A princess teaches us about philanthropy

Jan 10, 2011

Charles Spencer, Ninth Earl of Spencer and brother of the late Princess Diana, spoke to the Economic Club of Grand Rapids today.

What drew me in was the topic: “How the Princess’ Philanthropy Helped Position Britain Throughout the World.”

So what can a princess teach us about philanthropy?

I remember watching Diana’s wedding on television when I was a kid – particularly the wedding dress with the ultra-long train, which is currently on display at the Grand Rapids Art Museum.

But when I scan my recollections of Diana, I also remember the places she visited – mine fields, AIDS clinics, the poor, and the forgotten.

And that’s what our esteemed speaker helped us understand. Besides bringing a fresh air of beauty and humanity to a stiff British monarchy and a dark British economy, Diana chose to channel the massive PR engine into causes that many overlooked.

In his words, she “repositioned Britain as a brand with her philanthropy,” partnering with such giants as Mother Theresa and Nelson Mandela.

He said, “You can only make a difference when you have a visceral connection to the cause … She made a lot of people realize what they could do and should do for others.”

Diana used her glamour to create this connection between those watching on television, and those suffering in a third-world country. Today, philanthropy is considered a regular expression of celebrities and Hollywood stars.

And I suspect it will be an important expression of her son … the future king.

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