Five Minutes with Caryl Stern, CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF

This Halloween, the United Nations Children’s Fund will celebrate the 61st birthday of Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF—the door-to-door campaign that has raised more than $164 million. We chat with chief executive of the US Fund, Caryl Stern, about heading one of the world’s most successful nonprofits, the fund’s latest efforts and how being a mother of three and a grandmother has shaped her work.

by Samantha Lear
caryl stern unicef haiti photo
Caryl Stern in the field in Haiti.
Photograph: UNICEF

More: Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF started in 1950 and has been a great success. What are some recent highlights?
Caryl Stern: This year, the campaign is getting a high-tech makeover. We have a Microsoft tag on the box and anyone with a smart phone can scan the tag to donate right off the phone. We are also having our first online costume party this year—we’re trying to break the record for the largest costume party on the web. Plus, the party is being hosted by this year’s Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF ambassador, Project Runway star and top model Heidi Klum.

More: Do you have any great stories from Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF throughout the years?
CS: Each year I hear so many heartwarming stories from moms who will write saying “my daughter gave up her allowance this year,” or “it was my daughter’s Sweet Sixteen and instead of asking for gifts she asked for everyone to fill their trick-or-treat boxes.” I’m always really heartened that a lot of kids in need actively support Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF. It doesn’t take a lot of money to save the life of a child in a developing nation, so anyone can participate. One dollar buys enough water for child for 40 days. You find that a lot of children who are normally recipients of assistance actively participate in Trick-or-Treating for UNICEF. They get the opportunity of the gift of giving themselves through this campaign.

More: I know that there are a lot of celebrity ambassadors for the US Fund—Sarah Jessica Parker, Alyssa Milano, Laurence Fishburne, Selena Gomez and and Clay Aiken. How are they getting involved in the UNICEF projects?
CS: When I took on this job I was somewhat skeptical—but they are amazing. These are people who work so hard and have no obligation to give back, yet they take the power of their podium and use it on behalf of children.

I can scream from the mountaintop about children dying and some people will hear me, but when Selena Gomez says it on her website, her fans listen. When Sarah Jessica Parker goes to an event, people show up. When someone like Alyssa Milano says “instead of sending me a baby gift, make a gift to UNICEF,” you’d be amazed at how much money is raised. They really commit to learning about who we are and they even go to the field—I’ve taken many of them with me personally.

For example, Sarah Jessica Parker just helped us introduce our HIV/Aids innovation fund at a global business conference, where she was a speaker. Selena Gomez was our Trick-or-Treat spokesperson for a number of years, she’s traveled to Ghana and Chile and she in particular uses her website to benefit us on an ongoing basis. In addition to asking her fans to donate, Alyssa Milano has also worked as the spokesperson for our direct response TV campaign and she’s traveled to India and Kosovo. Laurence Fishburne does a play every year at the Kennedy Center, and this year he dedicated one night of the play to us and gave us tickets for some of our donors.

I think that what’s really fun for them and for us, is that the title of being a UNICEF ambassador is not easily earned. It’s a select group and people are aware that it’s earned.   

More: You must be really busy. How do you translate your work into being a mom with your own kids?

First Published October 7, 2011

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