When CNN's Larry King hosted a star-studded fundraiser last week to help the people and wildlife on the Gulf Coast, expectations were high. A similar telethon raked in $10 million for Haiti.
But even with guests such as teen heartthrob Justin Bieber, Kathy Griffin and Ryan Seacrest, the oil spill fundraiser brought in just $1.8 million.
It reflects a pattern emerging with philanthropy and the British Petroleum oil spill. Although Americans are deeply concerned about the spill, their charitable giving does not match the scale of the disaster.
"With Haiti, we saw these images and the number [of deaths] kept getting bigger and bigger,'' said Peggy Ladner, state director of the Nature Conservancy, whose national organization received some CNN funding.
"Right now, the numbers getting bigger and bigger are the gallons of oil. We still don't know the number of affected animals, wetlands, tourists, people without jobs. It's almost unfolding in slow motion.''
Another difference, say nonprofit leaders, is that there's a "responsible party'' that is supposed to clean up the mess -- BP. And that party is wealthy, unlike most Americans.
"If you put those two together, I'm guessing that's a big reason,'' Ladner added.
Nationally, more than $4 million has been donated to oil spill relief efforts. Yet just two weeks after the Haiti earthquake, $528 million was raised.
The CNN money benefitted the Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife Federation and United Way Worldwide. But there is no big disaster relief group galvanizing public donations, such as the American Red Cross in Haiti.
Jean Gorrell, president of the Minnesota chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, said donors may be reluctant to support "a corporate disaster.''
"We've read about the negligence that took place before the [oil] well erupted,'' she said. "Clearly, it wasn't Mother Nature. What role does philanthropy play in a corporate disaster? That's unclear.''
Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511