34 million in one year. With our Nicki Minaj and Ricky Martin collaboration right now, we went well over the $250 million mark.
How do you determine the celebrity spokespeople?
We select people who represent a cross section of the diversity of the world and what’s happening at the moment in pop culture. At the very beginning, it wasn’t so easy for people to lend their name to us. I can tell you that Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj and Ricky Martin came to us. Lady Gaga talked about walking to school at Sacred Heart and seeing Boy George in the window of her local MAC store and thinking she wanted to be a part of a company that would have the guts to do that.
What is the extent of the partnership?
They develop their own giving platforms. They make sure we earmark funds to support the things they care about. They do some speaking engagements. They appear in our advertising campaign.
How much do they get paid?
They take a small fee for their likeness and usage, but it’s not done as a money-making venture.
What is the structure of the fund?
It has a program development office based in New York led by Nancy Mahon who is the executive director of the fund itself and also serves in the Obama administration as an AIDS adviser. There’s a staff of four people that work on vetting and allocating the funds specifically on the ground in the U.S. and Canada. We underwrite all the advertising and cost of the product from the company itself. The money of the fund comes from the sale of the lipstick and it might go to a needle exchange program in D.C. or a soup kitchen.
How do you choose your nonprofit partners?
We respond to requests for funding. We work with government organizations to direct us toward where the money is most needed.