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Bethenny Frankel wants you to know you can trust her Instagram stories.
That may seem like a big ask from an ex-Real Housewife with years of TV drama under her belt, but Frankel is serious about philanthropy. When the Skinnygirl CEO posts on social media asking for donations — like she currently is for the bushfires devastating Australia — she’s doing it with a laser-focused plan in place. Frankel knows exactly where your money will go and who it will help.
“A lot of celebrities post, and they mention other organizations,” she tells Money. But “just because somebody’s who’s also on a reality show” promotes a charity doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a legit or worthy one.
“That’s just a website. You may put your money there, and it may go into the ether,” she says.
Her organization BStrong aims to be different. BStrong prizes transparency and communication, with Frankel making a point of providing detailed updates on precisely what funds raised are being used for. In the case of Australia, BStrong is flying teams of American firefighters down under to help contain the blaze, funding local animal rescues and distributing gift cards at shelters.
“When I invest my money, I usually invest in something I know. I don’t just invest my money in a business that someone else tells me I should invest in even though I don’t understand it,” Frankel says. “Empowering people, giving them control to be involved, is something that’s been missing.”
With BStrong, people also know who’s in charge. Frankel herself is making the calls — “I control the purse strings,” she says.
In partnership with the nonprofit Global Empowerment Mission, Frankel is overseeing relief efforts in other areas. In the storm-stricken Bahamas, BStrong is working to repair 700 houses and rebuild three schools. In post-earthquake Puerto Rico, the team is giving out cash cards to residents who lost their homes.
Frankel says BStrong has so many concurrent projects because it sticks around after the headlines fade.
“We’re not just there while it’s in the news and then we run away, which is what everyone says in every disaster area,” Frankel says. “They just feel so loved and so helped and then all of a sudden something else is happening online, and then they’re dropped like a hot potato.”
Another thing that doesn’t fade? The desire to help.
Though she has called upon “rich friends” like Ellen DeGeneres and Andy Cohen for support in the past, Frankel says the majority of donations she gets are from regular people like nurses and teachers. Even her young daughter has kicked in with proceeds from a hot chocolate sale.
“Most of the kindness is from strangers,” she says. “We now get donations every five seconds.”