FOURTH UPDATE: Finally heard back from Stephanie Lapensee, organizer of the Connect Summit slated for June 23-24 that used a group of stars to sell a high priced virtual forum on philanthropy and watched it blow up in her face yesterday after Deadline revealed what appears to be a ruse and numerous others picked it up. She emailed me, asking I run a statement, and said there would be no further dialogue. I asked her how she can call it a “miscommunication” in using the names of stars, when it was confirmed to me that George and Amal Clooney, but also Matthew McConaughey and Camila Alves, Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively, Charlize Theron, and Steph and Aisha Curry not only hadn’t agreed to be keynote speakers, they were not even aware of this event. Yet their names were used to sell tickets that were asking up to $1,799. I also asked Lapensee if this event was a non-profit where the proceeds would be donated to charity, or if this was a for-profit forum on the subject of philanthropy. If she gets back to Deadline on these key points, I will add her comments.
All this follows Deadline’s report that this event had blown up because of the duplicity in selling this pricey event, after Clooney was phoned by a friend who’d seen the announcement. Along with the stars who disavowed any involvement, the PR firm hired to promote the event sent a statement to Deadline saying they had been given “fraudulent information” by Lapensee and had exited the project.
Lapensee says here that the one ticket sold for Connect Summit has been refunded and that she will evaluate whether or not it’s worth continuing.
Here is Lapensee’s statement:
“I deeply regret the circumstances surrounding the Connect Summit. Miscommunication from Thrive Philanthropy led to keynote speakers being publicized before they had officially committed to participating in our virtual conference.
We were hopeful and optimistic that we would be able to confirm these speakers and were in the process of determining their interest. I understand the disappointment and concerns of all involved with the conference. It was not our intention to mislead the public, and I am sincerely sorry for the confusion this has caused. All admissions to the conference have been paused and the one ticket that was sold has been refunded, although I understand this does not minimize this error in judgement.
The Connect Summit was organized as a platform for philanthropic organizations to come together virtually to plan for the future. Following discussions with our confirmed panelists and project partners, we will re-evaluate the appropriateness of continuing with the Connect Summit and provide an update on the future of the event in the coming days.
Founder & Chief Strategist
THIRD UPDATE: This Connect virtual summit might be heading into Fyre Fest territory. I just confirmed that neither Golden State Warriors’ star Steph Curry nor his wife Ayesha was aware they had been touted as keynote speakers for this Connect Summit. And while I haven’t heard back from Connect Summit organizer and Thrive Philanthropy Founder/Strategist Stephanie Lapensee, Deadline has gotten a statement from Wunderlich Kaplan partners Gwen Wunderlich and Dara Kaplan, who were hired by Lapenses to promote the event and believe they too were duped. They said they believed they were operating in good faith. They knew the organizer, they were paid, and there was a well-produced website. They only found out the truth after servicing info on the celebs and hearing from irate publicists. Here is their statement:
Regrettably, due to fraudulent information provided to us by our client Stephanie Lapensee the founder of Thrive Philanthropy, the creator of the Connect Summit, our agency, Wunderlich Kaplan Communications no longer represents this project.
It has come to our attention that Matthew McConaughey, Stephen and Ayesha Curry, George and Amal Clooney, Ashton Kutcher, Charlize Theron, Blake Lively, Ryan Reynolds, Camilla Alves, and Julie Cordua will not be participating in this event as they were never confirmed.
Our agency was given the confirmation on all the celebrities mentioned above, more than once.
While something like this has never happened at our agency of over 20 years, it seems that we were hired to launch a conference that was built on lies.
We are horrified about the situation and will be working diligently to make sure that all information put out there is corrected.
Thank you for your understanding. It’s all pretty unbelievable as we still have not heard back from Ms. Lapensee.
We deeply apologize and hope to work with you in the future.
SECOND UPDATE: I have confirmed that Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively also were completely unaware that their names were being used for this Connect Summit.
UPDATE: This Connect virtual summit is looking fishier and fishier. Just confirmed through his rep that neither Matthew McConaughey nor his wife Camila Alves knew their names were being used to promote this virtual Connect Summit, either.
EXCLUSIVE, May 28 12:18 PM PST: Here is an odd one I’m trying to get to the bottom of. George Clooney tells Deadline he was upset to find that his and wife Amal Clooney were touted as “keynote speakers” participants in Connect, a two-day virtual event that neither he nor Amal — or Charlize Theron, for that matter — was even aware of, and I’m trying to find out if other participants like Matthew McConaughey and wife Camila Alves, Steph and Ayesha Curry and Ashton Kutcher were, either.
The forum used their names to tout a pricey program offering “early bird special” prices of between $399 (escalating to $999) and $1,199 (escalating to $1,799) for a virtual event with a gift bag, exclusive access to sessions, morning yoga sessions and lunch/dinner with celebrity chef Curtis Stone. I’ve confirmed that while Theron initially was on the invite, she knew nothing of it either. Ryan Reynolds and wife Blake Lively also were listed but now are no longer on the list, and Clooney was told after bracing organizers that they exited over a scheduling conflict. The event is set for June 23-24.
Clooney engages in charitable endeavors often but was surprised to learn from a phone call from a friend that he and Amal were listed in original announcements about this event — something he had never heard of.
Said Clooney: “There are ads running claiming that Amal and I will be participating in the Thrive Philanthropy’s Connect Summit. We Have never heard of this summit and have never been approached to be part of a charity that is charging 399.00 for people to participate. When we contacted the company in charge they said it was a mistake and would take our names off. I then asked them who else on the list of people in the ad will not be participating. They told us Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively. They didn’t respond about Charlize Theron. We don’t know whether this charity is what it says it is and was just duped by a booking agency or whether there is something more nefarious involved. The best antiseptic is sunlight, and in the interest of protecting the public and the many important charitable organisations we hope that this situation will be rigorously investigated.”
Calls to organizers weren’t returned, so far. Yesterday they removed the names of the Clooneys, Reynolds & Lively, and Theron after Clooney braced organizers on how something like this could happen. He made it clear that he wasn’t looking to harm a worthy charity and acknowledged there could have been missteps taken by some of the organizers. But it is incredulous to include big stars who aren’t even aware of an event they are tied to. The Clooneys, who’ve personally donated $1 million to charitable causes since the coronavirus pandemic hit, are sensitive to making sure that charities seeking money are doing the right thing, something that didn’t always happen after 9/11.
A press release on the event dated Wednesday said it was organized by Thrive Philanthropy — touted as “the world’s leading philanthropy organization that’s changing the way philanthropic efforts will be in this new world we are living in.” Organizers said the event “will feature the who’s who in the non-profit and philanthropy circuit, including keynote speakers who include Matthew McConaughey, Stephen and Ayesha Curry, George and Amal Clooney, Ashton Kutcher, Charlize Theron, Blake Lively, Ryan Reynolds, Camilla Alves, and Julie Cordua,” with a list of other philanthropists.
The organizer is Thrive Philanthropy, “a boutique consulting firm working with some of the leading non-profit organizations in the world as well as providing advisory services to private foundations, nation states and corporations. We work hand in hand with our clients to deliver integrated, collaborative and efficient solutions to some of the most common and the most complex problems.”