GRAFTON — In the nonprofit world, getting a big name for a fundraising event can often be the difference between collecting a little money or a lot of money your cause.
Stars for Charities was launched to help Wisconsin nonprofits get those big names. Jim Kacmarcik, owner of K-Nation Entertainment, a production and booking company, started Stars for Charities in 2014.
Since starting, the company has helped nonprofits across the state to hire a bevy of big names to host events ranging from golf outings to concerts. The company has worked with dozens of actors and TV personalities, like Alan Cumming, Tim Gunn, Jane Lynch, Jay Leno and Jeff Daniels, athletes like Tom Brady and Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo, and musical performers like Kool & the Gang, KT Tunstall, Lance Bass, Public Enemy, The Commodores and Broadway star Mandy Gonzalez of “Hamilton,” “Wicked” and “In the Heights.”
The company is led by Managing Director Neil Willenson, who also serves as Kapco Metal Stamping’s vice president of community relations, and Zach Eisendrath, vice president of business development at Kacmarcik Enterprises, which encompasses a variety of Kamarcik’s business holdings.
“It is a for-profit business, but it has a nonprofit mission of helping charities raise as much money as they can. Having a celebrity ambassador makes that easier to accomplish,” Willenson said.
Willenson and Eisendrath, who are both Jewish, have made a name for the company by capitalizing on their respective backgrounds in TV, film and sports.
Prior to coming to Kapco, Willenson worked for 20 years as the founder and CEO of a national HIV charity for kids called Camp Heartland. Through his work with the organization, including a now-closed camp in Malibu, California, Willenson booked celebrities to visit with the kids, forging relationships with an array of Hollywood celebrities and their managers.
A Glendale native, Eisendrath developed strong ties in the sports world through his work with various teams and organizations, including the University of Minnesota men’s basketball team, the Denver Broncos, the NCAA and the New Orleans Saints.
Both men say what they like about Stars for Charities is the ability to use their experience in the fields of sports and entertainment for a good cause. That’s also something that fits in well with their Jewishness.
“I grew up in Glendale and Went to Nicolet High School, so between my faith and my background, it was ingrained into me to serve others,” Eisendrath said.
“I think our Jewish roots play a big role in the philanthropy. A cornerstone of Reform Judaism is serving others,” Willenson added.
How it works
Willenson and Eisendrath work hard to book the best talent at the best price for charitable groups across the state.
Sometimes a charity will call and see if they can get a specific person. Other times a charity won’t know who exactly they want, so they’ll say to Willenson: “We have a $50,000 talent budget, who can you get?” And then, the company will present them a list of options.
Sometimes the nonprofits are looking for a speaker or performer for a gala or banquet, other times they may want to hire former Packer Gilbert Brown for a golf outing.
“It is a real mix of $2,000 bookings, up to hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Willenson said. “We have great relationships with all the talent agencies, but they are in the business of making the most money for their agency and their clients. We are in the business of saving the charities as much as possible. That’s why we keep accurate databases of what they are charging to correctly ascertain the true value of the celebrity’s time.”
K-Nation Entertainment also works to battle hate and discrimination through its Inspire America Speakers Bureau, which books speaking engagements for reformed white supremacist Arno Michaelis and activist Pardeep Kaleka, who lost his father in the Oak Creek Sikh Temple shooting in 2012.
In addition to Stars for Charities and the Inspire America Speakers Bureau, Kapco also does a lot of charity work of its own, including running two camps for kids: Camp Reunite, which helps children have extended visits with an incarcerated parent, and Hometown Heroes, a camp for children of fallen service members.
The company also gives away hundreds of thousands of dollars every quarter in charitable grants, focusing on causes that help children who have experienced trauma.
“We feel tremendously privileged that our business is strong and (give back,” Willenson said.