This is the latest in my series of posts spotlighting underrepresented communities around the world and the entrepreneurs trying to help them. In this installment, I talk to actor Kevin Bacon about his "Six Degrees" organization, which connects charities with celebrities looking for a good cause.
You might be familiar with the idea of "Six Degrees of Separation. The premise is that you can connect any two people on Earth in six or fewer links. Some have even speculated that the actual number of links may now be even fewer, because we live in such a highly-connected, modern world.
In Hollywood, there's a similar story and it centers around legendary actor Kevin Bacon. It's called "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" and it refers to the fact that pretty much any actor or actress is most likely just a few roles away (or less) from having worked with Bacon, who has starred in more than 80 films and TV shows. However, "Six Degrees" also refers to the charitable organization created by the star of Footloose. It's called SixDegrees.org and it helps match up celebrities and worthy causes.
How Six Degrees Got Started
Bacon started SixDegrees in 2007. He says the idea for the organization began from his feeling of being overwhelmed with so many groups that needed help.
"I felt a little spread out in terms of things that I was involved with in a charitable way," Bacon says. "I was reading about things that were of concern to me, the environment, hunger, animals, human rights. I was constantly picking up the paper and saying, 'I need to do something for this group and this group and this group and this group and this group.' It was the feeling of helplessness that so many issues are facing the world and figuring out how to actually do something."
Bacon was further inspired by a run-in with another actor, Paul Newman, and his famous food brand "Newman's Own."
"I opened up the refrigerator and there was Paul staring back at me from a jar of tomato sauce," Bacon says. "I just thought to myself, 'This is kind of amazing.' Because he was so willing to take something that he was branded with, his face, and he liked to cook and he wanted to do some good and he just raised just millions of dollars and continues to raise millions of dollars for charities. I thought to myself, 'Well is there anything that I have that is somehow brandable?' The thing that I came up with was Six Degrees."
Soon after, Bacon launched "SixDegrees" at Sundance Film Festival. Originally, the idea was to have the service be a kind of "Netflix for charity," in which causes and celebrities could organize a queue of charities that needed help. It ended up developing into something much different though.
Finding What Works with Celebrity Charity
At some point along the way, Bacon realized that just because a celebrity donates to something, it doesn't mean that non-celebrities will feel inclined to do so, no matter how much they adore the celebrity.
"They're interested in it," says Bacon, "but it doesn't necessarily translate into donations. I think part of the reason is that what you do with your charitable dollar is a very, very personal decision. I think a lot of times it's based on family members who have somehow been affected."
Further, many people see celebrity donations as being sufficient and don't feel they need to contribute as much if it's already being covered by someone who is successful. Many people see a multi-millionaire behind a charity and think that, at least, this particular organization is okay and doesn't need any more money.
Instead, Bacon decided to use celebrity presence as a way to connect well-known people in sports, music, or film, with grass-roots types of local charities. Instead of just the big, famous causes and their galas, Six Degrees is more focused on people who are in individual, smaller communities, or big cities, who need funding and can use the celebrity status to get noticed.
Through social media or a physical appearance referred to as a "drop in," small organizations can connect with celebrities who might happen to be shooting in a particular location or touring with a band. The involvement can be as big or as small as the celebrity chooses, ranging from tweets showing support or showing up with pizzas and telling the organization they're doing a great job.
Six Degrees and the Future
It's difficult to nail down the dollar value of an organization such as Six Degrees because it's more a conceptual thing than a product such as Newman's Own. However, it has grown is now being used by celebrities like Selena Gomez, Kyra Sedgwick, and Kevin Bacon himself. Sometimes success isn't measured just by the amount of money raised, but instead by the smiles and responses when a celebrity takes the time to take a selfie, drop in or just acknowledge you on social media.
Kevin says he's interested in new ideas and seeing the concept and the whole thing continue to change, grow and maybe even become something different. From his standpoint, the idea is to try to remove himself from the mix, and acknowledge that, like the game, we are all connected to each other and affect each other in some way. Because of this, the idea of Six Degrees, whether it's the popular game or the charitable organization, is a beautiful one that connects us as humans.
"It's sharing and wanting to be connected to other people. To me, that's sort of at the heart of Six Degrees."
If you like stories about entrepreneurs helping out underserved communities, check out some of the other stories in the series. Meet the the entrepreneur trying to solve homelessness one person at a time. Or, meet the team trying to shatter the glass ceiling that female entrepreneurs face when they look for funding.