1. Putting Their Name on a Building Just to Have it There
David Geffen donated a ton of money to UCLA to set up a private middle and high school on campus. UCLA didn't particularly need that, but Geffen wanted to make sure that students were groomed to feed UCLA's medical school—which also bears his name—on a level that competes with Harvard and Johns Hopkins. Except that it doesn't matter whether it competes with those schools, as long as research is done and lives are saved—unless you have an egomaniacal vested interest in it. If you think we're being too hard on Geffen, he also donated $100 million to a Lincoln Center concert hall provided that they first give $15 million back to the family of its former namesake.
2. Good Giving to Hide Bad Giving
The Koch Brothers are big on this. They've set aside nearly a billion dollars this year for political spending. That's more than either political party has to spend, effectively setting these two up as American kingmakers. That shadowy dealmaking is balanced by some $1.5 billion dedicated to medical research, public television, higher ed, and more.
3. Giving to Counteract Their Own Damage
SeaWorld likes to paint itself as an entertainment and conservation initiative, but the truth of the matter is that they weren't educational until they were mandated to do so. They didn't have a conservation arm until 30 years after their founding—about 20 years ago. Only about 6% of their philanthropic giving actually goes to dolphins and whales like the ones they hold captive, and some of that is saved for research on their own animals. The giving doesn't really atone for holding intelligent creatures captive in way-too-small spaces, but it does help them smokescreen bad PR.
4. Giving to Bad Causes
Target made headlines in 2010 when they gave $150,000 to support a Minnesota gubernatorial candidate who, among other things, opposed gay marriage. They drew the wrath of various human rights groups and boycotts from consumers who didn't like the idea of their money being funneled to political causes without their knowledge or consent.
5. Taking a Stand (With Their Fingers Crossed)
It's one thing to look at the facts of a controversial issue and have a change of heart. It's another thing to pull a self-serving about-face while looking for the next opportunity to slink back unnoticed. Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook came out publicly in support of CISPA, a bill that would massively erode what little privacy remains to American citizens online. Public outcry and a petition got the company to change its stance, but the company immediately threw its support behind the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a bill with similarly disastrous privacy ramifications and potential consequences for whistleblowers.
6. Starting a Charity With No Experience or Expertise
The Kanye West Foundation was started to help fulfill a passion of Kanye's mother, Donda - its goal was to decrease high school dropout rates. Unfortunately, it was poorly managed. Despite raising nearly $500,000 annually, the charity only gave out grants of around $18,000/year. In 2009, the group only gave out $563, and in 2010, the group spend $500,000 and gave out no grants or charitable giving at all.
7. Giving Hopelessly Tone-Deaf Life Advice
Gwyneth Paltrow was fierce and adorable all at once as Pepper Potts in the Iron Man movies, but that goodwill only goes so far—and her "lifestyle publication" Goop.com eats up all of it. From gift guides that include $55,000 headphones to a hilariously off-base "food stamp challenge" wherein she, for some reason, bought a ton of limes. GOOP only drives home the gulf between a woman who chastises single mothers for not making time to exercise while undervaluing how far her ability to afford a personal trainer goes towards that goal.
8. Turning Volunteer Time Into a Photo-Op
Not a lot of people know this, but actor Steve Buscemi was once a New York fireman. On 9/11, he suited back up and dove into the rubble to look for survivors. He didn't really talk about it much until he had to explain why he was producing a documentary about the FDNY. Steve Buscemi is a great example of how to do it right. Compare that to every glamorous A-lister who's ever turned a volunteer trip to a third-world country into a photo op wherein their hands stay miraculously clean.
9. "Opening Up" to the Press
We expect weird things out of our celebrities. To be fair, it's probably impossible to manage those expectations while being a functional human being. We want to feel close to our stars, but we don't want them to be too vulnerable or the illusion is broken. That's probably why Rihanna's "777" event was doomed from the start. The Internet filled with stories of terrified reporters trapped on a plane with ever-diminishing access to an increasingly haggard Rihanna as she struggled to meet an insane, jet-setting tour schedule.
10. Calling Themselves "Self-Made"
There's this saying in America about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, but that ignores the reality of success—the reality is that everybody gets a hand up from somebody or a second chance they don't deserve at one point or another. That's why it's infuriating when people talk about things like a "small" million-dollar loan from Daddy (then fail to mention the massive inheritance that followed two bankruptcies later).