How Kelly Killoren Bensimon and her family are using the forces of social media, traditional media and personal brand building to make positive change in the world.
Hey baby, how’s your brand? Everywhere you turn these days, otherwise normal, well-adjusted people are talking about the importance of their personal brands, the proper use of social media and how to grow their network of followers and friends. Wasn’t it just a few years ago you thought Facebook, Instagram and Twitter were frivolous past-times, like playing Minesweeper or Candy Crush Saga?
Now it seems to be commonly accepted that for anyone launching a business or seeking to be recognized as an expert, there’s no shying away from social media – or any media, frankly. A strong personal brand requires visibility – which leads you to more customers, more paying gigs and…wait for it…more power.
That’s right, we said “power”. Your media presence gives you a platform upon which you can speak, tweet and share your views. As respect for your voice (i.e. your brand) grows, you begin to influence people’s opinions and actions. They turn to you for your perspective on certain matters. That, dear friends, is power.
Now before you get all Lex Luthor on us, we recognize that the reason most people build a brand is not because they are power-hungry supervillains; they merely seek to get more people to buy their services or books or cupcakes or whatever it is they are selling. However, once you have built a brand and established an audience, you have an amazing opportunity to create social change – hopefully, positive social change. In other words, you really can use your powers for good!
A powerful example
The Real Housewives of New York City alumni and friend of Golden Girl Finance, Kelly Killoren Bensimon, is a terrific example of someone who has established a powerful personal brand, which she tirelessly uses for good.
Three years ago, Kelly was filming on the site of Housewives, when Haiti was hit with the devastating earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands of people and left some three million people without homes, jobs, schools, food or water. Kelly immediately began thinking about how she could use her platform as one of the ‘Housewives’ to help with relief efforts. She reached out to her fans, began to fundraise and ran a marathon to raise even more money. With the funds secured, she traveled to Haiti where she helped dig wells to bring clean drinking water into impoverished communities.
This summer, Kelly and her 15-year old daughter returned to Haiti, this time on a mission with Generosity Water, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing clean water to communities in developing countries. Before they went, they once again raised money and awareness for the charity. As Kelly says, “With a media platform, even more than the money you raise is the database you can compile for these charities. Millions of people and supporters. One tweet can go to millions of people. Just think of the actions you can inspire.”
Generation of change
Kelly believes that the teenagers and kids of today are the ones with the real potential to implement social change. They are growing up naturally interacting with social media, reaching huge audiences and connecting with others around the world, without so much as raising a pierced eyebrow. It is therefore incumbent upon older generations to help guide them toward a sense of social responsibility and awareness, teaching them how to use their powers for good.
“I took my daughter twice to Haiti,” said Kelly. “I wanted her to go and see the wells we have built, to show her how much change can happen when people do what they say they will do. She visited the children at an orphanage and saw for herself what a difference having water from a well can make to their lives.”
Beyond building wells, Kelly wanted her daughter to meet the other mission volunteers. “She saw all these doctors, consultants and professional people who were using their vacation time to do exhausting work around the clock in order to help others. I want my kids to be exposed to people like that: inspiring, hard-working, generous people.”
Kelly’s daughter went on to raise $7,500 and built a well of her own that will supply water to people for 20 years. “The experience has given her more empathy,” says Kelly, “and a greater understanding about the hierarchy of needs.”
Of course, you don’t need to go to Haiti to teach your kids about helping others. Kelly started out taking her girls on food drives for the Salvation Army and on trips to the Food Bank for New York City.
“I didn’t expect anything of them at first, just brought them along when I would go volunteer or visit,” said Kelly. “Afterward we would talk about what they saw and I would offer positive encouragement. ‘Did you see the effect you had on people? When you handed that woman the bag of groceries, did you see how she smiled at you? Can you imagine how different her week will be knowing she has food to eat?’”
Kelly sees it as making kids comfortable with social responsibility. “Many kids are just not exposed to real levels of poverty and crisis. They know other people have less than them but don’t really think about how those people feel or what they can do to help. The more exposure they have, the more empowered they feel about helping and it becomes ingrained in them. They feel comfortable contributing on their own terms.”
Wielding your power
We all have finite resources. Once you and your family begin using your powers for good, you will quickly find that there is always more work to be done. More great causes, more people in need and more donations required. There will always be more requests for support than you can ever handle. So how do you choose what to support and what to decline?
Kelly offers these tips:
-Be aware and be proactive. When you choose to work with a charity, get to know how it works, financially and operationally. Always be hands-on when raising money and understand exactly where and how that money will be used. Unfortunately, there are people out there who create charities just to host parties. Seek out quality organizations that really need your help and where you can make the most impact.
-Focus your efforts. Choose one or two causes or commit to a sector. Kelly and her daughters have chosen to support charities that provide food and water to people in need. In addition to being a Celebrity Ambassador for Generosity Water, Kelly and her girls support the Food Bank for New York City.
-Give what you can. You receive a request from a friend or a charity asking for support. You believe it’s an important cause and want to help, but you don’t have the means to provide what they are asking for. Be honest. There are always different levels of support. If you can’t afford to buy a gala ticket, offer to help stuff swag bags instead. If you don’t have the time, maybe you can help corral a couple other volunteers.
Your own mission
We love the way Kelly and her family are using the forces of social media, traditional media and personal brand building in order to make positive change in the world. The philanthropic work they do to help others has the add-on effect of bringing them closer together as a family unit. It is a virtuous cycle of goodness that we hope will inspire you to find your own mission, too.