On a recent afternoon in Santa Monica, Trevor Neilson met with his staff at Global Philanthropy Group, a company that guides the philanthropic activities of the very rich. Since starting the business in 2007, Neilson has had a startlingly fast rise as an adviser to celebrities, who make up about half of his roster; his clients have included Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore, Ben Stiller, Shakira, and Madonna. At the meeting, he was looking for strategies for using his clients’ fame to raise money. A tall man of 40, Neilson was dressed in jeans, Converse and a cardigan. The offices, a few blocks from the beach, had the fashionable atmosphere of an ad agency.
In April 2011, TV cameras caught Kobe Bryant, the LA Lakers shooting guard, referring to a referee who had issued him a technical foul as a “fucking faggot”. In a postgame interview, Bryant vowed to meet with gay groups and “turn it into a positive”.
In January 2011, Bryant contacted GPG with the desire to get more involved in charity work; Neilson told me that he had reached a stage in life when he felt like “giving back”. Bryant was an attractive client: recognisable and a rich source of potential donors. “I had my staff do an analysis of the net worth of front-row season-ticket holders at Lakers games,” Neilson told me. “They’re some of the wealthiest people in the country.”